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Spouses' choir vows to stay together after TV talent show setback

Sep. 6, 2013 - 01:01PM   |  
America's Got Talent - Season 8
The American Military Spouses Choir performs on 'America's Got Talent.' Choir members from around the U.S. represent the four military services. (Virginia Sherwood/NBC)
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The message from the American Military Spouses Choir after learning that they won’t advance to the finals of “America’s Got Talent” was: “Stay tuned.”

The choir, comprising about 38 wives of active-duty service members, found out Sept. 4 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City that they didn’t receive enough votes to continue to the finals of the $1 million competition. On their Facebook page, they also thanked America for all of the support they received.

But the end of the competition on the NBC prime-time television show is not the end of their choir. There may be other opportunities coming their way. Regardless, they have said they want to continue to sing together.

And the artistic director who brought them together 16 months ago said he envisions expanding the concept to include choirs of spouses on many bases.

“So when they’re called to sing as a larger group, a select number can come together and perform, all over the world,” said Victor Hurtado, a former Army sergeant and co-founder and chief creative director of the Center for American Military Music Opportunities (CAMMO), which sponsors the choir.

He said he envisions that the spouses on bases might practice and perform locally the same repertoire of music, and also would be ready to perform regionally or nationally.

“From the outset, there has been so much interest,” he said. “So many have asked how to audition.

“If anyone is wondering if it can be done, you only have to look at this group. They came together at the Kennedy Center the night before they first performed,” Hurtado said.

The spouses first rehearsed together the night before they performed in May 2012 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., with musician David Foster, who had asked for a choir of military spouses. Hurtado and CAMMO put out the word on two weeks’ notice to the active duty community, family readiness groups and others.

“It’s a testament to their spirits as military spouses — not the ‘can do’ spirit, but the ‘just do’ spirit,” he said.

The group auditioned for “America’s Got Talent” after some of the TV program’s producers saw videos of the Kennedy Center performance on YouTube. The choir was among the few acts chosen for the competition out of 35,000 that auditioned.

Their Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force husbands’ ranks range from corporal to major general. Some have sung on stage; most have performed in choirs in their schools and communities. As the group expands, it hopes to include male spouses and Coast Guard spouses, too.

“We have an amazing relationship in our choir. The sisterhood of military spouses is amazing in and of itself,” said Laurie Massie, an alto whose husband is a Navy lieutenant commander and chaplain stationed at Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C.

“But add on the fact that we love to sing, and it makes our bond even stronger,” she said in an interview before the last competition before a nationwide TV audience. “Now we’re watching our dreams come true in front of our faces, and it makes the bond stronger. It’s indescribable. The whole atmosphere of the group is beyond words.”

Members of the group have supported each other through deployments, permanent change of station moves, pregnancies and births, and illnesses of family members.

“The nicest thing about this is it’s a community of friends. We draw strength from that,” said Teresa Santee, wife of an Air Force major general. “We’ve helped each other with any number of issues. So many different things have occurred. It’s easier to face when you have the support of the group.”

Most also are juggling family responsibilities and careers. Santee said she appreciates her bosses at the Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia allowing her to take leave without pay to sing with the spouses’ choir.

Hurtado said other spouses include everyone from a dialysis specialist to a doctoral student.

While about two dozen of the women live in the Washington, D.C., area and have rehearsed together, others from as far away as the West Coast and England can’t always travel for practice. So they participate through Skype, watching the others rehearse, listening to the director and taking notes for their own individual practice.

The women interviewed said the reaction from the military community and the public in general has been inspiring.

“It’s moving and touching,” said soprano Brandy Albert, whose husband is an Army sergeant. “There are so many fans … to see how supportive and patriotic they are for America,” she said.

Troops in Afghanistan have sent messages, and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, sent a note of encouragement.

“People tell us they draw strength from our songs,” Santee said.

Ashley Heaton, a 21-year-old alto, is the youngest military spouse in the group and admitted to nervousness before the performances.

“We’re not just representing our group. We represent spouses everywhere,” she said.

But Heaton, expecting her first child in late October, said she has gotten through her nervousness by thinking of her husband, Marine Cpl. Joshua Heaton, who returned in June from a seven-month deployment to Afghanistan. And like others in the group, she is singing for all service members.

“I think about our service members and what they’ve been through,” she said. “Compared to what they’ve done, I have nothing to be nervous about.”

For Laurie Massie, the military connection has brought her back to music, after she gave up her music career because of the military. She encountered difficulty in maintaining her career during frequent moves.

“The military [connection] brought it back in a way over and above my wildest dreams,” said Massie, who has been singing since she was 3.

Her primary instrument is the bassoon, although she plays every woodwind instrument. She has played with symphonies in Jackson and Tupelo, Miss., and elsewhere.

“I always dreamed of playing with the the New York Philharmonic Symphony at Carnegie Hall,” she said. But performing at Radio City Music Hall “is even more powerful to me than Carnegie Hall. Fewer people are able to perform here.”■

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