It’s all very…Rudimentary


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Just as every beginner wind player learns scales, percussionists are taught rudiments to facilitate technique and create a solid, musical foundation. Terms such as flam, drag, and paradiddle quickly become ingrained in the mind of a young percussionist. An article written by W.F. Ludwig traces the progression of drum rudiments, with a history deeply rooted in fife and drum corps. While this approach to drumming has a strong military background, it can also be transferred into other types of playing. However, as the field of percussion evolves, some players are concerned that rudimental drumming is getting lost, forgotten, or overlooked by the younger generations of today.

The United States Association of Rudimental Drummers (USARD) is an organization that aims to preserve this historical art form. In 2012, the Hellcats drum section performed a 40-minute program while also collaborating with The Old Guard as a joint drumline. On April 26, 2014, the Hellcats offered another performance at the USARD 2014 Convention. During this banquet performance, the Hellcats performed their patriotic show entitled, “The Costs and Joys of Freedom.”

The Hellcats at the U.S.A.R.D. convention

The drum section offered an encore collaborating with Dr. John Wooton and Staff Sgt. Scott Jamison. The rudimental drumming community is tight-knit, connected not only by their passion, but also through master players and teachers. Staff Sgt. Jamison, Sgt. First Class Prosperie, and Dr. Wooton are all former students of the late Marty Hurley.

Regarding the performance, Sgt. First Class Prosperie stated:

I think we reached the big picture, and we served a higher purpose, which was to move people…This venue was intimate; I was able to connect with the audience. The show calls the audience to be interactive as it progresses into different moods, contrasting technical facility with folk melodies. As a musician, you feed off the audience’s interactions and want to give them more…We wanted the show to evolve and unravel … and to be more approachable.

Making Music and History at the Same Time!


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martinBeing in a premier military band has been a dream of mine since I started playing flute at age twelve. I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and attended many military band concerts. From the first one, I knew that’s what I needed to do when I grew up.

When the United States Military Academy Band’s field music group, the Hellcats, announced three piccolo spots, I was ecstatic, but nervous. I was scared to audition and not be hired, crushing my childhood dream. Instead, I was lucky and offered a position. The most exciting part is reestablishing the role of the piccolo in the field music group. There have not been piccolos in the Hellcats for almost forty years, and the three of us now get to restart that tradition. That makes our job even more special to know that we have that part in history with the band.

Once arriving at West Point, we began training to work on our daily job, which is playing breakfast and lunch formations for the cadets. Together, the entire group worked on learning new sets ranging from tunes for the cadets to assemble into formation to music to march them into the mess hall. It has been a fun learning experience.

Besides formations, the Hellcats also participate in military tattoos. We already had three performances planned for April and had to quickly learn a new show. Since it had been so long since the group had piccolos, everyone had to brainstorm ideas for a new show. Some members wrote out new drill to go along with the music. The process of learning the drill and memorizing all of the music was tedious, but well worth the final product.

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 2.58.24 PMOur first show occurred on April 5 in New York City. We performed on an international stage with groups from Scotland, Canada, and the United States. As a featured group for the evening, the Hellcats performed for an audience of approximately 1,100 people in Mason Hall. I remember how excited, yet nervous I was before stepping onto that stage for a full house. As we performed, the audience became more and more engaged, and their applause filled the auditorium. After we brought our piccolos down after our feature, “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” the crowd erupted. I couldn’t help but crack a smile. My dream was coming true. We received a standing ovation, and many people expressed their gratitude and joy for the show after its conclusion.

One week later, we were able to debut our new show on our home turf at the 32nd Annual West Point Military Tattoo. It was hosted by the West Point Pipes and Drums, a pipe band organized by the cadets. It held a special place for me because of our daily duty with the corps. We performed in conjunction with 20 other groups from the Tri-State area. The weather warmed up, making it the perfect day to perform at West Point while overlooking the beautiful Hudson. After the performance, many people commented on how much they enjoyed the piccolos. A few even asked why the piccolos took such a long vacation. As a member of the section that is beginning this tradition again, it is exciting hearing people talk about how they enjoy the section and all the compliments about the Hellcats as a whole.

