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 www.westpointband.com 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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Great People on a Great Lake

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photo 2Earlier this month members of the Jazz Knights traveled to the Zenith City of the North, Duluth, Minnesota for the 41st annual Head of the Lakes Jazz Festival at the University of MN-Duluth. Head of the Lakes is a non-competitive festival, offering positive, learning-based experiences for young jazz ensembles throughout the area. This positive, learning-oriented approach has become a hallmark of the Head of the Lakes Festival.

Duluth is in the midst of a cultural boom and overflowing with music, especially jazz and folk. The city is full of all sorts of venues: clubs, hotels, schools, churches and libraries. Not a huge surprise for the city that can lay claim as Bob Dylan’s birthplace. It’s wonderful to see a city with big bands and small groups playing everything from Dixie to Duke Ellington on any night of the week.

During the days leading up to the festival, we had the honor of performing for college students and faculty from around the area. On Thursday we visited the UMD Music Department during their weekly “Recital Hour” and had the opportunity to work with not only the Jazz Studies students that day, but the entire Music Department in their beautiful music hall. UMD Jazz Department Head, Ryan Frane, and everyone on the jazz faculty at UMD is world class and it was a privilege to perform with Adam Booker and Gene Koshinski, the departments jazz bass and drum instructors.

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Along with our rendition of Thad Jones classic “Three and One,” we had the added bonus of performing some brand new arrangements SGM Scott Arcangel composed earlier that morning. When inspiration knocks, you answer the door, and the tunes went so well there were requests for copies for the school groups to play after we left. After our performance we spoke to the students about our experiences after graduating from school, what inspired us to join the Army and serve as NCOs in the West Point Band, and how our studies prepared us to be versatile musicians in an ever changing world. “Be versatile, be professional and be resilient.” 

MSG Rich Johnson, a UMD alumni, then gave a trumpet workshop on the challenges of transitioning from school to professional life as a trumpet player and his experiences recovering from a broken embouchure, all the way to earning a position in the West Point Band. It was a enthusiastic discussion about training for quick recovery, adapting to new situations and creating a foundation for a life long career.

Friday we crossed over the high bridge, with it’s awe-inspiring view of a frozen Lake Superior, and traveled to the University of Wisonson-Superior to work with Jazz Studies Department head Greg Moore and his UWS big band as they prepare to travel to the Eau Claire Jazz Festival this spring. Dr. Moore is an excellent director and tenor saxophonist, who’s love of the music is clearly evident in his approach to leading a band. His passion is infectious and the students level of commitment to the music and each other was clearly evident. What a great team! When rehearsal was over we stayed to perform with students in a workshopping session and SFC Dan Pierce led a great discussion about our career field, what it means to be adaptable in today’s job market, and ended with an inspiring talk about personal musical influences and how those led us to where we are today.

ImageEarlier that day, we had the chance to visit the Duluth Veterans Memorial on the shores of Lake Superior. This was especially significant to MSG Johnson, since he had performed Taps for services at the memorial while he was still a music student at UMD. The white, wave inspired monument set against the big lake, frozen over for the first time since 1996 was a moving site and the names of local service members inside the memorial was a powerful reminder of service and sacrifice.

2014-03-08 14.29.09Head of the Lakes was in full swing Saturday with high school jazz bands from across Minnesota and Wisconsin. The Jazz Knights spent the day adjudicating big bands with other area professionals and participating in instrument workshops and lectures. Each ensemble received 40 minutes of individualized time that included a  performance and evaluation with adjudicators. It was inspiring to work with such talented and motivated students, everyone came ready to play and they all performed at the top of their various levels. Being able to really dig into the music with them and discuss specific details that will take them to the next level was very rewarding for both us and the students. 

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That evening we helped close out the festival with the UMD Jazz Faculty All-Stars and SGM Arcangel’s new arrangements. The packed house enjoyed the evening and left taping their toes and whistling the tunes. Later that night at the post-festival jam session, we sat in with UMD students, talked more about our experiences as members of the West Point Band, and worked on session etiquette; when to lead and when to follow, and how to quickly develop structure while improvising on the bandstand -
“Be versatile, be professional and be resilient.” 

After the last chorus was played and the instruments were packed up, we were able to work with and perform for over 1000 area students and audience members. Jazz is alive and well in Duluth and it was an honor to share our Army experiences with such a dedicated community.

Great People on a Great Lake!

West Point Band “March” Update

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My colleagues and I in the West Point Band recently completed our recording project. The Concert Band spent five days in Ike Hall recording. The Hellcats also joined us for several tunes, adding an historic and authentic touch that only bugles and drums could achieve.

