Last January, during an appointment for an eye examination at the VA hospital, I noticed some booklets for a “Creative Arts Competition” for American veterans, and decided to check it out. I entered both the Classical and Pop Instrumental categories on my primary instrument, the clarinet. I chose a Benny Goodman/Charlie Christian tune, “AC-DC Current,” for my pop entry and a violin transcription by Corelli for my classical entry.
The competitors are judged live on a local basis in the preliminary stages. Then, in April, winners were requested to make a videotape to be sent off for judging at the national level.
To my great surprise, I learned in June that I had won first prize – and a gold medal – in the Pop Instrumental category (and a silver medal in the Classical category), and was invited to Washington, D.C., in October to perform in the festival.
Most of the weeklong festival activity – rehearsing our individual acts and production numbers involving the entire cast, as well as workshops in everything from sculpture to dance therapy – took place at our hotel, a Holiday Inn in Alexandria, Va. The final performance was presented at Constitution Hall.
It was great having the opportunity to meet artists from all over the country and hear their stories as veterans of the armed forces. Many were truly touching – as in the case of my roommate, who lost a leg in Vietnam and had to struggle to find a new purpose in life.
During the week a number of special luncheons and dinners were scheduled to recognize the many groups and individuals who made this event possible, including an organization called Help Hospitalized Veterans. Volunteers from the American Legion Auxiliary provided a hospitality room for our spare time.
The festival was an extraordinary experience for me – and I know there must be other 802 veterans out there who deserve to be recognized for their talents. If you know such a person, please have them contact the VA Hospital at (212) 686-7500, ext. 7712, or call me at (212) 222-6731.