Early in the process for the Christmas Revels, everyone in the cast gets the word: No cutting your hair until after the show. That means men, too, although it’s possible to get special permission if you just can’t live with the big hair look. Some people end up with wigs. But, the rest of the year, your hair is your own.
That’s why I got a haircut 10 days before the Washington Revels Heritage Voices show at Ford’s Theatre last month. It had vaguely crossed my mind that my long hair might be an asset to a Civil War-era show, but, well, an opportunity arose and I put my hair in the hands of a very talented young lady at a salon on U Street. My hair, which used to reach well past the middle of my back, is now just below my chin.
The day of the next rehearsal, it occurred to me that I should e-mail Kate McGhee, the costume designer for the gig, to let her know. I am told that quite a wail emanated from Kate’s office when she read the message. Oops. Sorry, Kate.
Fortunately, with the help of bobby pins, some fake hair, and a snood, I looked perfectly presentable onstage, although probably not as awesome as I would have looked in the 19th-century hairdo Kate had planned for me.
Hurrah for the choice of the nation! Our chieftan so brave and so true;
We’ll go for the great Reformation — For Lincoln and liberty too! —“Lincoln and Liberty,” 1860
The echoes of this campaign song, made famous by songster and abolitionist Jessie Hutchinson, rang the rafters as the Washington Revels Heritage Voices and the Roustabout Old Time String Band helped celebrate Lincoln’s Birthday Open House at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC on February 12. The Heritage Voices appeared as part of a daylong celebration honoring the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln and the grand opening of the Theatre’s new Center for Education and Leadership, slated to open later this month.
It was the experience of a lifetime.
Being able to sing this historic and poignant music while reading the words of men and women who lived during the Civil War is one thing, but presenting it in a place so imbued with Abraham Lincoln’s presence—and the history of that fateful night in April 1865—is another.
Over this past year—beginning with performances in the Fall of 2010 and a CD recording featuring music of the American Civil War, “Hard Times Come Again No More“—Washington Revels Heritage Voices have performed in many historic sites throughout the metropolitan Washington area. The group presents a wide variety of music from the era, including African American traditional music and spirituals, as well as narration and readings from primary source materials dating back to the mid-nineteenth century.
“Music has done its share, and more than its share, in winning this war.”
— Union General Philip Sheridan