Resident in Super Bowl chorus

Posted: February 11, 2014

The Winchester Star

Staff Sgt. K.C. Armstrong of Frederick County was one of 32 military singers in a joint service chorus that backed up opera singer Renée Fleming when she sang the National Anthem at Super Bowl XLVIII.

Winchester — Although his training kicked in and kept him focused, Staff Sgt. K.C. Armstrong was always aware that he was singing at Super Bowl XLVIII.

Armstrong, 38, of Frederick County, was one of 32 military singers in a joint service chorus that backed up opera singer Renée Fleming when she sang the National Anthem Feb. 2 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Members of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines Corps comprised the choir, which rehearsed with Fleming for the first time the Friday before the big game, Armstrong said.

“It is now in my top five experiences with the military chorus,” he said, putting it with experiences, such as singing at the funerals of Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford and for a visit by Queen Elizabeth II.

Armstrong has performed at professional sporting events before with The U.S. Army Chorus and was aware of the routine ahead of time. He marched onto the field for the performance, was at attention the entire time, and only had a moment to glance around before the chorus was leaving to go back to their hotel. They got there in time to watch the second half on TV since they did not get tickets to the game.

But even Armstrong was taken aback by the exhilaration of stepping out onto the field for the nation’s largest single game sporting event.

“The energy levels were off the charts. Imagine waiting in the bowels of the stadium for five to six hours as all this above you is amping up,” he said. “Then we finally get dressed and march out to the side of the field and it’s like, ‘wow, this is really happening.’”

Adding to his excitement was the fact that Fleming is the first opera singer to perform the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, Armstrong said. Given his classical voice training, he said he was proud to be part of that milestone with the singer, whom he found gracious and professional. “It was sung live — she was not lip synching.”

Fleming is the creative consultant for the Lyric Opera of Chicago, according to its website, lyricopera.org. She has been the recipient of such prestigious musical awards as the Richard Tucker Award, the National Medal of Arts, and the Swedish Polar Music Prize. She also sang at “We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration” at the Lincoln Memorial in 2009.

The soprano singer had performed with the army chorus before at a memorial service for American diplomat Richard Holbrooke and requested the group back her up at the Super Bowl, said Master Sgt. Bob McDonald, senior producer for the U.S. Army Chorus. The decision was then made to have the group represent all four branches.

Even being asked was an incredible honor and a thrill for all of the chorus members, McDonald said. “To sing with somebody like Renee Fleming, who is arguably the greatest opera singer of our generation, was a thrill for all of us and a career highlight.”

McDonald agreed with Armstrong that although the entire Super Bowl experience was pretty much a whirlwind, “it couldn’t have been cooler,” McDonald said.

Armstrong has been a bass vocalist with The U.S. Army Chorus since 2004. The group is the only all-male professional chorus in the nation and has a stellar reputation, he said.

Before that, he had been a member of the U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants since 1999. Members of both choruses are active military personnel. He moved to the Winchester area in 2007 to be near his work.

Armstrong was one of 10 singers from the 28-member army group chosen for the joint military chorus, he said.

“It was all but drawing straws,” he said wryly. “It wasn’t necessarily the elite.”

The Army chorus sings regularly at Washington Redskins and Washington Nationals games, but the excitement level at the Super Bowl was amazing, he said.

The sound in the stadium was so loud and the music reaching him so delayed that the only way to keep in time with the music was to focus on the conductor.

Armstrong graduated from East Tennessee State University in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in music/vocal performance. He joined the Singing Sergeants the same year.

He auditioned for the Army chorus when there was an opening. He liked the reputation of the group as well as the fact that the group doesn’t tour as much as other military choruses, so he can be home more often with his wife and three children.

The army chorus regularly performs for the president, vice president, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the chiefs of staff for the army and air force, he said. As wonderful as it is to perform at big events, it can be even more meaningful to sing for a few heads of state of opposing countries to help break the ice.

“In my mind, that is what keeps our job alive as a chorus. It justifies our existence — helping keep peace,” he said.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com