Cat in the Hall

A CAT IN THE HALL, ON THE WALL

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In all my early years as a member of the Hellcats, I had often thought there should be a visual representation of a Hellcat as a logo for the group. In 1989 I attempted my first Hellcat sketch which was essentially Garfield stuffed into a uniform coat.

First Draft

First Draft

I presented it to the group leader, SGM Dave Brzywczy, with my thoughts of creating an official logo. He agreed that a logo would be good for the group but he didn’t believe Garfield was the image we were going for. I next tried a thinner cat based on the Pink Panther.

Second Draft

Second Draft

Dave was again less than impressed. He showed me some images of logos used by Navy jet fighter squadrons and suggested our cat should be more pumped up and a little more aggressive looking like these. So after a few changes, rejections and a lot more changes we finally settled on the current cat with his slightly more bulked up body and more aggressive demeanor. Since I was in publicity and responsible for sending out Hellcat Publicity packets, I began including the image in the packets. I was always pleased when someone actually used the image.

Prior to 1990 when entering the Hellcat area, you were greeted by a large blank wall. I envisioned this wall as a great place for the cat. Maybe we cats were stuck down in the dungeons but I thought maybe a little flash of cat pride could really make us stand out in the building. In the late summer of 1990 I asked for and got permission from the band SGM (Bob Moon) to paint the cat there.

Placing the image on an overhead opaque projector, I projected it on the wall and with the assistance of fellow drummer John Westmacott we penciled the image on the wall. I painted the Hellcat using enamel paint bought at the hardware store in Highland Falls. For extra effect I added ranger eyes so his eyes would glow down the hall in the darkness. This tended to freak out duty NCOs as they did their nighttime rounds. People kept removing his eyes and I kept replacing them. After a while I finally gave up and left him with only his devil red eyes.

I always had hopes that the cat would eventually catch on. I’m very happy to see him still standing there after almost twenty-five years.

Words By: Donald Trefethen (MSG Ret.) 2014

Taking Care of One of Our Own

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The volunteer band for Abby Mayer's funeral. For this funeral, the entire front rank was made up of french horns.

The volunteer band for Abby Mayer’s funeral. For this funeral, the entire front rank was made up of french horns.

By Staff Sgt. Phil Stehly

Veteran’s Day is just around the corner. This is the time of year I reflect on what it means to serve. Last year I wrote a series of blogs about my perspective playing our Veteran’s Day concert. This year I’d like to write about a funeral the West Point Band recently supported.

As a soldier musician, performing for funerals is one of the most—if not the most— meaningful and important things I do. This past May, the West Point Band provided musical support for the funeral of Abby Mayer. Abby was a horn player in the band. His stint at West Point was one of many during a prolific career. In addition to the West Point Band, Abby was a member of the National Symphony, the Baltimore Symphony, and the Indianapolis Symphony. Quite a resume! He eventually settled back in New York, maintaining an active and successful career as a free lance musician.

In talking to some of my colleagues who knew Abby well, I kept hearing the same things: He was a true gentlemen and one of the nicest folks you’d meet. He was also generous—always willing to play his horn for any occasion, no matter how big or small. And he never lost touch with his roots at West Point, as he remained active in the area with performances and clinics while staying in touch with folks in the band.

When word of Abby’s passing came, several members of the West Point Band volunteered to play for the funeral. It’s something we do for all of our band alumni should they choose to be buried at West Point. Taking care of each other is such an important part of the Army, and I can’t think of a better way we in the West Point Band take care of our own.

Thanks for your service, Abby Mayer. And thank you to all of our veterans. I always seek out ways I serve on my trombone. I can think of no greater honor than playing the funerals of our fallen heroes.

Florida, Here We Come

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By Staff Sgt. Phil Stehly

Photos by Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers

The West Point Band providing ceremonial music in New York City.

The West Point Band providing ceremonial music in New York City.

Florida: home of Disney World, delicious oranges, early bird specials, and in one week, the West Point Band.

That’s right. From November 14-17, the West Point Band will be performing in Sarasota, Florida. You gotta love Florida. My wife and I talk about becoming snowbirds down there many, many years from now. Every time I go to the Sunshine State, I am blown away. I’m not sure if it’s the driver-friendly roads or beautiful weather, but Florida and I get along famously.

