Mark Lichtenberg, Delta Nu (Bradley University) 1993, gives his first official speech after being elected to a second term as Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity’s 33rd National President at the 56th National Convention. President Lichtenberg opened the new triennium with these remarks during the Closing Ceremonies of the 56th National Convention at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia
56th National Convention
New Orleans, LA
July 22, 2018
It is a true and humbling honor to address you once again as your National President at this, the 56th National Convention of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia. What an incredible week! We have heard amazing performances, been inspired by great men, and enjoyed a sense of Brotherhood that can only be reached when Sinfonians come together as we have this week. To each and every one of you who joined us in New Orleans, I thank you.
The experience of a National Convention simply cannot be replicated, but it also cannot be achieved without you. The palpable feeling in every room, the friendships, the music, the laughter, the tears, the embraces of true Brotherhood – these are not created because of a particular setting or a unique presenter or a dynamic leader – these are the products of men who have individually chosen to come together to Sing as One and lend their voice as we Raise the Song.
What does it mean to “Sing as One” and what Song are we raising, exactly? After all, the phrase is “Raise THE Song,” not “Raise A Song,” so we must know what to sing for it to have any relevance. I am going to answer these questions for you, but first I have a little history lesson.
When I was initiated into Phi Mu Alpha nearly 25 years ago, the Fraternity in many respects had lost its way. As a new Brother, this was largely beyond my understanding, and it was not until a few years later when I started to experience Sinfonia beyond the confines of my chapter that I began to realize that something was off. I still didn’t know what or why, but it felt like there were forces working against one another, not operationally, but philosophically.
As FEO of my chapter in preparation for a new class of probationary members, I cracked open my Themes for Brotherhood in much the same way many of you who have been in that position have done, and there it was – not on the front pages as it is today, but tucked away near the back – there was this admonition from our Founder, Ossian Everett Mills, to deeply consider the meaning of our beloved SINFONIA and then there was this:
“This it is to be a man of the highest type; to be and not seem; to have the right ideal, the true motive, and patiently, to transform conduct in accordance with it.”
These words struck me like a piercing beacon of white light – this was the Fraternity of which I wanted to be a part. But they also made me wonder – why would the Founder of a music fraternity be concerned with this and, perhaps more importantly, why did I not see this reflected in the events and actions of the Fraternity? I wanted to understand, and I wanted to make things better, and so I started talking, and I started doing. I did not ask permission or wait for someone else to tell me what to do next. I just tried to make my little circle of Sinfonia better.
Around the same time, in October 1997, a young man named John Mongiovi who had just been elected to the National Executive Committee, and who was destined to be National President, published a compilation of quotes and writings by the Fraternity’s most influential leaders throughout its history. He had stumbled upon this information because of an assignment he was given as a probationary member; “Go find four pictures of the Mystic Cat” he was told. It just so happened that the library at the University of South Florida, where he was enrolled in graduate studies in Music Theory, had a complete collection of the old Sinfonia Yearbooks in the stacks. He quickly became interested in the history of the Fraternity and took up a course of personal study – on his own, not because he had to. It was a personal quest, and he did not require anyone’s permission to pursue it; he just did it. His publication was entitled “The Changing Scope of the Sinfonia’s Mission,” and it set the Fraternity on its head. Discussions exploded at Fraternity events at all levels and on the Sinfonia Discussion Group email listserv (and for those of you who have no idea was the SDG was, just imagine the Sinfonian Facebook group only with Brothers actually thinking about what they post before they post it). Ultimately, the outward result was the restoration of Sinfonia’s Object and a confirmation that Sinfonia exists for a social rather than professional mission. Inwardly, Sinfonia rediscovered its soul, and today, we are the beneficiaries.
What John did in ensuring that Sinfonia reclaimed its mission was to give us the first opportunity in many, many years to Sing as One. No longer is it necessary to debate the nature of what we are as an organization or why we exist. Because we have clarity inwardly, we should be focused on how we turn our efforts outward and maximize our impact on the world beyond these portals. What if we took the energy we expend in being critical of one another and used it to do something for music in America? Imagine that! One need only to look at recent teacher marches and walkouts in states like West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and North Carolina to see the impact of collective action. And so, I ask you: will you join me in sharing the Power of Music with the world in one voice?
