Soundtrack to Our History

The Fourth of July is a time for barbecues and fireworks—and, of course, celebrating our nation's independence. And what better way to get at the true meaning of the holiday than by listening to the music that's been the soundtrack to our history?

This year's marks the 28th annual Let Freedom Sing concert, presented by the Arts Express Choir and Orchestra. The free concerts began in 1985 when Joan Ashcraft, co-artistic director of Arts Express, and her husband were inspired to honor those who have fought for our freedom. Among them is Ashcraft's son, Tim, who serves as a helicopter pilot in the military.

"We not only wanted to recognize our military families and to celebrate America, but give young people the chance to hear music and feel the sense of pride," Joan Ashcraft said. "We have so much to be grateful for living here in the U.S. We are passing on America's legacy to young people and making them realize how fortunate we are."

Ashcraft said the event started with 60 volunteers, but participation has grown steadily.

"Now, we have almost 200 people involved in the concert. Whether they are backstage or in front playing instruments and narrating, the total focus is providing our youth with the opportunity for the arts," she said.

A new addition this year is a performance by Alexander Levi, who competed against 23 other contestants and won the Arts Express vocal competition on June 2. Levi will sing the Eagles' "Desperado" with the Arts Express Choir.

"I am honoring the nation and honoring the people who have done so much for our nation," Levi said. "I look forward to entertaining them and their families. 'Desperado' is a great American song by a great American band, and sharing the stage with the Arts Express Choir is a great honor."

A Tucson native, Levi has been singing for six years and has been in several shows at Pima Community College. He's also auditioned for American Idol three times. Levi is studying journalism at PCC West and plans to transfer to the University of Arizona.

Shaunna Kowalewski, community-relations director for Arts Express, said, "We change it every year, and we try to update it and make sure it's not the same old stuff. What is great about the show is it is not just patriotic. It's a variety show, showcasing Levi along with the choir."

Ashcraft said Let Freedom Sing will include the Arts Express Choir and Orchestra performing works by John Philip Sousa and Irving Berlin. This year's event will also look back to the war years of the 1940s, with period songs such as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" on the bill. Cars from the era will be displayed in front of Centennial Hall.

"We will show the audience ... a little about our history and the great inventions that have come out of America. We will be streaming a lot of wonderful patriotic music. We have a choir of 90 singers and an orchestra with 20 members," Ashcraft said. "It is just a lot of fun and a great way to celebrate the Fourth."

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