SSG Natalie Wren performs with Air Force’s “Golden West Winds”

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Music sure has a way of bringing people together.  And last month the Army and the Air Force joined in perfect harmony as one of West Point Band‘s own appeared as a guest artist with the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West.  

Oboist, Staff Sgt. Natalie Wren was requested to perform with USAF Band’s woodwind quintet, the Golden West Winds during their Eastern Washington tour.  The tour included nine performances reaching a live audience of over 2400 people and a broadcast reach of more than 15,000.

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Senior Airman Alaina Shaw, Technical Sergeant Andy Tucker, Airman First Class Candy Chang, Staff Sergeant Natalie Wren, Senior Airman Dan Shifren, and Airman First Class Emily Hoffner in front of the Spokane Public Radio.

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Staff Sergeant Natalie Wren stands with JROTC students following a performance at Walla Walla University, in Walla Walla, Idaho.

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Oboist Staff Sergeant Natalie Wren shares the West Point story at Walla Walla University.

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Staff Sergeant Natalie Wren, with Technical Sergeant Andy Tucker and Airman First Class Candy Chang speaks to the students of the Michael Anderson Elementary School at the Fairchild Air Force Base in Medical Lake, Washington.

Staff Sgt. Wren enjoyed having personal conversations with countless veterans and family members, JROTC students, small children, and university music majors, as well as faculty.  Different from a typical West Point Band experience where 40+ musicians are on stage at once, chamber groups like this joint-forces ensemble can provide a strong impact in intimate settings.  

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Meet the West Point Band – MSG Johnson

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Master Sergeant Rich Johnson is the Benny Havens Band multi-instrumentalist, covering banjo, pedal steel, keys, and electronics. A member of the West Point Band since 2003, he is proud to help carry on the great tradition of Army bands entertaining and inspiring troops, veterans, and the American public. When he isn’t programming beats or working on the latest pedal steel solo, he enjoys shredding on the local ski hill or fishing on one of west point’s lakes.

Teachers:

So many people have helped along the way. George Hitt, Byron Stripling and Laurie Frink on trumpet, John Widgren and Steve Hinson on pedal steel, Tony Trishka on banjo—these are just a few folks who have helped me on my path.

Influences:

Anything and everything!

When did you join the Army?

2003

Current Projects:

Programming the inner workings of the Benny Havens Band setup on laptop. Diving deeper into social media as the Social Media NCOIC for the unit. Keeping up my banjo chops.

What are you working on?

Learning the pedal steel guitar parts for the Benny Havens Band’s new country album.

An Army performance highlight:

Playing for Wounded Warrior events in NYC and at West Point.

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I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

I heard John Denver’s “Country Roads”!

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Meet the West Point Band – SSG MJ

Staff Sgt. Emily “MJ” McAleesejergins

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Teachers:

I studied voice under Rosalie Byrne, Gordon Miller, Nancy Davis Booth, and Joey Beebe.  I studied piano under Melissa Baughman and Dr. Lester Knibbs

Influences:

As a vocalist, it is very difficult to whittle down a very long list of influences.  There are so many different styles and voice types by which I have been inspired.  As a big musical theater buff, Julie Andrews and Rosemary Clooney are both on my short list.  My very first aspiration, as a little 4 year-old, was to sound like Jodi Benson: the voice of Ariel in The Little Mermaid.  And now I pursue the flexibility and range to be the best vocal chameleon I can be!

When did you join the Army? 

In 2003, I joined the Army National Guard as a vocalist and percussionist with the 38th Infantry Division Band in Indianapolis.  I spent 12 years serving the Guard as a vocalist on two Army Soldier Show tours, two Army Birthday Balls, and in three National Guard Bands.

Current Projects:

Currently, I’m studying photography and videography to better capture the amazing moments provided to me by the West Point Band.  I also work in the Social Media Shop as a representative for the Benny Havens Band.  Along with those duties, I serve on the Benny Havens Band Production Team.  I also love to bake and have really enjoyed learning the art of sweet treats.

