During a brisk but sunny few days in June, Sound of the Rockies had the distinct privilege of joining world leaders, hundreds of veterans, military service members and tens of thousands of visitors in honoring those who fought in the largest combined land, air and naval operation in history 75 years ago in Normandy, France.
As the principal vocal ensemble representing the United States at the D-Day 75th-anniversary commemorations, the chorus devoted months to preparing for world-class performances at Brittany American Cemetery, Omaha Beach and St. Mère-Église as well as in the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris, on the return trip.
For the 85 members of the chorus who took to the risers in Normandy and the about 120 family and friends who traveled with the group, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of a singular moment in history.
“It’s was an incredible honor to be the musical voice of our country at this anniversary commemoration,” said Bruce Henson, who headed the trip effort for Sound of the Rockies.
Throughout the trip, Sound of the Rockies was greeted by a warm and enthusiastic response from audiences at every stop. “The gratitude and sincere appreciation of the French people, who sacrificed so much, was genuine and heartfelt and very, very touching,” Bruce said.
To be able to come to Normandy, not just as tourists, but with something to give — the gift of harmony and music – made it all the more special, he said.
D-Day began as Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy the morning of Tuesday, June 6, 1944. The operation was a critical turning point in World War II, leading to the liberation of German-occupied France and eventually Europe. It ended with an estimated 10,000 Allied casualties and more than 4,400 deaths.
To the military service members, veterans and family members of veterans in the chorus, the trip held special meaning. United States Marine Corps Veteran Sgt. Adam Mahan and his wife began planning and saving as soon as he officially joined the chorus in 2017.
“I was pretty much hooked the first time I attended a Sound of the Rockies rehearsal, but when I heard about Normandy, I knew I had to be in the group,” he said before leaving for France.
Performing the Paul Simon song “Bridge over Troubled Water” on a grassy spot overlooking Omaha Beach stood out as a highlight for many during the trip.
It was a reverent moment, in which Sound of the Rockies could do what it does best: Give the gift of beautiful harmony to the people who came to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice on the shores of Northern France.