America has been celebrating its independence for 237 years, and for almost 30 of those, volunteers with Arts Express have been expressing their patriotism through song and dance at "Let Freedom Sing."
The tradition continues at 3 p.m. Thursday at Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd.
"Because of this concert, we have raised generations of kids in the past 29 years who come back every year to sing and express their love of country and recognize the military," said Joan Ashcraft, co-artistic director of Arts Express with her husband, David Ashcraft. "It is very meaningful to look out into the crowd with more than 2,000 people singing and waving flags."
The Ashcrafts have overseen the annual production as it has evolved from a concert in a church to a large-scale variety show featuring more than 120 singers and instrumentalists in a multigenerational choir and orchestra at Centennial Hall.
They have staged numerous themes through the years. This year "From Sea to Shining Sea" will highlight the diverse characters of states and regions across the nation. The Dixie Cats will pay homage to the South with classics like "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?" and the Big Band Express will perform "Chattanooga Choo Choo" and "Alexander's Big Time Band." Other favorites as well as traditional pieces such as "The Star Spangled Banner" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" are also on the program.
The afternoon will culminate in a salute to the armed forces.
"We will end with a piece called, 'I Believe In America,' " Joan said. "In spite of all of our differences, we are all grateful for our freedoms and for all of those who have sacrificed and given so much for our country."
Joan views "Let Freedom Sing" as a cornerstone of the Arts Express mission to change lives and build a better community by creating opportunities for children and adults to experience the power of the arts.
"We want to provide meaningful arts experiences for children, youth and adults so art will become a part of their daily lives," she said. "In my opinion, art can provide such a relief for those who are suffering and bring people such great joy. Art also helps kids and adults to make connections in other aspects of their lives."
Arts Express seeks to forge tangible connections not only through community performances but through arts-education programs for Southern Arizona youth in grades 2-12.
Last year, the nonprofit served more than 540 young people through programs such as Behind the Scenes: Broadway & More!
Originally a partnership with Broadway in Tucson that offered students a behind-the-scene workshop in theater production, the partnership expanded last spring to include UApresents, the University of Arizona's professional performing-arts presenter.
Arts Express also offers the Fine Arts Youth Academy, a summer immersion program in the arts. The program culminates in student performances, art exhibits and music theater productions that are open to the public.
If You Go
What: "Let Freedom Sing" 2013.
When: 3-5 p.m. Thursday.
Where: University of Arizona Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd.
Cost: Reserved tickets can be purchased for $20 per person; general admission is free with a suggested $10 donation and tickets are required. The show has sold out for the past several years, and tickets can be obtained online in advance at www.arts-express.org or by calling 319-0400.
Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at email@example.com