But enough about me. Back to the West Point Band’s trip.

There’s a lot on the docket, including a National Cemetery dedication and performance at Patriot Plaza in Sarasota. The event will feature a variety of hosts and speeches, including best-selling author Wes Moore. Another highlight will be nationally renowned Abraham Lincoln portrayer Michael Krebs reading the words of our 16th President. The West Point Band will provide the music befitting the ceremony. It should be a meaningful and memorable performance.

Also on the agenda: educational outreach! Members of the West Point Band will share their expertise with clinics provided at a local high school.

The West Point Band performing a concert at Yale.

The West Point Band performing a concert at Yale.

In addition to the ceremony and clinics, the band will also perform a community concert in Sarasota at Patriot Plaza. (9810 State Road in Sarasota.) The performance will pay tribute to the nation’s veterans as only the West Point Band can do. It will mark the first public performance at Sarasota National Cemetery’s new ceremonial amphitheater. It’ll be a fun program. Selections include Midway March, Songs of the Soldier Overture, In the Mood, and a medley of Andrews Sisters tunes. For more information on the concert, visit the West Point Band Community Concert section of www.onlineregistrationcenter.com/veteranslegacysummit.

The trip will showcase the versatility of the West Point Band—one performance, the musicians sit down and play a concert of world-class classical music. The next day the band will provide ceremonial music in a sharp display of military bearing and tradition. You’ll have to trust me when I say very few musical organizations, if any, are capable of doing so many things so well as the West Point Band. (Perhaps I’m biased, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true!)

Make way for the West Point Band, Florida. We’ll be there soon.

Full Circle

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Finally, after years of work, we were nearing the conclusion of the concert. Two great nations had shared the stage in concert once again. With the Bernstein complete, it was on to the jazz tunes. Judging by the number of jazz clubs I saw around Tokyo, jazz seems to be much more popular in Japan than in the place of its birth, and it was clear that the audience was excited to hear two great American jazz musicians perform in concert.

The trumpet section of the combined bands. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

The trumpet section of the combined bands. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

First up was Caravan. Sgt. 1st Class John Castleman, Staff Sgt. Alexis Cole, and the Central Band’s English horn player came to the front of stage to engage in a free dialogue between musicians. All three played off of one another, drawing inspiration from whatever came from each musician.

Musicians play off of one another on the front of the stage. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Musicians play off of one another on the front of the stage. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

After the introduction, it was time for John and Alexis to shine on their own. Alexis held the audience in rapt attention as she sang the melody using only sounds, not words, and then took a scat solo. She drew on her training in Indian classical singing to add an exotic flair to her performance. After Alexis finished, it was time for John to play his solo. The band members already knew what the audience was about to listen to, and I couldn’t help but notice a few smiles, as all on stage knew that the audience was in for a treat. John did not disappoint, thrilling the audience as he played complex lines and leapt up to the top of the trumpet’s range.

SFC Castleman solos during "Caravan." Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

SFC Castleman solos during “Caravan.” Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Next, Alexis spoke to the audience in Japanese for a bit, something they certainly did not expect. Throughout the concert, the Japanese audience had been deafeningly quiet, without coughing, or unwrapping hard candy, or any of the other noises that filter through concert halls in America. Once Alexis spoke, they finally relaxed and even shared a laugh. With the audience at ease, the band dove into Fly Me to the Moon. Things had come a long way since the first rehearsal; the band sounded really tight, and fed off of the energy from the crowd to inject even more life into their playing. Alexis’ deep, haunting voice filled the hall, and the audience was blown away by her singing. John even had a brief solo in the middle of the tune, and he of course wowed the crowd and ensemble alike.

SSG Cole sings to the crowd. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

SSG Cole sings to the crowd. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

The concert closed with Les Deux Belles Aires. The piece is a sort of Latin big band chart from the 70s arranged for concert band with an absurd injection of energy. The piece is really impressive to listen to, and is a real crowd pleaser. The audience roared with applause at the conclusion of the concert, and the band had no choice but to play The Stars and Stripes Forever as an encore. Lt. Col. Keene conducted, and as he always does, got the reserved Japanese audience to clap along with vim and vigor.

LTC Keene encourages the audience to clap during "Stars and Stripes." Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner.

