'A Capitol Fourth' Highlights
From Start To Finish
Watch this time-lapse video of the full process of making A Capitol Fourth come to life.
Location, Location, Location!
Each year, more than half a million people join us on the national mall and millions more watch on PBS stations for what has becomethe most spectacular July 4th celebration in the nation. Nothing could be more patriotic than to celebrate America's independence on the West Lawn of the United States Capitol. As the national anthem plays, the crowd turns toward the flag flying over the Capitol and faces the Statue of Freedom atop the famous dome.
"A Capitol Fourth's" partnership with the National Symphony Orchestra goes back to the very first show. The crowd on-site and the television audience at home always look forward to hearing their favorite patriotic songs performed by one of America's most highly regarded musical ensembles. In recent years, the Choral Arts Society of Washington, directed by Norman Scribner, has been a wonderful addition to “A Capitol Fourth”.
Over the years we have been fortunate to work with many world-renowned conductors, including Mstislav Rostropovich, Henry Mancini, Hugh Wolf, James Conlon, Leonard Slatkin, Erich Kunzel and now ... Maestro Jack Everly. All have met the challenge of combining many different American music styles into a single exuberant production.
A Booming Celebration
The playing of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," accompanied by live cannons, has become a July 4th tradition. Timing the cannons with the fireworks and music requires a precise procedure. The National Symphony Orchestra music librarian cues the United States Army Presidential Salute Battery to fire the cannons at the perfect moment in the score. This is no small feat, considering the complexity of the music and the technical requirements of firing a cannon!
Come Rain or Shine
The elements never deter our loyal audience at the Capitol. Whether it's 101 degrees or pouring rain, we are thankful that in the past our guest artists also braved the weather to deliver a great show year after year. Fortunately, we have never had to cancel the concert because of inclement weather, and we now have a specially designed band shell to protect the guest artists and the orchestra.
Producing A Capitol Fourth requires many months of advance planning, writing and coordination of countless details. Here is just a glimpse at what goes into the making of this live PBS broadcast.
Getting the Show on the Air
The performers in front of the cameras are fun to watch, but it’s the talent behind the scenes that makes it all come together. A dedicated crew of more than 400 people returns year after year to produce this one-of-a-kind live broadcast. The production team includes industry veterans who’ve worked on such prestigious live programs as the “Grammy Awards,” “Academy Awards,” “Country Music Awards,” “The Emmy Awards” and the “Tony Awards.”
Twenty different cameras are needed for the broadcast to cover the length and breadth of the National Mall and memorials, including cameras placed in the Washington Monument and across the Potomac River in Virginia to capture the whole of the city landscape illuminated with fireworks. Each year, viewers write in to say how much they enjoy our innovative presentation of this brilliant light display.
Coordination among government entities is required to facilitate such a large undertaking, including the Military District of Washington, the National Park Service, the Office of the Architect of the United States Capitol and, because of its unique location at the Capitol, three law enforcement agencies – the U.S. Capitol Police, the U.S. Park Police and the Washington Metropolitan Police Department.
Forty-eight hours before broadcast, the frenzied pace kicks in with a musical run-through at the Kennedy Center with conductor Jack Everly and the National Symphony Orchestra; blocking rehearsals on-site on the West Lawn of the Capitol; only one full dress-rehearsal the night before the show; and late-night production meetings to tweak the script and make any changes necessary to bring you an exciting Independence Day celebration.
All the planning, effort and intensity is worth it as the fireworks light up the sky over the Washington Monument in our nation's capital, Washington, D.C.