January 17, 2001
David Brown keeps raising the stakes for his students in the Youth Performing Arts School in Louisville, Ky. - bigger sound, brighter spotlights, larger contests, more prominent performance arenas.
On Saturday, members of the concert choir he founded 23 years ago will add a politically celebrated platform to the list of stages they've performed on when they share the terrace with President-elect George W. Bush during the Inaugural Ceremony.
Brown, a Shawnee native, will direct the high school choir during a 10-minute musical presentation following an opening prayer by Dr. Billy Graham, and the swearing in of Vice President-elect Dick Cheney.
"We're so excited we can't stand it," said Brown, a 1967 graduate of Oklahoma Baptist University. "We have 10 minutes to sing for all the world."
Performing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "America the Beautiful" with the Marine Corps Band and "Elijah Rock" unaccompanied, the 95-member group will precede Bush's oath of office.
They will also entertain at the Bluegrass Ball for the Kentucky Society of Washington on Jan. 18.
Traveling is nothing new for the choir which has toured to Europe, Montreal, and Chicago, and performed twice at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
But this trip promises something more memorable.
"I just told the choir that we've done Vienna, and other capital cities, but those were theirs," he said. "We're going to our own nation's capital, the most powerful on the planet."
Because of the delay in the announcement of the presidential election results, the group did not receive final word that it had been selected to perform until Jan. 2.
That left the students with less than two weeks to polish the music and raise $80,000 to cover expenses, which they were close to reaching a week before the performance.
They started the audition process for the coveted performance spot more than 14 months ago.
The news of the honor has not gone to Brown's head.
"Big deal," he said. "The big deal for me is that I teach school. That's it."
And an educator is what he will remain, even after the festivities of the tour are over.
"People don't go on tour with me for fun," he said. "There's no shopping, no going to movies. We're there to see things and to learn. Everyone is required to bring a camera."
"We're going to see as much as we can," he said.
He attributes some of his infectious qualities as a choral director to Warren M. Angell, dean of OBU's college of fine arts when Brown was a student.
"Singing under Dean Angell for four years, that'll do you," he said. "We didn't just sing - we sang because we were inspired."
"I can't ever say enough about a liberal arts education, and all the different areas it allowed me to study. My kids say, 'We learned more about English poets in choir than in our regular classes.' I don't allow them to sing one word that they don't know."
After 23 years as director of the choir, Brown has decided to retire at the end of this year.
"I can't figure out any way to top this," he said.
Brown is founder of the vocal and choral music program at the YPAS.
He also is director of music at St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Louisville, and of Stephen Foster: The Musical, a professional summer theatre in Bardstown, Ky.
He has headlined as a soloist with professional music organizations in Louisville, including the Louisville Orchestra, the Bach Society, and Kentucky Opera.
In 1997 he was recognized as the Secondary Music Teacher of the Year by the Kentucky Music Educators Association and recently was honored by the Music Educators National Conference as an Outstanding Teacher representing Kentucky.
One of only 100 schools of its kind in the nation, YPAS trains high school students for further study and careers in the performing arts, dance, theater, acting, musical theater, vocal music, piano, concert band, concert orchestra, and design and production.
"It's gratifying in my type of choral program to instruct kids all the way through their young lives," Brown said. "They come in as middle schoolers who are barely human, and they leave as adults."
A great educator finds a way to pass this gratification on to his students.
"I have students who have won contests and former students at the Metropolitan Opera and they have all done it with discipline and joy in their hearts for the music."