Matt Goldstein here – you may remember me from last summer as an assistant music director/assistant director/stage manager/Beckett counselor (shout out to mah boyz)/lifeguard/co-founder of the Weeding Workshop (which remains to this day perhaps my proudest achievement). I had one of the best summers of my life with you guys in Maine this year – meeting incredible people, making awesome theater, enjoying the stunning, simple beauty of Maine, and unplugging from the real world that can be so stressful.
Naturally, I was anxious about going back to school (as a drama/music major at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY) after having such an amazing summer, and the first couple weeks were a little rough. I missed all of the friends I had made, I missed being outside, I missed Shayna and the adventures of Piggy and nearly passing out in Chris’ Suzuki workshop. But of course, there are wonderful people everywhere, and it is just a matter of finding them and inspiring them with a little bit of that silly, creative, loving Manitou spirit.
This year, my goal has been to Manitou-ify my a cappella group, The Vassar Devils. I took all of the energy I had at camp – the genuine support and acceptance of other people, the desire to teach and learn from each other, the passion about making beautiful, thought-provoking art, etc. We have spent some rehearsals just talking about our weeks and giving each other support and advice (you’re never too old for roses & thorns), while others we have spent combining our ideas and talents by trying to make music that is innovative, inspiring, and fun. Over the course of the semester, we have become so much tighter as a group, both in our bond as people and with the level at which we make music, and I’d like to imagine that a lot of that is thanks to the skills I learned and experiences I had this summer at Manitou.
All that work paid off in November when I received an email – an email that I thought at first was a total scam and actually moved to my trash folder, only later to realize that it wasn’t a joke. It was from the White House Social Office, inviting the Devils to perform at the White House as part of a series of holiday season performances! We spent the next month freaking out, watching West Wing, and learning holiday songs, and just last week we hopped on a bus and went on a road trip down to Washington, D.C.
The whole day was an absolutely surreal experience. From the moment I walked into the building (wearing, of course, a jacket that was missing both front buttons and my friend’s dad’s shoes because I had forgotten dress shoes #classy), I felt like I was in a Disney theme park. Each room was extravagant and festive in its own absurd way – the walls of the entrance hall were covered head to toe in ornaments; the next room had a Christmas tree made of mail; one hallway had thousands of paper snowflakes hanging from the ceiling. There was an 18 ft. tall Christmas tree, a gingerbread version of the White House, a gumball machine taller than I am, and huge replicas Presidential dogs made out of yarn.
We spent the day as the welcome music for this holiday extravaganza, singing in a front hallway as guests entered and exited the party. We had so much fun singing for all of the fancily clad government people, and they seemed to have enjoy it as well (or at least tolerate our presence)! Then, an organizer pulled me aside and essentially said, “Don’t freak out. We are going to have you guys prepare a 40-50 second song selection – no shorter, no longer – and go downstairs to the diplomacy room. Where you will meet and sing for the President and First Lady.”
Obviously, I immediately melted into a puddle of human mush. The following 20 minute were some of the coolest 20 minutes of my life. We all got to shake hands with and greet the Obamas, and Michelle Obama put her hands on my shoulders in a group photo XD. Dead. They are surprisingly tall, and UNBELIEVABLY charming.
Their eyes are warm and friendly and they make you feel like the most important person when they talk to you. They are also hilarious – they were cracking jokes the entire time! Before we knew it, we had sung them our 40-second snippet of “Winter Wonderland” and they were gone, just like that. It almost seemed like we had imagined it, and I still am not sure I’ll believe it happened until I see that group photo (and proceed to make it my Facebook cover photo from now until the day I die).
It was such a cool experience, and so wonderful to share it with people I have spent all semester growing closer with and making music with! So, Manitou Campers – if I have one thing I’ve learned from this, it is that investing yourself fully in things you are passionate about, surrounding yourself with cool people, and encouraging those people by exuding positive energy can lead to some pretty incredible places. Two years ago, my group could never even have DREAMED of doing something like this, but we have worked really hard at making ourselves better artists and more open, loving people, and it’s paid off! And remember – no passion is too weird or random to find success. After all, a cappella is definitively weird. We just got lucky that the White House seems to like weird. ;)