When such a call to action is issued, it is easy to feel ill-equipped and stand by idly, hoping others will take up the cause. But consider, if you will, everything you have already been given by Sinfonia and let that give you the strength and courage to stand together! Are you not inspired by the sincerity and nobility you witness in your fellow Sinfonians? Do the deep friendships you have forged and the opportunities they present not motivate your actions? Is it not enough to know that Sinfonia’s ideals are spread across this nation from coast to coast and border to border? Surely, Brothers, Sinfonia provides you with all you need to attain what it is you set out to do.
If we can agree that we have the tools, then we must also agree to work together – to Sing as One. So, how do we get there? I am reminded of my days as a young leader in the Fraternity, when a number of us were annually invited to a cabin in the North Carolina mountains near the Nantahala River. That cabin was owned by the parents of Dr. Richard Crosby, and Rich did the inviting. When I look back on those extended weekends in the mountains, I remember a couple of things in particular. Rafting the Nantahala is one of them – you really feel a strong sense of Brotherhood when a Sinfonian pulls your sputtering self out of the river after being unceremoniously dumped overboard! The other thing I remember – what I will never forget – is the collection of people that were there. All of us were leaders in our own right; some young, some old, some experienced, and some very green. But, we interacted with and treated one another as peers and equals who, while we were brought together because of a mutual interest in doing something good for Sinfonia, were genuinely interested in one another as people, and that made all the difference.
It has been some 20 years since we gathered in that cabin, and life has taken us in many different directions, yet many of us are in this room today. We have each had numerous fraternal and personal successes and failures, and we even have had heated disagreements with one another. But because we sought first to understand one another and took an interest in one another, not for personal gain, but for mutual benefit, we are able to work through whatever discord comes our way. Brothers, our Object teaches us that Sinfonia advances Music in America through Brotherhood, and it is only through Brotherhood that we will be able to Sing as One. So, celebrate one another’s successes rather than dwell on each other’s faults. Listen for understanding rather than spending the entire time your Brother is speaking figuring out how to respond. Approach a Brother with support and friendship in mind, and seek out those things you can accomplish together rather than what you can do to prove yourself better than each other. If we will each commit to those things we will approach one another from a place of mutual respect and without judgment, just as that collection of Brothers in that cabin did years ago, and that is the only way to Sing as One.
So, let us discuss the Song we are to Raise. Do you want to know what THE song is? The most profound musical experience of my life had nothing to do with the quality of the music that was made but in the power it held. It was the first Mills Music Mission in the history of the Fraternity, and that day, we – Sinfonians – we made a little girl’s heart beat. We did with music what medicine could not do. When I told this story to Antonio Knox, the Grand Baselius, my counterpart, of Omega Psi Phi at a breakfast that had been arranged in New Orleans, he responded by saying, “People will say that music can soothe the soul, but you SAW it. If that is what you are teaching your Brothers, then you are doing a good thing.” That is the power of music – a power that transcends every boundary that society or our own prejudices can put up in front of us. Go and Sing as One and Raise that Song!
Do you want to know what THE song is? All too often, we see horrible and tragic things in the fraternity world, and sadly our organization is not immune. Those are the actions of the few, the misguided and Brothers, we are not them. I know that Greek life is an essential and beneficial part of the American collegiate experience, and I also know that Sinfonians should be the shining example of what it is to be a Fraternity Man. Go and Sing as One and Raise that Song!
Do you want to know what THE song is? As we look around us, we see a society that seems more focused on our differences than what brings us together. We seem to thrive on proving another wrong and ourselves right rather than coming to a mutual understanding. Do you want to know what THE song is? It’s the message that we as human beings can disagree and still love one another. Now more than ever, go and Sing as One and Raise that Song!
I believe in the ingenuity and determination of our Brothers across this nation. I believe in Phi Mu Alpha’s ideals of manhood and musicianship. I believe that our Founder’s vision of building up the man as the only way to advance our Art still has relevance in this, the 120th year of our beloved Order. I believe that Sinfonians can be the torchbearers of decency and high ideals our society needs. And I believe that while thousands may Raise the Song, Sinfonia will Sing as One!
My name is Mark Lichtenberg. I am a father. I am a son. I am a brother and a friend. I am a musician, and I am an educator, and I am humbled and honored to be Sinfonia’s National President. Be well, do good work, be good men, and with one voice Raise the Song!
Thank you, Brothers, and so let it be for Sinfonia!