Every other year, the Savannah Children’s Choir expands their horizons through an educational and performance-related international trip.
Following a 2016 trip to Ireland, this year’s journey to France will be marked by a number of special occasions and experiences. When co-founder and executive director Roger Moss was scheduling their week-long June tour, the company helping plan the trip suggested the region of Normandy along the coast.
The trip’s timing coincided with a historical moment, and so Moss seized on the opportunity to turn the performance into an educational experience for the middle-schoolers. He intentionally planned the trip around a special June 6 performance near the beaches of Normandy to honor the American soldiers lost on June 6, 1944, during the infamous D-Day landings of Operation Overlord.
Along with a special patriotic song, Moss has teamed up with legendary jazz trombonist and Savannah Music Festival alum Wycliffe Gordon for an original song, “A Soldier’s Heart,” to be performed for the first time on June 6 near the site of the invasion. It's also where hundreds of overlooked African-American soldiers contributed to the success of the Allied's invasion.
“It’s sort of like a dream come true,” Moss said. “Wycliffe came and visited our rehearsal one day and made a comment that he would love to write for the kids. I called him and said, 'Would you be interested in writing the piece for D-Day?' He said, 'Absolutely.'
“We wanted them to know what D-Day was, but also we wanted them to know some things that are not taught in school. One of those things being, that it was a time of segregation. There were African-American soldiers that day that didn’t receive a hero’s welcome. I ran across the story of the 320th barrage balloon battalion.”
Using a quote from Gen. George C. Marshall, the architect of Operation Overlord and D-Day, Moss wrote the lyrics to the song in honor of the 320th, the only all-black combat unit and only barrage balloon battalion to take part in the D-Day landings.
“George Marshall spent some time in Savannah and went to a number of Rotaries, and I ran across this quote: ’A soldier’s heart, a soldier’s spirit, a soldier’s soul,’ and I was like, oh, this is great,” Moss said. “The kids have been hard at work on that piece. We were blessed in that local philanthropist Dick Eckburg actually paid for the composition. Dick has always been a big supporter of the military. It’s going to be quite the contribution from Savannah.”
Aside from the special Normandy concert, Moss has jammed the week full of special events for the choir. Throughout the choir’s years of international travel, they’ve often performed in grand halls around the world, but this year, they’ll get the opportunity to showcase their voices in a legendary cathedral, the Notre Dame de Paris.
Moss reached out to the historic Gothic cathedral to see about singing on the steps of the church as the visitors passed. The church asked for a recording of the choir. After hearing it, they asked what repertoire they would use if they were to sing a full mass. Following parameters given by the church, Moss sent back a list of arrangements. A few weeks later, they asked if the choir would like to sing the 6 o’clock Saturday mass.
“The music that we’re performing for the mass, it’s classical music and it’s challenging,” Moss said. “I am so impressed with how fast the kids have learned it. They’re doing at least high school level music and they’re in middle school.
“Our mission is to unite, mentor and transform kids through excellence in choral performance,” Moss said. “It doesn’t get any more excellent than performing at Notre Dame. Two of our chaperones are French nationals. They’ve been teaching our kids French. The kids are learning French and French culture. All of the restaurants we’re eating at are French — some are really nice. So they will be steeped in French culture.”