THE TRUMPETS breeped forth as we entered the Corcoran to congratulate Livingston Biddle, who had just sworn to love Duccio forever, or whatever the wording is in the oath you take to become chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
A thousand people were on hand, most of them with wet raincoats suspended from their arms, and a great seas of Agnes de Mille, John Brademas, etc. swirling about Biddle and his wife who were shaking hands in all directions, especially over some huge, flat decorated cakes being served in the thick of battle.
Up on the grand staircase, halfway to Heaven, the brass quintet thundered forth "Lo. How a Rose E'er Blooming," which is rarely heard on the trumpet.
Nancy Hanks, the previous chairman (for whom the tune was chosen, no doubt), was at one side.
I raced to ask her my question:
"Tell me how it happened they thought you were a horse, that time down South?"
"Really," she said, "you already know that story. I've told it to you a dozen times."
"Tell it once more."
"Well," said Hanks. "I was 19 and had not traveled any to speak of, by myself, but I was going alone to a friend's wedding in Tennessee, so I wired for a hotel reservation in Memphis.
"So then I got there - it was the King Cotton Hotel - I walked up to the desk, looking very dignified, gloves, stockings, hat, because I was traveling alone and back then - anyway, when I got there and said I was Nancy Hanks, they all busted out laughing.
"She says she's Nancy Hanks' the room clerk managed to gasp out before doubling up laughing.
"Yes, I am Nancy Hanks," I said, and I cannot see why you don't have a room for me since I wired you well in advance."
They all started laughing again.
"Well," said Hanks, "it turned out that Nancy Hanks was an excessively famous racehorse. Don't ask me why everybody at that hotel was so interested in racehorese, but they were. They thought the telgram was a hoax, signed with the horse's name. They didn't have rooms for horses, you understand.
"Now it amuses me to think back, but at the time I was not at all amused. I never seen heard of Nancy Hanks, the horse. They had no room available, but they certainly found me one in another hotel. And they also spread the word about the horse trying to register so that when I got to the small town I was heading for, outside Memphis, I was famous."
I never tire of hearing that story, but pressed on to see what the cake was all about when to, suddenly the staircase abandoned by the trumpets and taken over by the Evelyn White Chorale of 41 singers emitted [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and alleluias.
This group could fill up the Mall with sound, but a Washington party for a thousand people is something else again and at first I thought they were the air conditioning reviving up. By standing directly in front I could hear them well, however, and was impressed by Rachele Powell - but enough, this is not Critic's Corner, for which God be praised. Is it right, I thought with some anger, for pearls to be cast before a thousand noisy people? Are artists not false to the dignity of their trade to sing under such conditions?
But now I think of it, it is right. Let the heathn rage. Let the Triscuits crunch. Let the babble roar.
Art cannot drown them out, but as the octaves and twelfths ascend, you may yet hear (higher than the deep rumbling aroound the cakes) her bright and clear hosanna.