LTC Keene encourages the audience to clap during “Stars and Stripes.” Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner.

Finally the concert came to a close. There were many rounds of applause from the grateful audience. What was displayed on stage was not just a concert with some American guest musicians, but a true partnership among nations. Military bands make the best possible emissaries of all nations, because no matter the language barrier, we can always play great music together. The stay was one I will never forget. We made wonderful friends with the Japanese musicians, and hope that we can share the stage again soon.

CSM James Mullins stands to recieve the audience's applause after a memorable performance with the JGSDF Central Band. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

CSM James Mullins stands to recieve the audience’s applause after a memorable performance with the JGSDF Central Band. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner.

Words and images by Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner

The Hellcats, Scotland Edition

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“High in the misty Highlands, Out by the purple islands…”

Hellcats Scotland 1

On September 1, 2014, the Hellcats traveled to Scotland to perform in the first annual Highland Military Tattoo. The Hellcats, thrilled to represent the West Point Band, United States Military Academy, and the United States Army, performed in the United Kingdom for the first time in the history of the West Point Band. The tattoo took place in the historic setting of Fort George located near Inverness, Scotland. This military fortification was completed in 1769 and provided a striking backdrop as the Hellcats performed alongside several UK ensembles including the Military Band of The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Hellcats Scotland 2

With performances on BBC One and STV, the Hellcats inspired audiences with their musical and technical abilities acting as musical ambassadors both on and off stage.

“I felt like I represented not only the Army, but the entire United States. I received several comments from musicians in the band about how they appreciated our musical professionalism and consistency. Audience members enjoyed our interaction throughout the show, and it was a great feeling to be told that we were the icing on the cake.” MSG James Barnard

Hellcats Scotland 3

Drummers exchanged rudiments before rehearsals and the piccolos swapped stories with other wind players. Although we may differ in culture and background, music gives us all a sense of unity and instantaneous friendship. These brief interactions impacted the Hellcat members in a profound way that directly translated into our playing. The Highland Military Tattoo took place from September 5-7, 2014, and the Hellcats were humbled to perform four shows to over 8,000 energetic and responsive audience members.

Hellcats Scotland 4

“To me, it was about the audience and their experience. If they were happy, I was happy. After seeing all the smiles and hearing the loud, explosive applause, I knew that our mission was complete.” SSG Courtney Martin.

The show itself was tailored to the venue’s horseshoe-shaped seating arrangement, ensuring that the Hellcats interacted with audience members on all sides. The show began with a fanfare displaying military bearing and discipline. As the show progressed, each section displayed its musical and technical capabilities. The grand finale was a medley of American patriotic tunes; the Hellcats invited the audience to rise to their feet and clap along! After the evening performance and fireworks display, the Hellcat members were eager to meet and greet the audience.

Hellcats Scotland 5

After one evening’s performance, the Hellcats were humbled to meet Vietnam War veteran David McKelvie. Mr. McKelvie was a medic in the US Navy and served during the Vietnam War from 1972-1976. He helped execute several missions including establishing a refugee center at Eglin Air Force Base.

Hellcats Scotland 6

As anticipated, performing in the Highland Military Tattoo proved to be an absolutely unforgettable experience. The Hellcats are immensely grateful to Major General Seymour Monro and Major Bruce Hitchings for extending the invitation to perform at this spectacular event!

Hellcats Scotland 7

Words By: SSG Ashley Mendeke

Photos by: SSG Chrissy Rivers

https://www.flickr.com/photos/westpointband/sets/72157646770588099/

Big in Japan

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As nearly everything in Japan does, the concert began exactly on time with the playing of the Star Spangled Banner followed by Kimigayo, the Japanese National Anthem. The first piece on the program was Frank Tichelli’s arrangement of Shenandoah. It begins reverently, and then slowly grows to a glorious and dramatic climax. The band pulled out all the stops, and gave a truly stirring performance.

One of the highlights of the performance was Rhapsody for Band. The piece, conducted by Col. Takeda, uses quite a lot of traditional Japanese percussion instruments. Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Eby had the challenge of playing a very large percussion solo on the hyoshigi, an instrument that he had never played prior to coming to Japan. He did splendidly in performance, though I know he was quite nervous.

