Wednesday, January 25, 2017
As the 2015-16 U.S. presidential campaign kicked off, I dedicated myself early to helping my candidate, Donald Trump, in the primary and general elections (a challenge in New York City). This election cycle I combined my love of busking with my love of campaigning, as I had 16 years ago during George W. Bush’s run. In 2000, my efforts brought me from rallying by myself in Times Square each night during the recount (broadcasting to the world on live Web cams!), to Washington, D.C. on inauguration day in 2001, singing “God Bless America” in the front of the Supreme Court, the site where W’s victory was vindicated.
During Mr. Trump’s run, while I occasionally worked the phone banks in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in NYC, I also started to practice “The Star Spangled Banner,” knowing it may come in handy at political meetings and rallies. The anthem is a challenge to sing well, making it an excellent workout in the subway over my lunch hour.
As my tenor voice rang through the mezzanine at Grand Central, and I witnessed commuters break into smiles and goosebumps, I knew it was time to find opportunities to sing at volunteer events. From my first performance at a Team Trump 5k walk/run and picnic in Central Park, I won the hearts of workers and one of our amazing coordinators, Nicole, while discovering a purpose for my singing — to energize and electrify the hearts and souls of citizens supporting Donald Trump.
One volunteer who heard me after the election, Vlad, clued me into the power of singing. “Remember,” he said, “everywhere you go with your God-given gift, you can change the atmosphere.” He become a friend and my most ardent fan, but more important, he insisted on reminding me of the power of my voice each time we met, and nudzhing me to sing. His words were so compelling that I scheduled them to pop up on my iPhone each morning at 11:30.
I really wanted to sing at a ball or event on inauguration day, and told my fellow volunteers of this dream. I had given my vacation notice for that Friday, reserved hotel rooms, arranged transportation with a friend, and requested tickets to the Capitol swearing-in from my elected representatives in Washington. All I had left to do was pack my black velvet evening jacket and find a place to sing.
Our Capitol tickets to Green Section #14 were not in our hands until the afternoon of January 19; John and I were driving to Washington that evening. Alas, no ball tickets were to be had, and we didn’t have time to find another party. I was realistic from the beginning, of course, that I wouldn’t be standing on the east front of the Capitol building, singing to a worldwide audience. We were simply thrilled that we managed to arrange this momentous trip and snag tickets that are very hard to come by.
The morning of January 20, we rode the Metro red line from Silver Springs to the Capitol South station, walked to the gates, and passed through the security checkpoint to Green Section #14, a narrow standing-only section. But we realized at some point we had made it into Green Section #12, standing at the edge of a wide seating area (where two of Duck Dynasty’s Robertson brothers sat a few chairs from us).
It was grand. We had made it! We were about to witness history! John and I shook hands, pinched ourselves, and took pictures while we drank in the splendor of the Capitol building, the choirs, the bunting, the large-screen TVs, and the dense crowds reaching as far down the mall as we could see.
While we waited for the 11:30 a.m. ceremony to begin, the U.S. Army Band played fanfares to announce the entrances of the many dignitaries in attendance. After each spoken introduction, there was a short lull while the crowds patiently waited in the cool air.
Singers sing. That is what we do. And so during a lull, I began to gently sing the national anthem for those immediately around me. Gradually, I kicked my operatic voice into high gear and threw the melody out further and further into the crowd, capturing the increasing attention of celebrants who became silent as they heard the singer in their midst.
At the song’s climax, “O’er the land of the free,” I held the high G to a long, gentle decrescendo, while the crowd seemed to hold its breath. They were in my grip as I concluded: “And the home of the brave?”
Then, an eruption of cheers and applause! Phones were pointing in my direction, and countless eyes of men and women were beaming right into mine with grateful, radiant smiles.
My dream to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” at President Donald J. Trump’s Inauguration had come true.
— Paul Klenk