Last week, I performed with my a cappella group at the White House. It still seems unreal, and I'm going to be talking about this for the rest of my life. So while the memory is still fresh in my mind, I figured I'd document the experience in words.
Performing at the White House, for whatever reason, was something I had always had in the back of my mind, and it turns out I wasn't the only person in my a cappella group who knew The Chai Notes were destined for greatness. So Aaron and I put together an application to submit to the White House Social Office. After submitting our application and reaching out to some friends in the Cornell University administration who have connections in DC, we waited. And waited. And actually forgot about the whole ordeal for a bit. And then, we got an email from the White House telling us they'd like to "inquire about [our] availability to perform at the White House for the 2015 holiday season." As a group, we discussed the reality of the situation, and we decided that even with the likelihood that this performance would fall right in the middle of Finals Week, it was an opportunity we could not miss. So, we told the White House that we would 100% love to perform.
And then... we got a phone call from the White House.
(Can I say that again? We got a phone call from THE WHITE HOUSE!)
And in this phone call they officially invited us to perform for the 2015 Hanukkah Reception. I don't know how to actually describe the shock/emotional excitement I felt in this situation, but it feels a little something like this...
Shoutout to Katie for bringing this awesome GIF into my life.
And with a little less than 2 months to the performance, we began planning. This required putting together an hour-long Hanukkah-themed set list, deciding what we would wear, figuring out the logistics of moving 17 people from Ithaca, NY to Washington DC, and so much more. And on top of all this, we were also preparing for our on-campus end-of-semester concert. With so much to be done and so little time, I ultimately sacrificed my precious sleep (last night was the first time I slept more than 6 hours in a night in the past two months!!! #college).
But preparing for this performance wasn't all stress. There were a lot of really cool things The Chai Notes got to do, like being professionally photographed by Cornell's PR department or being interviewed for an article by the Cornell Chronicle. We were mini-celebrities. When it came time to finally head to Washington, DC, I was filled with stress and anxiety and exhausted from the lack of sleep, but I could not have been more excited to hit the road with all of my best friends.
And since this trip landed on Hanukkah, we got to celebrate the holiday together!
The next day was our big performance! In the morning, a bunch of us went to DryBar in Bethesda to get our hair done, which was a very "posh" experience. While drinking warm tea, watching Dirty Dancing, and snapchatting the whole affair, we became White-House-ready.
Then, we had an hour-long rehearsal where we ran through every song to make sure we all knew our parts. After a lunch break, we got dressed and ready to go... to the White House!
SIDE NOTE because this is a fashion blog...
What did I wear to the White House?
I detailed my intense dress search in a post about a month ago (which you can read here!). I ultimately chose the Tulip Skirt Split-Neck dress from Halston Heritage. It was perfect for the occasion because it is a modest dress but still so trendy. The giant poofy skirt was super-slimming, and it looked fantastic with my vintage gold jewelry and Christian Louboutin patent leather pumps.
Ironically, Nina happened to pick another dress that I featured in that post: the Eleese Mesh Skater Dress from Ted Baker, and she looked STUNNING in it (pics to follow later in the post...)!!
Now back to the fun stuff...
We stayed in Maryland, so we had to travel to DC via the Metro, which is basically an above-ground subway. Even something as simple as taking the train can turn into an adventure when you put all the Chai Notes together.
Squeezing 17 people into a tiny elevator seemed like a smart idea...
The resulting selfie was TOTALLY worth it.
We arrived at the White House right on time, and as we were going through security, we ran into The Maccabeats, who had just done the afternoon gig for the Hanukkah reception! After going through many security checkpoints, we finally made it to the White House!
We were escorted by White House staff to a waiting room where they quickly informed us of the logistics for the evening: we would sing an hour set, take a short break, and then sing another hour set. Here's where the really exciting part comes in: during our short break, we would be meeting and performing for President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
For a while it had been up in the air whether or not we were performing for the president, but once it was actually confirmed, we all basically freaked out. I mean, how many people can say they've sung to two of our nation's most important figures?
All dressed and ready to go, we began our first set.
I'm still waiting on official White House photos, but here are some pictures and videos from our performance!
Aseh, soloed by Batya and Aaron
Miracle, soloed by Batya and Nate
Al Hanissim, soloed by Nina
Yo Ya, soloed by Aaron and Ilan
Our original Hanukkah Mashup!
After our first set, we began to prepare to meet the president. We were escorted to a room, and on the way we ran into SUPREME COURT JUSTICE RUTH BADER GINSBURG!!!! She looked SO CHIC; Her jacket was very Iris Apfel-esque. In the room, we were instructed to set up for a photo with Barack and Michelle, so the girls sat in a row of chairs and the boys stood behind. Then we waited for about 20 minutes (it might have been longer; it honestly felt like an eternity). And finally, from a distance, we heard Barack Obama's voice. He and Michelle entered the room and looked genuinely delighted to see all of us! They shook each of our hands, asked us how we were doing, and smiled for a picture (picture to follow, soon hopefully!).
Then, they asked us to perform for them! We decided to do a shortened version of a song called "Et Rikod," which means "Time to Dance!" It's a fun, high energy song soloed by Aaron, and we absolutely killed it! Barack and Michelle were actually jamming out to it; it was the coolest thing ever.
And you can actually watch it right here...
Not only did we perform for Michelle and Barack, but three Supreme Court justices were also in the room: Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and RBG. Performing for them and seeing them smile as we danced and sang was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Afterward, we spoke to Barack and Michelle, and they asked us about school and finals. Michelle also offered us a note from Barack to get us out of our final exams (she might have been joking, but I really could have used that note). Ruth Bader Ginsburg told us that we were "excellent" (actual quote!!!). It was cray.
Also cool, Barack gave us a shoutout in his speech! You can check that out here!
We finished off the night with another hour and a half of singing. Then, we were given a tour of the area of the White House we were in!
Selfies in the White House bathroom!
Me and Shnik looking super classy
Me and Nina!!
At the end of the night, we got this great picture in front of the Presidential seal.
I still have not gotten over the excitement of performing at the White House. But even more than that, I am so excited that we were able to accomplish this together. The long nights of rehearsing, the millions of discussions about what songs should be performed, the stress of having to sacrifice schoolwork for a cappella: in the end, all of it was worth it. And sure, I'm thrilled that for the rest of my life I'll be able to tell people this awesome story, but what made it all worth it for me was how close we became as a group. Last year, I was a member of an a cappella group. This year, I am a member of a family. We've laughed together, we've been stressed together, we've seen each other at our highs and at our lows. I truly believe this experience made us so much closer, and the memory of this night is something we will share together forever.
I'm so thankful to have these people in my life. I cannot imagine what this semester would have been like without them! Finding a group of people who genuinely care for you and want to be with you is, I believe, the key to an amazing college experience. And I have found this group in The Chai Notes. I am already so excited for the great things we have planned for next semester (specifically, our 20th Anniversary concert on March 19th! Mark your calendars!).
So thank you to my 16 best friends for making this semester, and my entire college experience thus far, more amazing than I could have ever imagined. I love you all so much!!
UPDATE!! Here it is, our official White House picture!