We recorded a vast collection of marches, including the Army’s division songs. With the help of coffee, I was able to keep my focus mentally. The physical aspect was a bit more of a challenge. I won’t sugarcoat things; it wasn’t easy. (You might recall from an earlier post on this blog how challenging marches can be for a brass player.) By nature, recordings are also taxing. Thus, a recording of marches was a terrifying prospect! Think of it as running a marathon interspersed with inhuman amounts of push-ups and sit-ups. But I made it.

Part of what made the process demanding was also what made it rewarding: we operated mostly with complete takes. Let me explain. My previous experiences with recordings were done mostly in “chunks.” We’d do one section—say 20 measures—and record that one section over and over until it was acceptable. Then we’d move on to the next 20 measures, as many times as necessary. And so on. These chunks were then patched together by the recording engineers. This time around, we’d record the entire tune. If we needed more, we recorded it down again. This isn’t to say that we didn’t do the occasional patch, but there were far fewer chunks and a lot more complete run-throughs. It was tough on my chops, but those complete takes preserve the spontaneity and make for a more musical product. I can’t wait to hear it.

My face did get some relief on the fourth day, however. I mentioned that we recorded the Army’s division songs. Like any other song, they have words. Who sang the lyrics? My colleagues and I! For an entire morning, there were long stretches where my trombone was set down and I rediscovered my vocals for the first time since college. It was great fun making music in a fresh, new manner.

The brass section plays during a recording session at Ike Hall.

The brass section plays during a recording session at Ike Hall.

An added bonus: we also recorded a bunch of versions of our National Anthem. Our second day of the project coincided with the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. Each time we played The Star-Spangled Banner, I summoned my inner patriot and imagined the Americans on the podium after winning gold.

Now we’re done. All of our takes are in the bag. It’s up to the engineers to work their magic. It should be a terrific finished product! This is without a doubt the most I’ve anticipated one of our recordings. Keep in touch with the band on social media for more updates!

Words by Staff Sgt. Phil Stehly

Image by Staff Sgt. Chrissy Clark

Photography: The Art of Seeing

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SSG Torin Olsen gave a presentation entitled Photography: The Art of Seeing, to cadets in PY201, Intro to Philosophy, MAJ Harry Jones. SSG Olsen is the West Point Band’s piccolo player and a professional photographer. He showed how the processes inherent to photography can be a model for creative-problem solving.

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SSG Olsen involved cadets directly in the photographic process by having them choose different variables– lighting, background, lens, depth of field– as one of their classmates became the subject of SSG Olsen’s photos. The photos were uploaded in real time to a screen, and the cadets were able to discuss how their choices affected the outcomes of the photos.

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SSG Olsen’s presentation is part of a Creativity Series sponsored by the West Point Band’s Academic Initiative, which collaborates with West Point – The U.S. Military Academy’s academic departments to teach academic principles through the arts. Upcoming classes in the series include Creativity And Problem-Solving Through Percussion, The Art of Reed Making, and Jazz Improvisation and Ethics.

Just one hundred days till June

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Screen Shot 2014-02-22 at 11.00.25 AMFor over 140 years every February the Corps of Cadets has presented the “100th Night Show” to celebrate the fact that there are “just one hundred days till June.”

Dialectic Society

Dialectic Society of 1920

In December of 1860, the Dialectic Society gave an “entertainment” entitled “Toodles.” This forerunner of the 100th Night Show included two farces, a few dances, poetry and dramatic readings. During these years, before movies and television, amateur theater and musicales were often the only entertainment available to officers and families at West Point and these shows became a welcome part of life at West Point.

Early 1900's cast

The first “100th Night Show” was a collection of skits presented by the First Class in 1871. The “Nineteenth Century Brevities” was performed in the Mess Hall, and resembled an English recitation more than anything else. By the late 1800’s the show moved to Grant Hall and was earning write ups in the New York Times. People began traveling all the way from the city to see the festivities. By 1902 the show found itself a proper stage in Cullum Hall, still used today for Cadet Hops with the Benny Havens Band. The next year the first full-length musical comedy, “The Caprices of Cupid” was staged by the Class of 1903 and ever since the “100th Night Show” has been a musical comedy. During the 1940’s and 50’s Academy Award winning lyricists like Sammy Cahn would take time off from writing lyrics for Frank Sinatra to work with Cadets crafting the next big 100th Night hit.

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The story is not complete without mentioning the West Point Band’s “100th Night Show Orchestra” under the baton of SGM Scott Arcangel this year. The orchestra has always been built from members of the West Point Band and resembles a standard Broadway pit orchestra. For this years show SFC Mike Reifenberg has worked closely with Cadets for months, composing a full book of completely original music that covers everything from Broadway show tunes to Green Day-death-metal-rock.