As we prepare for future events, I look forward to the new shows and music we will learn. What an amazing experience to make music and history at the same time!

By Staff Sgt. Courtney Martin

The Pass in Review


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If you’ve ever heard a West Point Band member (or anyone else affiliated with West Point) mention a “parade” on the plain or a “review,” these terms are synonymous with the “pass in review.” The pass in review is a long standing military tradition dating back to when Baron Von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge and reported to Washington during the American Revolution in 1778. Von Steuben’s training technique was to create a “model company” and one of the ways he did this was through drill and ceremony, which is still being used to this day. It is of interesting note that when he arrived, he spoke very little English (he is of German decent) and he would often order his translator to swear at his men for him in English. Upon his arrival to Valley Forge, the men were anything but a model company; that is to say until Von Steuben was through with them. He developed what is known as Regulations for the Orders and Discipline of the Troops of the United States of America, also known as the “Blue Book.” The West Point Band and Hellcats are an integral and essential part of this long standing military tradition.

Here at West Point, the pass in review happens before each home football game as well as various other times throughout the year such as graduation week and for alumni exercises and the annual Thayer Awards Review. The pass in review consists of several companies of cadets marching past a reviewing party for inspection purposes. On the command of “eyes right,” the cadets turn their head and eyes towards the ranking officer as they pass the reviewing party. This officer is usually the Superintendent of West Point.

For the West Point Band, the pass in review begins in our rehearsal hall about an hour and a half before the start time. It is there that we go over the sequence of music to be played and rehearse any marches that may be unfamiliar or new. The next step is a quick change into whatever uniform is to be worn. This could either be full dress blue, full dress blue over white, or the sierra uniform. (For more specific information on these uniforms, look for a separate blog post detailing our different unique military uniforms.) The band forms up in the parking lot of the band building before marching at a “route step” up to the parade field, or as it is formally known, “the Plain.”

Upon arrival to the Plain, we make our way down diagonal walk (photograph below), marching to the ceremonious sounds of the Hellcats and a simultaneous narrative about the history of what will be observed in the review.

The band marches towards the plain.

The band marches towards the plain.

After arriving at our position on the Plain, the Hellcats join our formation, which is usually a six-person front. It is from here that the Hellcat buglers sound Attention, which alerts the cadets in the sally ports of Washington Hall that the march-on is about to begin. The march-on consists of one to two marches (depending on the size of the participating cadet brigade) which send the cadets pouring out of the sally ports in company formations as they move to their positions on the field.

All formed up and ready to go.

All formed up and ready to go.

Once the corps of cadets have gone through a series of “order arms” to “present arms” and back to “order arms” to pay military curtesy to both the Cadet Captain and his/her staff and the reviewing party (usually consisitng of the USMA Superintendent and other West Point leaders), it is now time for the West Point Band to perform honors. This consists of the Generals March right into the United States National Anthem. At the conclusion of honors, the Superintendant utters the words “pass in review” to signal the start of the review portion.

Cadets on the plain during a review.

Cadets on the plain during a review.

Carrying our nation's colors.

Carrying our nation’s colors.

After a quick reposition by the West Point Band and Hellcats, the command of “right turrrrrrn” is heard from the corps of cadets followed by the West Point Band drum major’s command of “forwarrrrrrd,” which is then followed by “maaaaaarch” from within the corps. This signals the downbeat and stepoff for the band, as they lead the corps in groups of companies past the reviewing stand. Once past the reviewing party, the band does a series of three left turns to position themselves facing the reviewing party. They remain there at the position of “attention” as they play the remainder of the companies past the reviewing party to the command of “eyes right.” Once past the reviewing party, each company is dismissed and continues marching back to the sally ports of Washington Hall, from where they came.

A parade review in action.

A parade review in action.

After the last company has marched past, there is an announcement for the playing of the Army Song, The Army Goes Rolling Along, as the crowd stands and sings along. Upon completion of the Army Song, the West Point Band steps off and is also dismissed, exiting the plain and marching past the Superintendent’s house. The Hellcats remain behind to march off the residual companies who are still exiting the parade field toward Washington Hall. This signals the end of the review.

