Adventist Youth Musicians
Perform for President in Poland
BY VIRGINIA-GENE RITTENHOUSE [Main Story]
t was 11:00 p.m. on the night of July 26. Suddenly the telephone rang sharply in our room at Warsaw’s Orbis Hotel, and the voice of Mrs. Harry Morgan, executive director of Friendship Ambassadors, was on the other end of the line. “Virginia-Gene,” she said in an excited half-whisper, “something fantastic may be about to happen. The social secretary of the White House heard the New England Youth Ensemble’s performance tonight at the great cathedral here in Warsaw, and she has just called to say that there is a possibility that you may be invited to perform at the dinner to be given by President and Mrs. Gerald Ford for the premier of Poland and other dignitaries on Monday evening at the famous Wilanów Palace. . . . Just stand by.”
I ran down the hall to give the news to Frank Araujo, the director of the Takoma Academy Chorale, which this year was traveling with the New England Youth Ensemble in its second goodwill concert tour of Poland under the auspices of Friendship Ambassadors. Together we had shared many exciting moments in our musical experience—Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall, Kennedy Center, and Festival Hall in Tokyo. But this was far beyond our wildest dreams. I stood for a moment gazing out the window on the twinkling lights of the city. Was it possible that we were to climax this tour with a command performance for these high dignitaries? . . .
By 5:00 p.m. [Sunday] Mr. and Mrs. Morgan, along with the music director of Friendship Ambassadors, arrived to rehearse with us, select the program, and coach us in the necessary protocol. Just before midnight Mr. Morgan, founder and president of Friendship Ambassadors, made the official announcement that we were to perform for the President. . . .
That evening, after an earnest prayer service with both groups together, we found ourselves back at the palace gate at exactly 9:00. . . . What a moment! . . . Quickly we took our prearranged places and checked over and over again each step of the protocol, for there could not be one flaw by anyone. Then the words: “Stand by in silence. The president and party have left the state dining room and are proceeding to the ballroom.” . . .
The president of the United States, Henry Kissinger, Premier Gierek of Poland and Mrs. Gierek; and all the dignitaries seated themselves right before us. Appropriate speeches of tribute were made by both leaders to the contribution that Friendship Ambassadors were making to the promotion of goodwill between our two countries, and then our concert began. Each young soloist introduced their number and performed it without a flaw. . . .
There was the president surrounded by 100 excited teenagers, warmly embracing little Timmy, congratulating Hope, our soprano soloist, and smiling and shaking hands over and over with every outthrust hand. Then a motion for silence, and the president was speaking. “Young people, I want you to know that your performance tonight was superb. We hear a great deal of criticism today of American youth. Tonight you were the finest. You made me so proud this evening—proud to be an American.” . . . [The president] waved a final greeting. “Goodbye, kids, see you at home.” . . .
Could not this night be a foretaste of the glory that awaits us when we shall be summoned by the King of kings and Lord of lords to have the “Well done” spoken to each one. “See you at home.” Yes, that eternal, everlasting home ‘ ‘where dwelleth righteousness and peace forever.”
Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, Ph.D., was professor of music at Atlantic Union College, South Lancaster, Massachusetts, when this article, adapted here for our use, appeared in the September 11, 1975,