This is the story of the 100th Night Show. You probably won’t hear many of the songs played again after the show, but we guarantee that you will be whistling at least a couple of them in the weeks to come.12653463565_81dff3f8b6_c

Boston Pops Holiday with guests from the West Point Band

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Thanks to everyone that made “West Point Holiday” so much fun!

Screen Shot 2013-12-07 at 5.21.47 PMIf you’re looking for more music this weekend come back to Eisenhower Hall Sunday at 1:30, when members of the West Point Band will join the BOSTON POPS Esplanade Orchestra with Conductor Keith Lockhart for their sparkling and beloved Holiday Pops concert.

Tickets are available HERE.

Conductor Keith Lockhart visited Mike & Kacey on 100.7 WHUD this week. To listen to the interview, click HERE for the link or listen to it from right here on our blog.


The Week of the West Point Holiday

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For most people, Christmas means food, presents, family, maybe some time off of work or school . . . For me, it means those things, but it also means our annual West Point Holiday Show is upon us. So now you know that we put on a holiday show, but what does this really mean for the West Point Band? I’m glad you asked. It means a week filled with many West Point Band members wearing a great deal of different hats. This week, a typical band member is a musician; a stage hand for set-up or tear down; a member of the light crew or decorating team; an usher; publicity booth attendant; producer; et al . . . It means a week of intense music rehearsals, tech rehearsals, set-ups, tear-downs, run-throughs, talk-throughs–It’s a lot.

Why do we do so much? To bring you the best Holiday show on the East Coast, of course! If you’ve never seen it, you definitely owe it to yourself to come. It’s not just a concert of holiday music. It’s much, much more than that. It’s a series of musical selections that tell a story, interspersed with clever narration. Most of our arrangements are original and unique and are guaranteed to appeal to the whole family. And for all you parents out there, there may even be an appearance from Santa Claus, and your kids will have the chance to sit on his lap after the concert (if he shows, wink wink).

So amidst the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, do yourself and your family a favor by taking a little time and joining us in Eisenhower Hall on this coming Friday evening (7:30 p.m.) or Saturday afternoon (2:00 p.m.). I can almost guarantee that it will become a part of your holiday tradition for years to come and we will do our darndest to keep you entertained for those years to come!

Words by Staff Sgt. Dave Loy Song

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My Perspective of the West Point Holiday

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1002002_10151727179771825_1647130674_nSpeaking as someone who’s been in the band for nine years, I can honestly say that the holiday show is one of my favorite performances we do. I’ve only not been involved in two of them, and I was bummed out each time to not play, and still attended the performance anyway. This isn’t because I am a holiday fanatic, up on my roof stapling Christmas lights after Halloween and decorating my car like a reindeer (although I do admit to being excited each year when the stations start playing holiday songs)— but it’s because I really feel our holiday shows are just that good.

Every year we do something a little bit different; when I first got in the band, we would incorporate local children’s choirs and dance troupes. In the first show I ever played, I specifically remember the Fairfield County Children’s Choir singing the South African hymn “Siyahamba” with percussion accompaniment. It was something so different than I was used to hearing on traditional “holiday” programs! I feel that the way we program a diverse array of songs— as well as using arrangements in a wide variety of musical styles (classical, jazz, funk, pop, country, etc.)— is part of what makes our holiday shows so entertaining. For instance, we have done “O Holy Night” as a soul-bluesy trumpet feature, “No Place Like Home for the Holidays” as a country tune, “What Child is This” as a jazz saxophone duet feature, and “Carol of the Bells” as a fantasy with a slow and steady minimalistic buildup into a rock section with electric guitar solo (the last three of these which will be performed this week!).

8289013117_598f6534d7_zFor this year’s show I also had the opportunity to help write the script, which gave me an insight into just how involved the show is even beyond the music. Having only ever just played my clarinet part, I didn’t fully understand just how much goes into a production like this. There are all of the vocalist and instrumentalist cues, lighting, sound, props, stage setups, etc— all of which have to work together. Before the band even rehearses a single note, hours upon hours have been spent conceiving, planning, and organizing. To give you an idea, going into the first rehearsal ever for this year’s show, we were already up to draft number seven of the script! And even though the group of musicians on stage for the performance is only a part of the whole band (a hybrid jazz-concert band), this concert is quite literally “all hands on deck,” with all band members either on stage, back stage, ushering, directing cars in the parking lot, playing pre-music— or any combination of the above— not to mention all the work that goes into publicizing the event beforehand. In the end, though, it’s always a great payoff to get to bring in the season with so many people and their families who show up each year for the West Point Holiday!

Words by Staff Sgt. Erin Beaver

Download free tickets HERE
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