If you have never seen one, I suggest you go to at least one. It is a cool sight to see, and it’s one of the many important types of performances that we do here in the West Point Band.

Words by Staff Sgt. Dave Loy Song

Images by Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers

Uniforms in the West Point Band


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When I first arrived to the West Point Band as a clarinetist in 2004, I was jokingly told by many of my new coworkers that the only two things I really had to know were: A) what time to show up, and B) what uniform to be wearing.  I say jokingly because I thought they were just being funny, but it turned out to be at least partially true, especially where uniforms are concerned.     Behind the scenes as a military musician, while there may be an occasional, “I’m nervous about playing that solo,” there are ten times as many comments like, “Does anyone have an extra set of medals?” “Are we in white or blue pants for this?” or “Where is my belt?!?!”   I can personally attest that my most frightening moments of the job had nothing to do with performing music, but more with the times I was clumsily fumbling with a tangle of white cords on my marching uniform with only two minutes left to get into formation, or the sheer terror I felt once when I was almost to the parade field and realized I forgot my white gloves.

Uniforms are obviously very important in the military.  They encourage unit cohesion, and distinguish us from other military branches, other countries, and other even other units.  Not only do the uniforms look impressive, but the various insignia, medals, patches, and stripes convey a variety of information about our military careers.  When the band is out performing for the public, people ask us questions about our uniforms almost more than anything else.

When the band is rehearsing and doing our day-to-day work, we wear the regular duty uniforms of the army—either ACU’s or ASU Class B’s mostly.  When it comes to performances, we each have a locker full of mix and match uniform parts that come together to create our dress uniforms, both for concert and marching.  These uniforms are specific to the West Point Band and have evolved throughout the band’s near 200-year history to become the uniforms you see today.

Our Concert Blue and Full Dress Blue uniforms, which you will see below, were modeled to resemble the cadet marching uniforms, and have been around more or less in their current form since 1902.

Concert Blue

The Concert Blue uniform is probably the most recognizable, as it is the one in which we perform most of our sit-down performances and concerts.  It consists of our dark blue high collar coat, complete with medals, over blue pants.  In concert settings, the females can also choose to wear a long blue skirt instead of the pants.  This uniform is also used for marching funerals and occasionally other outdoor ceremonies, in which case we will wear white gloves and our flat blue hat as well.   (It probably goes without saying, but skirts are not an option for marching.)  Our high collar coat is the most distinctive part of our uniform, bearing the “USMA Band” patch on the shoulder.  The dark blue color represents the “Army Blue,” and the red piping is a remnant of the red used in the uniforms of the Continental Army.

The Academy Brass Quintet wearing Concert Blue.

The Academy Brass Quintet wearing Concert Blue


A closer look at the high collar coat—What are all of the stripes and patches? 

Most of the questions we get are directed at deciphering the stripes, patches, and medals on our high collar.  On each of the sleeves towards the cuff, individuals will have a certain number of white stripes.  These are service stripes, and each one represents three years time in service.  So if you see someone with no stripes, they have been in for under three years.  Likewise if you see someone with stripes up to their elbow, they have been in the band a very long time.  On our sleeves near the elbow is a patch displaying our rank.  The members of the West Point Band are all NCO’s (with the exception of our conductors who are officers, and whose rank is displayed on their shoulders), and rank from E-6 (Staff Sergeant) to E-9 (Sergeant Major).

What do the medals mean?

On the left side of the uniform are two unit awards, with the Adjutant General Regimental Crest above.  The AG crest signifies that the band is a part of the US Army Adjutant General Corps, which is a branch of the US Army first established in 1775.

The red ribbon is the Meritorius Unit Commendation, which was awarded to the West Point Band in 1946 for uncompromising performance of its duties, including playing for the FDR Funeral held on April 15, 1946.

The red and green ribbon is the Army Superior Unit Award, which was awarded to every unit on West Point in June of 2010 for national recognition of the academy being named “The Best College in America” by Forbes magazine, and “The Top Public Liberal Arts College” by U.S. News and World Report.

