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‘Duty, honor, dignity’: Famed West Point Glee Club brings harmony to homeless shelter

They’ve performed at some of the nation’s most prestigious concert venues, recorded film soundtracks, and sung to international leaders, and on Friday afternoon the West Point Glee Club brought their harmonies to an audience of homeless people in downtown San Diego.

“I loved it,” said Johnny Joyce, one of several dozen people who watched the concert at the Alpha Project homeless shelter on Newton Avenue in the East Village.

“For them to come down to give this to people who have nothing, that’s what it’s about,” said Joyce, who has been homeless since 2015.

Thirty-nine cadets from the choir performed earlier in the day at the VA Hospital in La Jolla and were scheduled to sing at a free public concert Saturday at La Jolla United Methodist Church.

The West Point choir perform and serve dinner to the residents of the Alpha Project homeless shelter.

Glee Club Director Constance Chase said an endowment created by West Point graduates funds out-of-state trips for the choir, which recently went to Orlando, Fla., and Salt Lake City, where they performed with the Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra. The Utah concert can be seen on YouTube.

The choir typically performs for an organization in each city, and as she prepared for the San Diego trip, someone at West Point told Chase to look up Gary Krahn, head of school at La Jolla Country Day School and a 1977 West Point graduate who used to run the math department at the New York-based military academy.

Krahn, who retired as a brigadier general in 2006, suggested the cadets stop by the shelter run by Alpha Project President and CEO Bob McElroy, who attended Crawford High with him in the early 1970s.

“This is a good meeting for you,” Krahn told cadets after his high school friend gave them a tour of the shelter. “Remember duty, honor, country. And if you really listen to Bob here, it’s duty, honor, dignity. Not just serving country, but serving something bigger than yourself.

“What happens here is like a mini-West Point,” he continued. “It’s about selfless service, about doing something for other people not just because it makes you feel good, but because it makes the world a better place.”

Dressed in pressed white shirts, white caps and gray slacks or skirts adorned with a red sash, the Glee Club performed about a dozen songs in tight harmonies that brought smiles and rousing applause from their audience.

Cadets of West Point perform for residents at the Alpha Project shelter in downtown San Diego on Friday.

(Alejandro Tamayo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Among the best-received songs was the female section’s rendition of Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me,” which had the audience joining in for the hand-clapping section of the song, and Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.”

An all-male portion of the show had audience members laughing at the singer’s antics during “Coney Island Baby” and “Good Old A Capella.”

The student choir is more than 100 years old and has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Boston Pops, Opera Orchestra of New York, the Super Bowl and many other venues. On Friday, their stage was asphalt, in front of a row of portable toilets and an appreciative audience.

“It was awesome,” said Tangela Payne, who has been at the shelter for about a year and was on the street for a year before then.

Gary Krahn is shown with Bob McElroy.

Gary Krahn (left), a West Point graduate, suggested the Glee Club come to the homeless shelter that is run by his high school friend Bob McElroy (right).

(Alejandro Tamayo/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“That’s what we need,” said Payne, who is attending City College with a plan to become a certified personal trainer. “We need good stuff like this to get our heads out of the clouds, to keep our heads in a happy mode, stop thinking about things for a little bit and just relax and enjoy our day.”

The performance also was meaningful to cadet Emma Larson, a sophomore visiting San Diego for the first time.

“We normally go to VA hospitals to reach out to former military, but we’ve never come to a homeless shelter before, at least in my time,” she said. “But it is an incredible opportunity. This is really heartfelt. I’ve had family members who used to be homeless, so it has a personal touch to it. It means a lot to be able to reach out and provide some sort of love and support.”

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