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A Tattoo for the All American Chorus

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tattooBy Matt Hiester

The All-American Chorus, directed by iconic choral director Dr. Craig Jessop, will inspire audiences as part of the 2016 Virginia International Tattoo

Each year, southeastern Virginia comes to life with a vibrant blast of music, theatre, and dance.  For the past 20 years, the Virginia Arts Festival (VAF) has made this historic area a cultural destination for visitors of all ages.

The Virginia International Tattoo (Tattoo), regarded as the most patriotic of the world’s great tattoos, is the highpoint of each year’s Festival, drawing 40,000+ patrons from almost every state in the nation and internationally. For its 20th season celebration in April, the Tattoo will feature its largest cast ever, including over 200 pipers and drummers, military bands, drill teams, and more. For the first time in its history, a massed chorus – the All-American Chorus (AAC) – will be included among the Tattoo’s pageantry.

The AAC is the brainchild of Scott Jackson, VAF’s general manager and the Tattoo’s producer/director. Jackson shared with Choral Director his excitement about this seminal event.

How did the AAC come about?

For our 20th season, we wanted to plan something extraordinary. We have great high school and college choral talent in the U.S., and we wanted to find a way to showcase it.

In 2007, the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Jamestown’s founding included a massed choir of 1,607 voices. I was at that performance and thought, “I’d love to do a mass chorus like this at the Tattoo.” This seemed like the right year for us to do it. 

The most important first step was finding the right director. Dr. Craig Jessop, a legend in the choral music world, spent 20 years as a director and commander in the U.S. Air Force music programs and many years as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s music director. His blend of military and choral experience is an ideal fit for this massive endeavor.   

What are you hoping the AAC will bring to the audience and the participating choruses?

The Tattoo is an inspiring show, with its patriotic themes, participation by the U.S. military and international military groups, and the AAC will give a new voice to that inspiration.  It’s also important to note what happens behind the scenes.  We have performers from all over the globe rehearsing together for a week, which can be life- changing for the cast. Students who have participated in the past have made lifelong friends and connections to other students all over the world.

Each chorus will also receive a one-on-one master class with Dr. Jessop. That alone is an experience every choir will cherish. 

What else would you like choral directors to know about the AAC? 

First, seeing and rehearsing with all of the different groups is inspirational. It’s an opportunity for the students to see firsthand how professional military ensembles prepare.  It’s also an opportunity for high school-age students to be part of a nationally recognized production and to perform for an audience of 6,000+ night after night. For our choral leaders, they get thrown into a demanding professional environment. This gives them a unique chance to rise to a challenge and see how others rise as well.

Dr. Craig Jessop is perhaps uniquely qualified to tackle a choir of this magnitude.  Dr. Jessop shared with Choral Director his thoughts on leading the AAC and its role in advancing choral music in the United States.

What are you most looking forward to with the AAC?

Meeting and working with the wonderful singers that are coming from all over the nation. Having a choir as a central part of the Tattoo is unique to any other Tattoo in the world. To have a choir of more than 500 singers is truly remarkable!

What do you hope participants gain from this experience?

Choral singers generally have limited opportunities to work with truly professional, world-class instrumentalists. The various military bands featured in the Tattoo will be an unparalleled experience for these singers. I hope they will gain an insight into what it takes to achieve excellence and that it can be achieved when individuals are willing to apply themselves. Yes it’s a lot of work, but it is also rewarding and fun!

How do events like the AAC help advance choral music in the U.S.? 

The Tattoo provides an entirely new audience for choral music. Most often Tattoos are venues for military bands and their fans. The producers of the Virginia International Tattoo have prominently featured the majesty of choral singing.. To include the choir acknowledges the unique scope and power of choral singing and expands their audiences to an even greater degree.

The Virginia International Tattoo will be held from April 21-24, 2016, at Norfolk’s Scope Arena. Choral leaders may call 1-800-USA–FEST for information on joining the cast.  Information about the Virginia Arts Festival and the Virginia International Tattoo can be found at vafest.org.

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