Another picture of the Concert Blue uniform.

Another picture of the Concert Blue uniform.

On the right side of the uniform are the individual’s service awards and personal decorations, which serve to display the highlights of a service member’s career.  All band members have the National Defense Service Medal (the red and yellow medal), and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal (the blue medal).  The former is awarded to any member of the US Armed Forces who served honorably during distinct periods of “national emergency,” including the Korean War, Vietnam War, Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and the Global War on Terrorism.  The Global War on Terrorism Medal is awarded to any service member who has performed service during the War on Terror, from September 11, 2001 until a date yet to be determined.  Other medals depend on an individual’s accomplishments.  Click here see a list of all of the Army’s awards and decorations.


The Sierra uniform is used for performing in warm weather, for either concert or marching settings, and sometimes football games.  It may not be the most comfortable of uniforms, but it can be a huge relief to wear short sleeves on a hot day instead of roasting inside the high collar.  Sierras consist of a white, short sleeve button down shirt, black belt, and blue pants.  The shirt is similar to the Class B every day shirt; on it we wear our nametag and shoulder boards with rank (although it is white instead of gold).  However, unlike the Class B shirt, we also wear our medals on this shirt.  The headgear for this uniform is the flat white hat.  We wear this uniform for our summer outdoor concerts, as well as for some of the warm weather military reviews.

The Band wearing the Sierra uniform while performing at Michie Stadium.

The Band wearing the Sierra uniform while performing at Michie Stadium.

Full Dress Blue

This is by far the most intricate and ornate uniform, and the one that is hardest and most time-consuming to put together.  Even seasoned band members can forget what goes where by the time parade season rolls around again.  The full dress uniform starts with the high collar coat (but without any medals), over blue OR white pants.

The reason we don’t wear medals on the high collar is to make room for the black wool pouch that goes over our right shoulder, the braided white cords, and the white belt.  With this we also wear white gloves, and a hat we affectionately refer to as our “tar bucket.”  The tar bucket bears the USMA crest and a tall black plume.  We only wear the full dress blue uniform for reviews and sometimes football games (although we save the tar bucket for marching on the field, and opt for the more sensible flat blue hat for playing in the stands).

Dress Blue over blue pants.

Dress Blue over blue pants at MetLife Stadium.


How do we decide which uniforms to wear?

For the band’s own events, such as concerts, we generally wear the Concert Blue uniform for indoor concerts, and the Sierra uniform for outdoor concerts.  However, in ceremonies and events in which the band plays a supportive role, we usually wear a uniform to match everyone else.  For instance, for formal events in which participants wear the Class A uniform, we will wear our Concert Blue uniform.  For ceremonies in which everyone is in ACU’s, we will also wear our ACU’s.  For any event involving cadets, such as reviews and football games, we will wear equivalent uniform of those the cadets are wearing.  Reviews are usually either done in Full Dress Blue or Sierras, as are the football game marching shows that we do.

Weather does play a role in determining the uniform for a performance or event, although certain events are in the same uniform regardless of the season or weather.  For instance, full military funerals are always performed in our Concert Blue uniform, whether it is below freezing or 90 degrees outside.  (I should mention that we do have an overcoat and other approved, cold-weather gear for the lower temperatures.  When it comes to heat, however, we pretty much have to be Army Strong and tough it out!)

It’s often said that the audience “hears with its eyes,” and we in the band experience this firsthand all the time. Before we play a single note, people form impressions based on our uniforms. We are proud to serve in the uniforms of the United States Army, and hopefully this has given you a better understanding of our uniforms here in the West Point Band.

Words by Staff Sgt. Erin Beaver

Images by Staff Sgt. Torin Olsen

Jazz ‘n the Academy


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Cadets gather in front of the legendary Village Vanguard to see the Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet

Cadets gather in front of the legendary Village Vanguard to see the Kurt Rosenwinkel Quartet

April is Jazz Appreciation Month! The West Point Band’s Jazz Knights celebrated it in a big way through partnering with West Point’s academic departments and clubs for several joint events. It was a historic month of “firsts,” with the “first” first being a record set for the number of Jazz Knights-cadet collaborations in a one-month period! I can’t wait to tell you about them, so here they are.

