On Memorial Day weekend we went to Wolf Trap National Park — to have a picnic, hear the President’s Own Marine Band, and enjoy fireworks. It’s a free event and we love to go. The gates open at 6:30 and we arrived by 6:40. Even so, the place was packed.
We ended up spreading our picnic blanket on asphalt because every scrap of grass was already taken. The asphalt radiated heat, but fortunately the sun was setting.
The Memorial Day Crowd, the Mood, the Food
We ate our packed lunch of chicken salad, 3-bean salad and beer among the hubbub of families. Beside us were four very tan young people drinking wine. On the other side was an extended family of parents, grandparents and small children, with multiple conversations going on at once in both Spanish and English, equally fluent. Another family arrived carrying two small children who were absolutely sacked out. They laid the sleeping children on a mat on the asphalt and proceeded to unload their food, then were told they had to move, the path had to be clear for emergency vehicles. Since they were only one foot from us, I felt sorry for them.
After we ate, we checked for seats under the roof and found some great ones. There was barely a hint of breeze, but if one blew up, we would catch it.
The President’s Own Marine Band Program
The President’s Own came on stage and we listened to a fabulous program. The music is so varied, from John Phillips Souza to Tchaikovsky to swing. There was an amazing euphonium solo during “Napoli”. When was the last time you heard a euphonium solo? Such a mellifluous sound, running up and down and all around. The speaker quipped, “There are more starting quarterbacks in the NFL than there are professional euphonium players in the United States.”
My favorite was a suite from the “Band of Brothers.” I noticed that the birds were making an unusual amount of noise during it. I thought, “Do the birds like this piece? Are they competing?” I don’t remember the birds being noticeable during other concerts.
The Weather Interrupts!
The next number was “A White House Cantata” by Leonard Bernstein which featured soloists playing the part of presidents, really great stuff. They were singing away when there was a great rush of noise from behind us. Rain had begun. We felt it at the same time as we heard it, the whole sound was a kind of gasp of surprise. Water whooshed in under the roof and of course all the people on the lawn ran for cover. Through it all, the President’s Own just kept playing and singing.
I realized why the birds had been so noisy. They knew the rain was coming.
The program ended with a wonderful string of standards: The 1812 Overture, God of Our Fathers, Stars & Stripes Forever, and a medley called the Salute to the Armed Forces, where veterans of the various branches stand up during their song. My father is a WWII vet and I am grateful he had the opportunity to do an Honor Flight and visit Washington.
During the Stars and Stripes an enormous flag unfurled on the stage so it waves during the Salute to the Armed Forces, a fitting backdrop to the wild applause of the audience. You’d have to be a robot not to feel patriotic!
Memorial Day Fireworks
We all wondered if they would do the fireworks, but they did. There were 4 or 5 songs with the explosions choreographed. Breath-taking. Between the smoke from the fireworks and the falling rain, we were surrounded by smoke and mist. It looked like a battlefield scene a la Hollywood.
We were right beneath the explosions, and during the finale, I felt absolutely helpless, like every sense I had was consumed by the experience of being there. I couldn’t stop laughing.
Happy Memorial Day, everyone!
UPDATED NOTE: According to their website, Wolf Trap is hosting free performances of the President’s Own for healthcare workers this June, which is a wonderful use of resources.