18748383295_4823a40b58_o21194780486_6afe7c86b9_o22725132181_c53abc7a5f_o23475237295_c98fbed796_o23559916655_8799c5a2ff_o23587180635_a5c8d5bf53_oI knew I wanted to be a musician when…

I was three years old when I knew music was forever a part of my life.  I sang “Come on Ring Those Bells” with my mother at church.  I grew up next to the piano singing hymns while my mom practiced for Sundays.

A performance/job highlight:

I had the privilege of touring with the US Army Soldier Show where I was afforded the opportunity to sing for thousands of troops and their families all over the world.  We also sang for wounded combat servicemen and women at Landstuhl Medical Center during their recoveries. Since being here at West Point, I was honored to be a part of last year’s Army Birthday celebration down in New York City.  I stood directly in front of Gen. Raymond Odierno (Chief of Staff) and led the US Army Song.

Dream Group:

I can’t believe I have been blessed to sing for my country for fourteen years.  Being here in the West Point Band has always been a dream and yes, I’m still pinching myself.

Did you know?

I grew up in a small town in Indiana so I was able to do a lot of extracurricular activities like basketball, show choir, musicals, and track and field.   My senior year of high school I tried out for the football team and made it.  I played kicker, wide receiver, and three plays as nose guard (my coach thought it would be funny).  I even scored a touchdown.  The best part about that memory for me was hugging my dad afterward.  So to that I say, ‘Beat Navy.’

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Meet the West Point Band – SGM Drewes

Sgt. Major Scott Drewes

After getting introduced to the drums at seven years old by his father and driving his parents nuts practicing, Scott attended the North Carolina School of the Arts for high school.  Shortly after, Scott moved to New York City where he attended the Manhattan School of Music before moving to Washington D.C. to attend the University of Maryland for graduate school.  He then joined the Air Force before winning the job with the West Point Band.  Scott is now the drummer and in charge of the Benny Havens Band, a rock/pop/country group that plays for the Corps of Cadets and audiences around the nation.

Teachers:

Massie Johnson, Justin DiCioccio, and Steve Fidyk

Influences:

Many, but right now any mainstream commercial music.

When did you join the Army?

2007 (Air Force 2001)

Current Projects:

Working on the new Benny Havens Band Country Recording

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

…the band stopped playing to feature me and everyone kept dancing…I knew I could entertain people and make them happy.

An Army performance highlight:

My first Benny Havens Band Cadet Basic Training (Fourth of July) concert.  Playing for over 10K people and the new cadets and watching them go crazy…it felt like hitting a home run.

Meet the West Point Band – SSG Q

Staff Sgt. Juan Quinones

 

 

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I was born in San Juan Puerto Rico and began to play the trumpet at 5 years old. I come from a family with an old tradition in music. When I was 13 I started to work as a professional musician in the Latin music industry. My music background comes from pop to jazz music. I Had the blessing to work as a studio trumpet player and lead singer in the Latin music scene in Puerto Rico, Miami, New York and Latin America.

Teachers:

Miguel Pena, Roberto Rodriguez, Al Hood, Antonio Zalcedo, Cuco Pena, Mark Wood, Alberto De La Reguera.

Influences:

Latin Music, Pop, Hip Hop, Jazz, Classical, African, Afro Cuban.

When did you join the Army?  

2012

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Current Projects:

Arranging new music for the BHB, on call studio musician NY City

 What are you working on?

New compositions for audio network music library, and producing my first solo album

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I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

I knew I wanted to be a musician the first time my parents took me to a Latin gig back in Puerto Rico where I was born. I was around 4 or 5 years old. My dad, who is also a musician, introduced me to a few percussion instruments and a started banging on them. I still remember the joy and feeling going through my veins.

An Army performance highlight: 

Around 6 months after I arrived to my first unit which was The Army Ground Forces Band, I had the opportunity to perform a duo piece with one of my trumpet player idols, Allen Vizzutti. Mr. Vizzutti was invited to play 2 shows and do a master class with the band and I was featured with him in a tune called VizBiz. I’m always grateful for the Army and the opportunity to do stuff like that at such a high level of professionalism.

