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June 11, 2004

Washington Post

Choir rehearsal was supposed to end at 5 p.m., but Patrick Lundy is still plowing ahead at 10 minutes past the hour. The director of the Eastern High School Choir seems oblivious to the time and the exigencies tugging at his young singers on this September afternoon: One girl has to catch a bus for night school; another is supposed to baby-sit her sister; a third needs to get to an after-school job at Best Buy. Don't do that, Lundy warns when he catches someone eyeing the clock. He places his hands on the electric piano and, once again, makes the singers repeat a string of lofty notes from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." They've been rehearsing this section of the song for 30 minutes.

"It sounds like your house is sinking," he tells the altos, where one girl is singing as flat as Kansas. Facing them, Lundy rolls up his shirtsleeves. If they sing this right, the Battle Hymn should be able to lift an audience right out of its seats. He won't be satisfied until it does.

This dogged demand for excellence has been the Eastern High School Choir's hallmark for more than three decades. It's how Lundy and his predecessor, Joyce Garrett, built the ensemble into one of the D.C. public school system's most renowned cultural institutions. It's how the Eastern High School Choir has come to perform for every president since Ronald Reagan, to make frequent appearances at the Kennedy Center and on national television, to back up Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera and Stevie Wonder, and to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars for college scholarships along the way.

But as the new school year gets underway at Eastern, those glories are only a distant memory. The choir -- and the school that houses it -- is struggling. "Sit at the edge of your chairs," Lundy commands. "Don't slouch . . . I want it to sound like this." He strikes a note on the keyboard and belts out the elusive part. His hands sweep back and forth like a broom, showing the rhythm he wants. "You can go home when it's perfect," Lundy tells his singers. Loretta Miller listens from the second row of the alto section. Some of the other girls chatter when Lundy looks elsewhere. Loretta, however, remains quiet, with her hands folded in her lap and her spine as rigid as a rod. The 16-year-old junior doesn't care what time rehearsal ends. Let it last all night. Few things make her as happy as being in the choir. More

Posted by acapnews at June 11, 2004 10:29 PM

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