It all started because my good friend Mim, with whom I attended high school, moved down to D.C. and got a job at the Postal Museum. What?! Have you never heard of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum?! Then you are not a true museum nerd, D.C. buff, or semi-professional philatelist! Because, though it is not as well known as the other Smithsonian museums down on the mall, the Postal Museum has really put its stamp on the city. Heh.
One of the reasons you may not have visited this particular museum is the location. It is not with the other museums, but you will find it instead at the Union Station metro stop, far from the maddening rush of tourists and cherry blossom seekers. And because it was little-known to the outside world, what it really needed was some awesome programming to draw in the crowds. That’s where my group came in.
Mim was in charge of public programs, and she knew that I was directing an a cappella group, and so it was only natural that she would reach out and ask if we would come sing a concert of postal-related songs at the museum. And of course who wouldn’t want to do that! The only thing that could possibly make it better would be if she could somehow get her hands on real-life actual postal worker’s uniforms for us to wear during the performance! Luckily Mim is a bit of a programming genius.
While Mim was busy securing ridiculous outfits for us to wear, I had to go to work choosing and arranging songs that were in some way tied to the U.S. Postal Service. Mim provided me with a stack of old sheet music from the musuem archives and I sifted through it, looking for some hidden gems. My first selection was “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” because that song is awesome. “Please Mr. Postman” was a must sing, as well as “Return to Sender” and “P.S. I Love You.” But weren’t there any more modern songs to sing?
“Sealed With a Kiss” got added to the set list, and we moved up almost into the 70s at least with “Take a Letter Maria.” “The Letter” rounded out the actual songs about mail, although we put in “Walkin’ on Sunshine” as well, because it does mention a mailbox in it. I know that this is stretching a little, but I made sure to beef up the mailbox parts in the arrangement of that song, so the background singers mention mailboxes at least eight times. I think we pulled it off.
People don’t seem to write so many songs about the mail these days, so we only got to the 80s with our setlist, and even that 80s song was pushing it, but that was okay. We had enough songs to sing, and we were ready to go put on our uniforms. Now, obviously this was the coolest thing anyone could ever do, but for some reason a few people in the group disagreed. From the way they were talking, one might actually think they did not want to dress up like a letter carrier and sing songs about the mail! Clearly I must have misunderstood their tones. Regardless, we all got into our new outfits and walked out into a giant hall of echoes that sucked all of our sound away into the rafters and was not easy to sing in.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I had a great time. And actually, I do know about everyone else. They loved it too. We were a big hit, and they asked us back to do more concerts, which we did. But when we came back we sang in a smaller room with better singing acoustics, and we wore normal clothes. So, not as infamous then. There’s a reason I’m writing about that first time, and not those other times. You just don’t forget a day like that, dressed up in an official government uniform, and singing “Want you back! Back in the mailbox! Back to stay! Stay in the mailbox!” Katrina and the Waves would have been very proud.