Reflections from an Anthem Singer

Here in beautiful Montreal, my mind is a constant swirl of thoughts and conference experiences, so I will try to tame some of my swirl here on this blog.
As a first time attendee at the annual international conference of IAAP (International Association of Administrative Professionals), my overwhelming thought so far is Wow. Wow. Wow.  Dedicated administrative professionals from all over the world have gathered in Montreal for professional development and leadership advancement.  We’ve all heard the phrase “A stranger is a friend you haven’t met yet.”  With more than 1,000 conference attendees from around the globe, I am surrounded by friends.  Smiling, friendly faces at every turn, people from close and from afar, every one eager to reach out to shake hands (which usually quickly turns into a hug), introduce themselves, and to share some of their own conference swirl.
This weekend, I had the honour of participating in the conference opening ceremony in my role as the anthem singer.  I’ve been rehearsing back at home in Hamilton over the last many weeks.  For reasons that make sense to me, I did most of my practising in the car by myself as I went back and forth to work, and I tended to crank it up at stoplights.  The other drivers around me must have assumed that I was singing along with the radio’s top 40…bet not one of them would ever guess that I was singing O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner!
Each time I sang, I used mental imagery to try to visualize what it would feel like to stand on stage in front of all of those people and sing the anthems.  I tried to imagine what I’d be feeling as I sang, the weight of the microphone in my hand, what the listeners would be feeling, what I would see as I looked out in the audience.  And there was, of course, the ever present question of what I should wear.
The most important part of my prep, though, was finding the right instrumental accompaniment tracks.  It’s much like when you shop for a new outfit – you definitely know what you’re not looking for, and you’ll know the right one when you find it – it will just speak to you.  After many hours searching through iTunes, the internet and the library collection, I was so excited to come across what I felt were the two perfect back tracks.  The track for the Canadian anthem was a very simple but beautiful guitar piece, and its simplicity puts the focus on the words.  Yes, that one would be perfect.  The Star Spangled Banner piece actually contained no music at all; it was an acapella track with very tight and very beautiful five-part harmonies.   Yes, I think that one would be perfect too.   Both were unique, but stayed true to the anthems.
I arrived in Montreal early Saturday morning, went straight into two half-day professional development workshops, followed by a first timers’ orientation session.  A very busy day, but a good day.  Then it was time to go for my sound check and music rehearsal.  I walked into this huge ballroom, where chairs for 1,000+ people were organized theatre style.  The stage was beautifully set up with a purple/teal/green theme through lighting and curtains.  I met the members of the production team from Nashville who were there to handle all of the music, lighting, microphones, etc.  They were wonderful to work with, very good at what they do, and I felt that I was in really good hands.  I had an opportunity to do two run throughs.  It felt right and I felt ready for the next day’s ceremony.  It was only later that evening that an IAAP friend pointed out to me that I had gone through my day with my shirt on inside out.  Yes, stood on that stage and did my thing, not once realizing that my tags were on the outside.  I’m still laughing about that one.
Sunday morning arrived, and it was time for the opening ceremony.  Found myself back stage with the enthusiastic flag bearers as we waited for “the moment”.  We were all excited to be taking part in the opening ceremony.  We could hear the buzz in the room as people hugged their old and new friends, and made their way to their seats.  The energy in the room was absolutely palpable!  Then it was time.  Time for a couple more deep breaths (and one last check to make sure my shirt was not on inside out-LOL!).  The ceremony started with the Parade of Nations, with great fanfare and with great affection for each of the flag bearers as they brought the various national flags onstage to thunderous applause.  The Mounties escorted and presented the Canadian and US flags on stage, and then it was anthem time.
I walked out to my spot on stage, in front of those 1,000+ people, took one last deep breath in the spotlight, and the music started.  From the very first note, it was a moment in time that I will never forget.  The music soared across the room.  These were our anthems, with words ever meaningful.  People stood, with their hands over their hearts.  Cameras flashed across the room, reminding me of flickering candles.  The music continued to soar.  As the last notes faded away, the room erupted in applause.  All of my rehearsing did not prepare me for the power of that moment, as each one of us lived the anthems together.  Wow. Wow. Wow.
As the business portion of the meeting started and I quietly made my way from back stage over to my delegate seat, a woman in the audience stood up and gave me the one of the tightest hugs I’ve ever had.  She had tears in her eyes and it was clear that the anthem had great personal meaning to her.  I was so touched, and I wish I knew who it was who was hugging me (it was dark where we were standing and I couldn’t read her name tag).  If you were that lovely lady, please know that your hug at that moment was so special and I will always remember that you reached out.
Since that morning, I have been surrounded by wonderful, thoughtful comments and warm hugs.   Everyone speaks the language of music.  I continue to be humbled and honoured to have been part of that opening ceremony and to have been able to represent my country in this very special way.
I will return to the office and to my staff role at HCF later this week with new learnings gleaned from the fabulous educational sessions and parliamentary procedures that I have been part of at this conference, and with a renewed energy for my work with the CEO, management team, Board of Directors and my awesome HCF staff colleagues.
And I will return with an amazing life highlight experience tucked safely in my memory bank.