Col. Takeda conducts. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Col. Takeda conducts. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

The final piece on the first half was Dance Folatre by American composer, Claude T. Smith. He is known for writing wind band works that are challenging to play, and Dance Folatre was no exception. Col. Takeda conducted the piece at a tempo that is best described as mach schnell. It forced the musicians beyond their comfort zones and onto the edge of their seats. The piece is full of effervescence and joie de vivre, and those feelings came across in the performance. There was also quite a bit of nervous energy as Col. Takeda pushed the ensemble to the redline as far as tempo is concerned. It brought about a tremendous amount of excitement for the audience, and they showed their appreciation with generous applause.

Following intermission, Lt. Col. Keene took the podium again to conduct selections from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass, arranged for band by Sgt. Maj. Douglas Richard. The work drew heavily on the talents of two soloists from the central band. In the first movement, there is a very large trombone solo. It is fortunate that the Central Band has one of the finest trombone sections I have ever heard. The solo was played with elegance and dignity and was a joy to listen to.

The combined brass section. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

The combined brass section. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

The second movement has a really big flute solo that is meant to be played by a performer standing outside of the ensemble. One of the Central Band’s flutists stood behind and above the band, in the choir loft behind the stage. Japan has a deep history of traditional flute playing. It is an instrument that the Japanese have been playing in some form or another for thousands of years. Somehow, that history is evident in the flute players in the Central Band. The slow solo in the Bernstein was profound, beautiful, and effortless.

The rest of the piece grows to an exciting, mixed meter conclusion that is reminiscent of West Side Story. Since the West Point Band created the arrangement, I’m sure nobody at the concert had ever heard it prior to that day. But once they heard it, they loved it. The audience roared with applause after the piece was finished.

Lt. Col. Keene conducts. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Lt. Col. Keene conducts. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Check back soon for the rest of our adventures with the Japanese Central Band.

Showtime

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We began the morning with a sound check at Sumida Triphony hall in Tokyo, one of the finest halls I have ever performed in. At the beginning of rehearsal, there were a whole bunch of Central Band officers who had come to speak with the band. What I expected was mundane morning announcements; in fact, it was a sort of pre-concert ritual that added an air of profundity to what we were about to do. In a display of respect for both the performers and the officers, everyone said a sort of group “let’s do this” together, for each officer that spoke.

In the sound check, we only touched a few spots here and there to get used to the hall. And what a hall it was. In the West Point Band, we rarely have the privilege to perform in beautiful concert halls, and we loved every minute of it. We all grabbed a quick lunch then got changed into performance uniforms for the sold out performance. The Central Band’s performances are so popular that they have to hold a ticket lottery to see who will be allowed into the concert.

The combined bands on stage at Sumida Triphony Concert Hall in Tokyo. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

The combined bands on stage at Sumida Triphony Concert Hall in Tokyo. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Throughout the trip, I have been impressed with the attention to detail of the Japanese people. It seems that everything is done deliberately, be it cleaning a train station, or assigning the parts to be played in the concert. It seems that everything is a conscious choice. One detail that we did not overlook was the switching of flags prior to the concert. In military ceremonies, you always place the flag with the highest honor in the left most position. Between the sound check and the performance, as a show of honor for the United States, the Central Band chose to place the American flag on the left of their own flag. This is a small detail, that many in the audience might have overlooked, but as someone who makes his livelihood getting all of the details right at military ceremonies, the significance was not lost on me. It was a deep gesture of respect for our nation.

Staff Sgt. Alexis Cole sings at Sumida Triphony Hall. The U.S. Flag has been moved into the place of honor for the performance. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Staff Sgt. Alexis Cole sings at Sumida Triphony Hall. The U.S. Flag has been moved into the place of honor for the performance. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

I’ll write about the performance in the next post. Be sure to check back soon.

 

Words and images by Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner

Perfect Harmony

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The following day, we had another rehearsal with the Central Band. The trip was very brief, so we only really had two rehearsals to make everything happen. Fortunately, the Central Band had been rehearsing without us for a while before we arrived. There was an unexpected challenge in Friday’s rehearsal however. In an all too common occurrence for the West Point Band, several ceremonies were added to the performance calendar for the Central Band on short notice. This took about fifteen musicians out of rehearsal for the day. While it was not ideal to play the last rehearsal before the concert without all of the musicians, it was heartening to know that military bands all over the world face the same challenges we do. And just like our band, the Central Band found a way to cover down and complete all of the missions for the day.

