Tuesday, November 23, 2010
When Airman 1st Class Edward Whittle ’08 learned his tour bus, en route to Plymouth, Mass., would be passing through East Windsor, N.J., he asked his tour manager if they could make a quick stop in the area.
Just a week before Thanksgiving, Whittle and the rest of the U.S. Air Force’s Tops in Blue quickly assembled in front of Williamson Hall for a photo and a brief tour of Westminster Choir College. Whittle, who had studied Music Theory and Composition, and Music Education with a primary in piano at Westminster, said he wanted to give his ensemble a glimpse into the life at the choir college, where he not only had an opportunity grow as a musician, but also a leader.
Tops in Blue is an all-active duty U.S. Air Force special unit that performs for military personnel and their families. Each year, 35 talented musicians, dancers, comedians, magicians and dramatists travel the world during a 10-month tour. While the selection process is competitive — 300 applicants submitted applications to be a part of the 2010 tour — only three of its current members have music degrees.
Whittle, who was inspired by his father’s 33-year career in the Air Force, joined the service in August 2009. It was his father who encouraged him to try out for Tops In Blue.
“Westminster has given me the attitude to always try and never give up. Your time is now,” Whittle said. “Before auditioning for Tops in Blue, I was never sure if I could live up to the job and responsibilities. I was just a young airman in the Air Force. But the only way to find out was to get up there and give it my best. That’s what I did and I was selected.”
In addition to singing bass in the Westminster Choir, the Westminster Jubilee Singers and the student-led a cappella group, the Deaftones, Whittle served as a residence advisor and vice president of the Student Government Association. He also held head counselor positions with the Continuing Education Summer Music Camps. Whittle said the knowledge he gained in his Music Theory courses taught by Dr. Jay Kawarsky and Dr. Joel Phillips and piano lessons with Dr. James Goldsworthy has certainly helped him as a keyboard player in Tops In Blue.
“He has come forth as a natural leader because of his background in music and leadership,” said Mindy Cameron, the outfit’s 2010 tour manager, of Whittle.
This year’s tour, We Believe, includes more than 120 shows in some 20 countries and features music from Michael Bublé, Stevie Wonder, Journey, the Doobie Brothers, Eric Clapton, Yolanda Adams, Black Eyed Peas and Lady Gaga.
The tour schedule is intense. Performers not only master the instrumental, vocal andchoreography, they become their own technical staff. Each day at dawn, the ensemble wakes up and travels to a venue. Once there, they unload the trucks, set up the stage and rehearse until 3:30 p.m. Later in the evening, they perform their 90-minute show, greet the audience and grab a quick bite to eat. Afterward, the ensemble tears down the entire set, boards the bus and head to lodging at around 2 a.m. to rest.
“I remember when I went on 10-day tours with Westminster, and I thought some of those days were rough, but now I know that was only preparation for doing something such as a one-year tour with Tops In Blue,” said Whittle, who will return for duty at the Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska, after the tour ends in March.
Toward the end of their visit at Westminster, Tops In Blue sang a moving rendition of the old Irish blessing, May the Road Rise to Meet You, inside Williamson Hall’s Interior Lounge. Afterward, Dr. Andrew Megill led the students, faculty and staff as they sang Peter Christian Lutkin's Choral Benediction The Lord Bless You and Keep You. Whittle, with tears in eyes, joined the Westminster community in singing the work that means so much to the Choir College community.
“Westminster has definitely made a huge impact on my life and there are so many people there that I consider family,” he said. “Every interaction that I have made with everyone on that campus influences who I am today.”