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Reporter's Notebook: Kennedy Center Performance

  • Purnell Murdock

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts overlooking the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Diaa Bekheet).

It’s a familiar joke… a pedestrian on New York City’s 57th Street sees a musician getting out of a taxicab and asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Without missing a beat, the musician replies wearily, “Practice, practice, practice.”

Carnegie Hall is one of a cadre of world renowned concert halls and performing arts centers. Others include the Sydney Opera House, in Sydney, Australia; the Bolshoi Theatre, in Moscow, Russia; the Royal Albert Hall, in London, England; and the Vienna Musikverein aka The Great Hall, in Vienna, Austria.

Also making the list is the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, in Washington, D.C. As a child growing up in the suburbs of the nation’s capital, I remember when the Kennedy Center opened to the public in September 1971. I remember walking through its grand hallways and marveling at the architecture, the tapestry and all the accoutrements of splendor.

Rehearsal on stage at Kennedy Center, Dec. 12, 2016. (Courtesy P. Murdock)
Rehearsal on stage at Kennedy Center, Dec. 12, 2016. (Courtesy P. Murdock)


I played a musical instrument in school and grew up in a musically talented family. But I never imagined, as I toured that hallowed venue for the performing arts, that one day I would perform there.

That chance came by way of Ralph Herndon, a renowned pianist and singer, and the Choral Arts Society of Washington, a major choral organization in Washington.

Founded in 1965, the Choral Arts Society of Washington features a symphonic chorus of more than 190 professional caliber volunteer singers. The chorus regularly appears on television and tours around the world.

Recently, the chorus performed its annual Christmas concert, with Ralph Herndon as the featured guest artist. I accompanied Ralph as the bass guitarist in his rhythm section.

And so, on December 18 I found myself on stage in the main concert hall of the Kennedy Center. It’s hard to describe what it’s like performing in such a grand place before a large audience. The acoustics are spectacular! You can hear every nuance of sound reverberate throughout the auditorium and it inspires you to reach new levels of artistry.

Purnell Murdock practicing in the green room at Kennedy Center before performance, Dec. 18, 2016. (Courtesy P. Murdock)
Purnell Murdock practicing in the green room at Kennedy Center before performance, Dec. 18, 2016. (Courtesy P. Murdock)


I’ve often wondered how musicians can play flawlessly in big concerts or on television. It’s not easy, and you often hear artists talk about how they are transformed when they perform. But once the house lights go down and the opening cue begins, you get caught up in the moment - and you perform.

The Choral Arts Society put on three concerts over the holidays. Ralph and the band received standing ovations for each performance.

Backstage, as I walked the corridor leading to our dressing room, I tried to savor such a unique experience. The corridor is lined with autographed photos of the artistic luminaries who have performed in the main concert hall. They’ve walked along the same backstage corridor, taken refuge in the same dressing room.

I thought about them and their pathway to the Kennedy Center. We have a shared experience, offered to a chosen few. As for how I got here, I was reminded of the punchline to that well known joke. Yeah, practice makes perfect, though it also helps to know somebody who’s been there before.

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