Japanese Soldiers march to a ceremony. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Japanese Soldiers march to a ceremony. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Towards the end of rehearsal, we exchanged some small gifts with the Central Band. We had a brand new set of band coins minted for this trip, and Lt. Col. Keene and Command Sgt. Maj. Mullins presented coins to each member of the Central Band. We also handed out a photo of the West Point Band on the march on the plain, which everyone seemed to enjoy.

Lt. Col. Keene presents a newly minted band coin to Sgt. Maj. Noguchi. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Lt. Col. Keene presents a newly minted band coin to Sgt. Maj. Noguchi. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

After we had presented our gifts, the Central Band had a special presentation for us; they told us that Sgt. Maj. Noguchi, the Central Band’s principal clarinetist and a junior member of the section would perform a clarinet duet version of the Star Spangled Banner. We arranged ourselves in a line and the entire room stood at attention while they performed.

Their performance held profound meaning for both bands, as it was not just the U.S. national anthem that was performed, but rather both the U.S. and Japanese national anthems, performed together in harmony. The performance was a perfect distillation of the sincere partnership that our two nations have shared for decades now. All in the room were profoundly moved.

Once all of the presentations were made, we retired to our hotel to find dinner and get some sleep before the big performance the following afternoon.

Words and images by Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner

The first annual Highland Military Tattoo

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Day 4: The first annual Highland Military Tattoo

The day started with a drive into Inverness, where we were scheduled to perform and march through the town. The Hellcats drew large crowds as they performed throughout Inverness. Master Sgt. Denver Dill explained the importance of the United States Military Academy and the role that The Hellcats play in achieving the West Point Band’s mission to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets. After each performance, The Hellcats spoke to members of the audience and posed for photos.

The Hellcats performed throughout Inverness, Scotland. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

The Hellcats performed throughout Inverness, Scotland. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

After marching through the town we came to the Town House. This is where General Seymour Monro, Zoja Bazarnic, Principal Officer at the US Consulate General in Edinburgh, and Alex Graham, Provost of Inverness, met us. After posing for a few photos outside Provost Graham led us inside the beautiful building for a luncheon. It was such an honor to be invited to the Town House and have the opportunity to speak with Ms. Bazarnic and Provost Graham.

Provost of Inverness, Alex Graham,  Principal Officer at the US Consulate General in Edinburgh, Zoja Bazarnic, and The Hellcats. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

Provost of Inverness, Alex Graham, Principal Officer at the US Consulate General in Edinburgh, Zoja Bazarnic, and The Hellcats. (Photo by: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

While we were eating many people were asking what some of the more traditional foods were. To my delight I heard that there was haggis on the table. I made sure to put it on my plate, on my first bite it quickly became my favorite food we had eaten! (Next to the Yorkshire Pud, that is.)

After lunch it was time to get back on the bus for a few hours of rest and dinner before the first night of the show. There were so many performers that most of the base was considered back stage. Hundreds of bagpipers and drummers were warming up as we began getting together for the opening act. The lighting was perfect, the sound was big, the audience was excited. What an amazing event. Two more to go!

The first night of the Highland Military Tattoo in Fort George, Scotland.  (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

The first night of the Highland Military Tattoo in Fort George, Scotland.
(Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

Day 5: Culloden

Members of the audience tried The Hellcats tar buckets on and tried out their drums after their performance at Culloden Battlefield. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

Members of the audience tried The Hellcats tar buckets on and tried out their drums after their performance at Culloden Battlefield. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

It’s Saturday, and we are heading to Culloden. We performed during an event that they were having, playing the same music as the day before in Inverness. After our performance we were treated to a tour of the battlefield, where the battle was being reenacted at the tattoo. During the tour The Hellcats had the privilege of honoring all of the Scottish men who fought in the battle of Culloden in 1746 with the sounding of Last Post at a monument placed in their memory.

