Not surprisingly, participating in a production of Man of La Mancha can make a person spend some time both on and off stage in serious consideration. Yes, consideration of intention, body language, facial expressions, lines, lyrics, and other actorly things, but also consideration of things like freedom of speech and religion and dreaming big, big dreams. Don Quixote may call them Impossible Dreams. Others might venture to label them American Dreams.
Laura Ernst, Conor Dagenfield, Elise LaBarge
photo by John Lamb
After Thursday night’s performance, when provoked, I explained that I couldn’t be out late because my next day’s activities included singing at a Naturalization Ceremony. A friend of a friend’s ears perked up. He had been to Naturalization Ceremonies before. He understood how powerful they can be. He even repeated something he overheard after one. “My favorite part,” this new citizen said, “was when they got to the National Anthem. I’ve heard it plenty of times, but for the first time, it was mine.”
Armed with that story, my Man of La Mancha considerations, and my collection of America’s Favorite Songs book, I walked into the Federal Courthouse on Friday morning. I’d already been to several Ceremonies, and knew the joy of singing the Star Spangled Banner to 50-something new Americans. The audience is like no other. They seem to listen with a distinct kind of open heart.
This Friday, though, I started to sing, and very few people were listening. No, not listening, but singing. They had considered seriously, made an oath, and now they were singing. The man who announced to the court minutes before, “I am from Ukraine. I start new life now,” and the Bosnian housewife, and the Indian engineer and the Moldovan couple…they and all their fellow citizens were giving it a go. They were making it their own. They were singing the National Anthem with me. And they should, oh, they should have been singing. Starting that very moment, it was, after all, theirs.