Cadet JamNight of the Arts The month-long celebration of jazz began with Night of the Arts or, NOTA, an annual celebration of cadet artistic excellence sponsored by the Department of English and Philosophy. For the first time ever, this year’s NOTA featured a cadet jazz band performance (see photo), with a little help from their friends, the Jazz Knights. The cadets came to the West Point Band building, where I had the opportunity to help rehearse them, and saxophonist Sgt. 1st Class Derrick James and trombonist Staff Sgt. Barry Cooper of the Jazz Knights provided expert coaching to the horn players. At NOTA, the cadets performed the classic Horace Silver piece “Song For My Father,” each taking improvised solos to rousing applause. (I assisted on bass.) As a testament to the historic nature of the performance, the photo in this blog made the Picture of the Week in the Dean’s Significant Activities Report! 

Sgt. 1st Class Mike Reifenberg opens a window into the world of jazz improvisation for cadets enrolled in English Literature and Philosophy courses. Joining him are Master Sgt. Drewes on drums, Sgt. 1st Class Nelson on bass, and Sgt. 1st Class Tonelli on guitar.

Sgt. 1st Class Mike Reifenberg opens a window into the world of jazz improvisation for cadets enrolled in English Literature and Philosophy courses. Joining him are Master Sgt. Drewes on drums, Sgt. 1st Class Nelson on bass, and Sgt. 1st Class Tonelli on guitar.

Jazz Improvisation Class In four separate presentations to nearly 500 members of the Class of 2017 enrolled in EN102 (Literature) and PY201x (Philosophy), Sgt. 1st Class Mike Reifenberg presented a class entitled Jazz Improvisation: The Art of Spontaneity. It was the final installment in a four-part series requested by Maj. Harry Jones of the Philosophy Department, examining how the arts can be a model for creative problem-solving. Sgt. 1st Class Reifenberg, on alto saxophone, was joined by a Jazz Knights combo featuring drummer Master Sgt. Scott Drewes, bassist Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Nelson, and me on guitar. Using lecture, live musical demonstration, recordings, visual aids, and much interactive discussion, Sgt. 1st Class Reifenberg opened a window into the intriguing world of jazz improvisation. Cadets got in on the action, too, with a version of “stump the band” in which they chose from a list of jazz songs that the combo previously had not seen. This exercise showed how jazz musicians must use prior knowledge in responding swiftly to unexpected situations. Fortunately, the band came through unscathed, even when one cadet picked John Coltrane’s famously challenging composition “Giant Steps”! In all, the Jazz Knights enjoyed working with the cadets, who walked away from the class with new insights on the skills inherent to jazz improvisation, which they can apply to their own lives and careers.

Field trip to NYC One of my favorite additional duties is being the Noncommissioned Officer In Charge of the cadet Jazz Forum Club, a group that, until recently, I didn’t even know existed. But thanks to a phone call a couple of years ago from the club’s former Officer In Charge (OIC), Maj. John Dvorak, the Jazz Forum Club and the Jazz Knights have been joined at the hip ever since. We have done a number of great activities together over the past two years, and we are continuing the tradition. This year, cadets in the club, along with current OIC Maj. Robert Crouse and myself, took a field trip to the jazz mecca of the world, New York City, to immerse ourselves in all things jazz.

Cadets and Jazz Forum Club Officer-in-Charge Maj. Rob Crouse and and Noncomissioned-Officer-In-Charge Sgt. 1st Class Mark Tonelli pose for a photo with director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg

Cadets and Jazz Forum Club Officer-in-Charge Maj. Rob Crouse and and Noncomissioned-Officer-In-Charge Sgt. 1st Class Mark Tonelli pose for a photo with director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, Loren Schoenberg

The day began with a visit to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Loren Schoenberg, director of the museum and a well-known jazz saxophonist and educator, presented a private lecture to our group on the importance of jazz in our nation’s history and the role of the museum in promoting jazz. Fittingly, Mr. Schoenberg opened the lecture with his piano performance of the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s theme song, “Take The A Train,” an homage to Harlem, through which the A train runs. He noted that the jazz museum is located in Harlem because of Harlem’s prominent place in jazz history. Mr. Schoenberg indicated that the museum strives to document, preserve, and advance jazz as an original American artform in the same way that baseball and other things uniquely American have a hall of fame. Cadets were able to view the museum’s current exhibit, examine historical jazz memorabilia, and interact with the museum’s highly knowledgeable staff.