The Hellcats had the privilege of honoring all of the Scottish men who fought in the battle of Culloden in 1746 with the sounding of Last Post at a monument placed in their memory. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

The Hellcats had the privilege of honoring all of the Scottish men who fought in the battle of Culloden in 1746 with the sounding of Last Post at a monument placed in their memory. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

It was another successful evening at the tattoo. Each night The Hellcats stepped out and spoke with the audience, giving away Army keepsakes and letting children (and adults) wear their tar buckets and play their drums. There was even a gentleman who played the Harmonica for us!

The second night of the Highland Military Tattoo in Fort George, Scotland. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

The second night of the Highland Military Tattoo in Fort George, Scotland.
(Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

Day 6: Last Night of the Tattoo

Our only event scheduled today was the tattoo, which gave me the opportunity to explore Ft. George. Earlier in the week we stepped out to the “beach” on the Morry Firth. It was all rocks and shells, but I could see over the edge of the fort that the other side was all sand. After asking a few people how to get there Staff Sgt.’s Medeke, Martin, and I were directed to the guard’s room. We were given a set of keys to the massive doors on the other side of the Fort. They were heavy, but as we opened then the warm sun welcomed us to … the General’s pet cemetery. If you were fortunate enough to have a dog, and unfortunate enough to have that dog die while you were the commander of Ft. George, your precious pup had the honor of being buried in the Ft. George Dog Cemetery. Beyond that was the beach, full of the softest sand I had ever felt. It was covered in unbroken seashells and perfectly smooth sea glass. What a relaxing way to spend some time before the tattoo.

The last night of the tattoo was another sold out crowd and a huge success. We again had the wonderful opportunity to meet the audience, hear their stories, and be welcomed back by many.

Photos from the final night of the Highland Military Tattoo in Fort George, Scotland.  (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

Photos from the final night of the Highland Military Tattoo in Fort George, Scotland. (Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band)

Out in Front

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The combined bands in rehearsal at Camp Asaka. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

The combined bands in rehearsal at Camp Asaka. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

The next task was to get the two soloists we brought with us comfortable. Sgt. 1st Class John Castleman and Staff Sgt. Alexis Cole on trumpet and jazz vocal respectively. John’s feature was a new arrangement of Caravan, arranged by West Point’s own Sgt. 1st Class Mike Reifenberg. If you’ve never heard him, John is without question one of the finest jazz lead trumpet players anywhere. He is totally devoted to his craft as a musician. In fact, when he has multiple days off of the trumpet in a row, we often kid that he is going into trumpet withdrawal and beginning to twitch.

The arrangement of Caravan began with a free trumpet, vocal, and English horn obligato, played by one of the Central Band’s musicians in training. John thought it odd that he and Alexis should be the only ones to stand at the beginning, even though all three parts have equal importance. The Central Band’s English horn player was invited to stand with the musicians from West Point and it clearly had a profound impact on him. Lt. Col. Keene encouraged the young English horn player to come out of his shell and really open up musically. It made for a touching moment of international cooperation on stage, and injected a bit of American bravado into the Japanese English horn player.

When it was time for John to take his solo in Caravan, I knew the Japanese musicians would be impressed, and they were. John soared into the stratosphere of the trumpet range and eyebrows went up all over the room. At West Point, we sometimes forget what an amazing talent John is because we work with him every day. We know him as a person, a family man, and a colleague. The Japanese musicians had just met him, and all they knew was his playing. They were very impressed, clapping for him after he finished in rehearsal.

SFC Castleman in rehearsal. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

SFC Castleman in rehearsal. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Next we rehearsed Fly Me to the Moon, featuring Staff Sgt. Alexis Cole. Alexis is a singular vocal talent, and also spent about 18 months living in Tokyo before joining the Army. At West Point, we often play jazz tunes in a concert band setting, and it usually works really well, so we forget that it is a real challenge to pull off. The combined band had a few hiccups as things got going, struggling to align the rhythm section and balance the bass and piano with the larger ensemble. Once we got everything sorted out, Alexis was able to shine. She really dazzled the musicians, most of whom had never been exposed to such great jazz singing up close and personal.

SSG Alexis Cole in Rehearsal. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

SSG Alexis Cole in Rehearsal. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

The rehearsal was incredibly productive. No matter the language barrier, it’s always easy to make music with other great musicians, because music is absolutely a universal language. Following the rehearsal, we shared a truly amazing sushi dinner with Central Band members, sitting on tatami mats, eating off of traditional low tables. It was truly a memorable day.

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