Colchester police Chief Jennifer Morrison is not normally nervous before a performance.
After singing at countless sporting events, weddings, funerals and more, Morrison said she would have no problem belting out the national anthem on command.
But last Thursday’s gubernatorial inauguration was different.
Standing in the Montpelier State House in her dress uniform, Morrison admitted she was a bit jittery as she prepared to deliver an a cappella rendition of “America the Beautiful” for soon-to-be Gov. Phil Scott, the state legislature and scores of guests.
“I’ve never done ‘America the Beautiful’ publicly before,” Morrison said. “It’s a very important occasion, and I don’t want to let the governor down.”
Scott’s staffers called “out of the blue,” Morrison said, saying they heard she could sing. Despite her nerves, Morrison quickly agreed.
“I’m honored, obviously, to be asked,” she said before the ceremony. “I’ll do my best to represent. The governor-elect is a very strong supporter of police, and that is incredibly meaningful to us.”
Scott’s inaugural address frequently mentioned military personnel. His father, Scott said, became a double amputee after serving in World War II and later died from the injuries. The flag that once draped his casket flew outside the State House throughout the day.
Scott also acknowledged members of the Vermont Air National Guard stationed overseas in U.S. Central Command, bringing the ceremony’s attendees to their feet. Last month, VTANG officials confirmed at least one Colchester resident is serving on the mission.
Morrison said she had just one other reservation after accepting the invitation to perform: “I don’t want people to [continue to] ask me to sing,” she said, laughing. “I gave it up, I thought, 10 years ago.”
News of Morrison’s then-hidden talent got out when she was a young cop in Burlington. Her superior, a talented singer himself, encouraged her to take over the unofficial duty.
She’s been performing almost constantly since, singing an arrangement of “Amazing Grace” at a police funeral just last month.
Scott’s inauguration was, in fact, her second such appearance: Morrison performed the national anthem at Gov. Jim Douglas’ second inauguration in 2005.
Still, she said she hopes her time as the department singer is coming to an end.
“I keep thinking maybe someday somebody else could do it,” Morrison said. “I’m sure there is some young police officer out there who can really sing. It’s time for them to step up.”
Back in the House chamber, she performed the song without musical accompaniment or the assistance of a microphone.
Colchester’s Sen. Dick Mazza (D-Grand Isle) sat nearby after he helped escort Scott to and from the podium, smiling ear to ear all the while.
Listeners might have noticed a departure from the typical words of the popular song. Morrison said she chose a special arrangement with a verse highlighting the sacrifices of military personnel and first responders:
Oh beautiful for heroes proved,
In liberating strife,
Who more than self, our country loved,
And mercy more than life
“The second verse speaks to soldiers and similar who have made America the beautiful possible,” she said.
“It’s hard to follow up that beautiful prayer of a song,” Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a bishop from Burlington, remarked during his proceeding invocation.
Scott appeared to agree, offering Morrison a hearty applause while sporting his signature grin.