After visiting the museum, the group headed downtown to Greenwich Village and divided up to sample the eclectic variety of dining choices that “the Village” offers. After dinner, we met up again at the world famous Village Vanguard jazz club to see jazz guitar genius Kurt Rosenwinkel and his quartet. Cadets were able to soak in the unique history of the Vanguard, gazing around the room at the images of jazz’s elite lining the walls, all of whom had set foot in the Vanguard as performers. Just before the performance, the Vanguard’s host acknowledged our group and thanked the cadets for their service, which was met with enthusiastic applause from the Vanguard’s patrons. But it was all music after that, as Mr. Rosenwinkel proceeded to dazzle the audience with his brilliant musicianship in a set of all-original compositions. We left the city at 10:30pm– late for cadets, early for jazz musicians– thoroughly inspired by a day of jazz immersion.

Jazz at Grant Hall Jazz Appreciation month closed out on a literal high note with a true jazz standard, the jam session, hosted by Grant Hall. The mostly-cadet crowd was treated to a rare evening of live jazz, with a number of their own among the performers. Several cadets brought their “axes” to jam with a Jazz Knights combo consisting of Staff Sgt. Vito Speranza on trumpet, Staff Sgt. Geoff Vidal on tenor saxophone, Master Sgt. Drewes, Sgt. 1st Class Dan Pierce on bass, and me on guitar. Grant’s patrons went wild for the music, and the apparently very educated jazz crowd even applauded after individual solos. A great time was had by all.

A cadet participates in a jam session at Grant Hall with Jazz Knights Sgt. 1st Class Dan Pierce on bass and Staff Sgt. Vito Speranza on trumpet

A cadet participates in a jam session at Grant Hall with Jazz Knights Sgt. 1st Class Dan Pierce on bass and Staff Sgt. Vito Speranza on trumpet

What a spectacular month. As a jazz musician and educator, I was fortunate to be involved with two things I love doing— performing and teaching jazz. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to share my love of jazz with so many cadets and to help them learn about a world and a life that means so much to me personally. The faces said it all: a satisfied smile for applause on an improvised solo, a look of pride in learning about the importance of jazz in our nation’s heritage, or the dawning of recognition in making a connection about jazz improvisation. And I got to see it all happen in abundance with West Point’s tremendous cadets. In that way, I consider myself a pretty lucky guy. And I look forward to being as lucky in the future as the Jazz Knights continue to partner with West Point’s academic departments and clubs to contribute to cadets’ cultural enrichment through jazz.

By Sgt. 1st Class Mark Tonelli














The Hellcats at the NY Tattoo


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The Hellcats at the NY Tattoo

The Hellcats at the NY Tattoo

On April 5, the West Point Band’s field music group, The Hellcats, performed on an international stage, featuring groups from Scotland, Canada, and the United States at the inaugural edition of the New York Tattoo. This event was presented by Mr. Magnus Orr, produced by MAJ(R) Bruce Hitchings from the Queen’s Highlanders, and narrated by MAJ(R) Alasdair Hutton, the voice of the Edinburgh Tattoo. Performing in the starring role, the Hellcats were given multiple standing ovations by the over 1,000 people at Mason Hall in New York City.

The tattoo was the main event for New York City’s Tartan Week, which was established to bring the best of a Scottish tradition to New York. The Hellcats premiered their new patriotic show that featured each section with special mention being made of the three piccolo players that have been brought back into the ranks of the group after an absence of nearly 40 years. The event ended with a huge finale that included all participating groups, and featured the Hellcats buglers performing “Last Post.”

