When the music starts, even members of the Charleston Men's Chorus will have a few tears in their eyes as they honor their fallen comrades in their annual Memorial Day Concert Monday.
The emotional tribute contains a medley of the military's service anthems -- from the Army, Navy, and Marines -- and veterans will rise during their respective anthems to be honored. They in turn will be honoring those who have fallen in service to the nation.
The annual concert at noon, St. Philip's Episcopal Church, 142 Church St., is part of the Piccolo Spoleto festival. It has been a festival favorite since 1994.
"The camaraderie among all the men in the chorus and all the men and women in the audience creates an electric atmosphere," said chorus member Phil McRae, who served as an Air Force munitions maintenance specialist in Vietnam, "because we've all been there, done that."
The musical medley has a strong Charleston connection, too. It was arranged, along with many other Charleston Men's Chorus pieces, by another veteran, the late Col. Earl Mays, who served in World War II and directed bands and vocal music at The Citadel from 1967-84.
Under the baton of Lon H. Shull III , the group's director since 1993, and accompanied by pianist Pamela O. Nelson, the choristers also will sing "Homeland," Lowell Alexander's "Blades of Grass and Pure White Stones" and will close with a rendition of "Stars and Stripes Forever." Founded in 1990, the chorus performed its first Memorial Day Concert in 1994, an event that long has drawn a standing-room-only crowd.
"A lot of the guys in the chorus have some association with the military," said tenor Mel Bell, a retired Navy captain who spent 32 years as a diver on active duty and in the reserves. "Just about everybody has an association themselves or through family, so it has a lot of special meaning. We've put a lot of ourselves into the music."
John Kerr, a founding member of the chorus who serves as the concert's emcee said, "It's very hard to sing. We get so emotionally wrapped up in it. I'm talking about veterans and even non-veterans, because it really is an emotional celebration to the memory of those people (who have died in service.)"
One of the choir's veterans, Kerr is a Dillon native and Citadel graduate who was a 1st Lieutenant in Vietnam in 1969-70. During the concert Kerr said he will remember fallen comrades like Steve Davis, his first year sergeant at The Citadel, who went to Vietnam and was killed within three or four weeks
Bell said it doesn't have to be a shooting war to be dangerous.
"A lot of what I did as a navy diver, even if it was peacetime, was recovery of aircraft and the guys who were in the aircraft who didn't make it out."
Bell said that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have stirred up some patriotic feelings.
"We don't want the audience to just see us show off our talent or entertain them," said Bell. "We're not that attractive looking anyway, so it's not about the Charleston Men's chorus. It's about what Memorial Day is really about: commemorating those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to their nation."
Thomas Riemschneider is a Goldring Arts Journalism Program writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.