Our Stories : Fun / History & Heritage
The Congress Hall March
February 25, 2015
March is traditionally thought of as quiet in Cape May, falling after the festive holidays and before the sunny summer afternoons on the beach. At Cape Resorts, the traditions are anything but quiet. From the beginning, music has played a key role at Congress Hall, the Virginia, and other hotel venues. All the way back in 1882, John Philip Sousa wrote “The Congress Hall March” to perform with his orchestra on the veranda. Today, music fills the salty air all year-round- from an ordinary night gathered around the fire in the Brown Room to every special event and holiday. The Congress Hall Festival choir was formed seven years ago and is comprised of community members, employees, and visitors who join together and perform at the Fourth of July celebrations on the lawn and Tree Lighting Concert in the ballroom. Music has the special ability to touch our hearts and create a communal experience.
“Wherever there is good live music, there is an energy that draws people together,” notes Myra Vassian, who is a vocal instructor at the Julliard school of Continuing Education, and the Musical Director at Congress Hall. If it has to do with music at Cape Resorts, Myra is involved. Last year introduced the first annual Sunday Supper and Hymn Sing, where Myra led two hundred guests in song. They joined together in singing traditional hymns and breaking bread (and delicious fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans) while seated at long, communal tables in Congress Hall’s Grand Ballroom. This year’s Hymn Sing took place on February 8th, and featured a performance from Congress Hall’s own Co-Managing Partner, Curtis Bashaw. Music holds a special place in Curtis’ heart. His grandfather, Reverend Carl McIntire, was a Christian Fundamentalist Minister who held the International Conference on Christian Churches at Congress Hall in the late 1960s and 70s. Curtis performed the hymn “Like a River Glorious” and reflected on the first time he and Myra met, singing in a church choir in New York. He asked Myra to come to Cape May and help with developing special events at Congress Hall, and since then each hotel venue wakes up to melodious echoes year-round.
Guests enjoyed the Hymn Sing so much in 2014, that two more concerts were added this year. On March 1st, Myra will present “Going Home: Myra Vassian and Friends” where she will be joined by other local musicians in performing songs from her roots, growing up in the Appalachian Mountains. The series will conclude with “Doo Wop night” on March 22nd. This time, Boiler Room favorite Dane Anthony will take the lead with his band “The Sons of Thunder” as they perform some 50’s favorites from yester-year. March is also a month that welcomes the Singer-Songwriter Festival to Cape May. Since its inception, Cape Resorts has always been a proud partner of this event. The Singer-Songwriter festival welcomes musicians from all over for two afternoons full of business panels, workshops, clinics, mentoring, demo listening sessions, and musical keynotes to Congress Hall. According to Myra, “If you don’t know this event, you don’t know what you are missing. These performers provide us with some of the most unique and interesting entertainment you will find anywhere.” Singer Songwriter Cape May is now in its 8th year, and each year it continues to gain a greater following.
Twice a year Myra organizes the Congress Hall Festival Choir to perform at The Fourth of July Festivities and the Tree Lighting Concert in December. Myra could tell story upon story of the members that have come to be part of that choir. From employees, to community members, to even guests who are frequent visitors who approached her to join the group. Myra always welcomes those who are interested in the choir with open arms. Since the Festival Choir was first founded, Myra brings the same group of professional musicians from New York to fill out the lovely sound. “Not only do the other choir members think of these performers as family, they themselves greatly look forward each season to their time in Cape May. Its very rewarding to be able to come back again and again and share this experience together- we know that we are very blessed.”
Even in the wintertime, the Ebbitt Room fills up with folks looking to sip on a delicious cocktail and spend time together while Paul Sottile provides the soundtrack on the piano. A block away, friends gather around the fireplace in the Brown Room, reminiscing while Darin McDonald plucks out popular tunes on the Steinway. A large picture overlooks the Brown Room; a group of gentlemen stare into the camera while clutching instruments on Congress Hall’s Veranda in 1866. They are The Hassler brothers, and they performed on the veranda for over 40 summers, from the 1860s to the early 1900s. When the Hassler Brothers were making music in Cape May, the United States was divided and restored. Presidents passed Congress Hall’s patriotic columns. Thirty-five acres of Cape May burned to the ground (including Congress Hall) and were rebuilt once again. Music served as the tie that binds people through thick and thin, good times and bad times, from generation to generation. Today, the musicians that serenade us on perfect balmy nights in the summer and snowy nights in the winter, prove that traditions stay alive in our little town by the sea.