The Hellcats are the field music group of The West Point Band, serving as the primary musical support for the U.S. Corps of Cadets. They are experts in traditional military field music, performing daily in drill and ceremonial duties for the U.S. Military Academy and West Point community. In addition to their integral role in training and inspiring the Corps of Cadets, The Hellcats often perform at tattoos, conventions, parades, on broadcast television, and for nationally and internationally recognized guests of honor who visit the U.S. Military Academy.

West Point Band Performs for “Hiring Our Heroes” in NYC


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The West Point Band recently performed for the “Hiring Our Heroes” job fair in New York City. Launched in 2011, “Hiring Our Heroes” is a nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities. It’s the third straight year we’ve participated. The last two years we appeared on NBC. This time, Fox and CBS picked it up. Anyway, it’s an interesting day and I thought it would be fun if I documented it. By keeping track of exact times on my iPhone, that’s what I did. Enjoy!

3:28am: I wake up two minutes before my alarm is set to go off.

4:10: I leave my house with a travel mug full of 20 ounces of coffee. It is black and strong. I also cue up a “Radiolab” podcast to keep my brain occupied before the caffeine kicks in.

4:31: I arrive in Ridgewood, NJ only one minute late. I view this as a small victory for me. I am here to carpool with a friend from work. From his street, I can see Valley Hospital in the distance. This is where my daughter was born nearly two years ago. The memory makes me very happy.

5:28: We arrive at the site of the event, the Lexington Ave. Armory. It’s a historical building completed in 1906 that today houses the U.S. 69th Regiment. Other members of the band begin trickling in.

6:03: Everyone from the West Point Band has arrived. We are served breakfast. There are pastries, muffins, bagels, and fruit. All of it looks delicious. I decide that I need to load up on calories if I am to get through such an early morning. This is my rationale as I pile large amounts of food onto my plate.

6:30: We begin changing into our uniforms for our first TV spot. I am relieved that I successfully packed every part of my uniform. I feel this relief despite quadruple checking everything the night before.

7:00: We begin filming our first television spot. We perform America Exultant. I feel nervous as the camera comes on. My respect for those who work in television is at an all-time high.

7:30: Another TV spot. This time we play The Stars and Stripes Forever. For this take, a cameraman is walking through the band as he films. I successfully play a high note towards the end right as the camera walks by me. In the moment, I imagine trombonists and veterans everywhere feeling inspired as they watch the broadcast.

The West Point Band performing at "Hiring Our Heroes" in New York City.

The West Point Band performing at “Hiring Our Heroes” in New York City.

8:00: We perform Carmen Dragon’s famous arrangement of America the Beautiful for our third spot. I first heard this version in 7th grade. I never imagined I’d be performing it in conjunction with news media for such a large audience.

8:05: We prepare to rehearse for the ceremony we’re participating in later in the morning. As a trombonist, I am in the front and literally leading those behind me. The band is divided into two sides of the armory. I am briefed on where to march and where to stop.

8:07: The band forms up. I have been shifted to the opposite side of where I was briefed. I have no certainty of where I’m marching or supposed to stop. I look confident and decisive, nonetheless. My line ends up in the correct spot. I am ready for the ceremony.

8:55: We are in place for the ceremony. There are several prominent folks scheduled to speak about the “Hiring Our Heroes” program. One of whom is Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer.

9:20: Dakota Meyer takes to the podium. Moments before, the story of how he was awarded the Medal of Honor is told in great detail. It is difficult not to get choked up in the moment. Hero is a word that gets thrown around a lot, but I cannot think of a better example than Dakota Meyer.

9:30: The band’s performance of God Bless America marks the end of the ceremony. We are done with TV filming until noon. We are told to stay in the armory in case the plans change. Smart phones were invented for this sort of situation.

10:00: We learn that our next spot has been moved. We now have 10 minutes to get in place. I am suddenly quite relieved I didn’t sneak out to get a burrito.

10:10: We perform Americans We for our final spot. It was a very early, but rewarding morning.

Afterwards: By the time I sat down to eat lunch, I had been up over nine hours. But I felt good knowing I’d been part of such an important event. I later heard from my mother and aunt that they saw me on national television. Not a bad day at the office! I should have gone to bed early that night, but instead I stayed up watching hockey. (What can I say? The Devils needed me.) When I finally did hit the sack, I slept well knowing the West Point Band did a job well done.

Words by Staff Sgt. Phil Stehly

Image by Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers

West Point Band Collaborates with Harmony Program and NY Philharmonic


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Staff. Sgt. Kristen Mather de Andrade and a Harmony Program student.

Staff. Sgt. Kristen Mather de Andrade and a Harmony Program student.

The West Point Band believes strongly in supporting tri-state area schools and their children through music education, and the Harmony Program is at the forefront of efforts in New York City. Their work epitomizes values such as goodwill and selfless service, and our musicians have been honored to collaborate with Harmony to bring events to the students.

This past Saturday, five members of the West Point Band participated in a full day event geared towards coaching students from New York City’s “Harmony Program” along with members of the New York Philharmonic. This is the second time the West Point Band has collaborated with Harmony and the NY Phil to provide free instruction for students enrolled in the program. In the recent past, the Cadet Strings and many members of the West Point Band have visited with the Harmony Program students and coached them on their music and also performed for them.

The Harmony Program is a nonprofit organization that brings intensive after-school music programs to communities with limited access to instrumental music education. It is formatted after the wildly successful “El Sistema” in Venezuela, founded by Maestro José Abreu. El Sistema gained traction in the U.S. after Abreu was awarded a TED prize in 2009 that would cover the expenses of training teachers and implementing the curriculum in the communities that had the need for the kind of community support that this music program offers.

Abreu’s goal is “No longer putting society at the service of art, and much less at the services of monopolies of the elite, but instead art at the service of society, at the service of the weakest, at the service of the children, at the service of the sick, at the service of the vulnerable, and at the service of all those who cry for vindication through the spirit of their human condition and the raising up of their dignity.”

The day consisted of side by side rehearsals on the stage of the historic United Palace Theater in Washington Heights under the direction of NY Phil staff conductor Michael Adelson, and also small group lessons lead by West Point and NY Phil musicians. The day culminated with a performance for friends and family of the students, and supporters of the program.

Backstage at the United Palace Theater

Backstage at the United Palace Theater

Words by Staff Sgt. Kristen Mather de Andrade


Columbus to Cleveland with The Jazz Knights


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JKTour copyMembers of the Jazz Knights will be touring Northern Ohio from Wednesday, April 8th to Saturday, April 12th, with visits to Capital University, Ohio State University, University of Akron, and a free Friday evening performance at the iconic Cleveland jazz spot, Nighttown Cleveland. The jazz septet features vocalist Staff Sgt. Alexis Cole and a three-horn front line performing original compositions and arrangements alongside classics from the American songbook and the jazz tradition.

After each university performance, the Jazz Knights will visit with current music students to discuss opportunities in the Army Music Program and their experiences serving our nation as members of the West Point Band.

Please visit for details on the upcoming performances, and contact U.S. Army Music Program Midwest Region Audition Coordinator Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Knight if you would like more information on Army Bands.

On Brave Old Army Team


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photo 2Members of the West Point Band supported Army Women’s Basketball in their second ever NCAA appearance this weekend. The request for band support came just a few days before the game and the roster was filled with band members excited to see Army take on Maryland. Several NCOs and officers worked quickly, creating 10 new musical arrangments for the group in a single day. With one rehearsal under our belt we boarded the bus to Bethesda.

Sunday morning we sent the team off in style from the hotel with a rousing rendition of On Brave Old Army Team and music from Rocky. You could feel the excitement as we boarded our own bus to the University of Maryland Comcast Center to get ready for the game.

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Staff Sgt. Jeremy Gaynor sang a wonderful rendition of our National Anthem and soon the game was underway. Army kept it close during the beginning of the first half and Cadet Kelsey Minato led the Black Knights with an Army NCAA Tournament record 27 points.

In the end Maryland won the game, but Army gave it their all and the effort and team work displayed on the court was an inspiring reminder of team spirit and the resilient, never quit, attitude that makes Army sports so great. Go Army! Proud to Serve!

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