Meet the West Point Band – SSG Vidal

Staff Sgt. Geoff Vidal

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Born and raised on Cape Cod, Massachusetts SSG Vidal was steeped in the big band traditions of the 1940’s and 50’s from the age of 15 while part of a local big band (born out of the National Guard!). He earned a bachelor’s degree in Jazz Performance from UMASS Amherst where he was awarded multiple

Downbeat Student Music Awards. He then moved to New Orleans in 2003 where he lived until Hurricane Katrina sent him back up north, this time to New York City, where he remained for ten years freelancing and leading his own groups. In 2012, SSG Vidal took First Place in the very first Detroit Jazz Festival Saxophone Competition, ultimately winning a spot at the festival that summer. SSG Vidal enlisted in the US Army after winning an audition to become a member of the West Point Band.

Teachers:

Teachers include Lynn Klock, Jeff Holmes, Adam Kolker, my wife, and the Buddha.

Influences:

I’d like to think that my playing is comprised of many different influences rather than a distinct few. I recognized early on that depending on the situation, you’re playing changes and you have to be able adapt and adjust on the fly.

When did you join the Army?

July 2013

Current Projects:

Currently I am co-leading a jazz quartet with my West Point bandmate SFC Derrick James. We are playing locally in the Hudson Valley and are developing our original compositions while continuing to honor the great jazz traditions.

What are you working on now?

I do a lot of arranging for the Benny Havens Band which is a great way to hone my writing chops. I am also the NCOIC of the Cadet Jazz Forum for which I am currently coaching a jazz ensemble of Cadets and area High School students. I’m always working on various solo transcriptions of the masters as well as trying to build technique on my other horns (clarinet and flute).

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

I knew I wanted to be a professional musician after suffering a terrible sports injury in high school. While I was laid up on crutches for months, I always had my saxophone, and from that moment the road ahead was clear.

An Army performance highlight:

My favorite Army performance highlight was opening up for Jay Leno with the Benny Havens Band in a sold out Eisenhower Hall.  What a rush!2016 UN at Central Park Zoo - BHB022

Meet the West Point Band’s SSG Jeremy Gaynor

Staff Sgt. Jeremy Gaynor


Staff Sergeant Jeremy Gaynor is West Point’s male lead vocalist and an instrumental part of the Benny Havens Band. A native of Tampa, FL, he comes from a family of military service men and women. 

No longer able to ignore his own call to service, Staff Sgt. Gaynor enlisted into the Army in 2009, receiving an initial duty assignment with the 72nd Medical Detachment at Fort Campbell, KY—101st Airborne Division (Air Assault).

As a vocalist, Staff Sgt. Gaynor has performed in over 150 large-scale stage productions across Europe, Asia, and the continental United States. During assignment with the Army Entertainment Detachment, he performed or managed productions in a wide variety of venues in service to such dignitaries as President Barack Obama.

In 2014, he joined the West Point Band. Shortly after arriving in New York he was selected as a contestant on NBC’s “The Voice,” an experience that gave him invaluable insights into today’s music scene. Staff Sgt. Jeremy Gaynor takes pride in the opportunity to serve his country, his fellow service members, and the local community. In addition to his duties as the male lead vocalist, Staff Sgt. Gaynor serves as the band’s Production Manager, choreographing and helping to put on some of the band’s biggest productions. Off duty Staff Sgt. Gaynor enjoys writing, watching sports, and the joy of life with his wife and young daughter.

Teachers and Influences: Greg Powe Sr., Bryan Powe, JESUS CHRIST

When did you join the Army? August 2009

Current Projects: Song That Save Our Lives

 I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

I realized the power and impact music had to inspire, encourage and uplift.

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The Voice - Season 8

THE VOICE — “Battle Rounds” — Pictured: Jeremy Gaynor — (Photo by: Tyler Golden/NBC)


An Army performance highlight:

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Marching The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

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This November 24th, 2016, the West Point Band will march the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  It was a huge honor to be selected by the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade Committee.  We had to apply as far back as March of 2015.  This Macy’s parade performance will launch the celebration of the West Point Band’s 200th Anniversary.  On June 8, 1817, the West Point Band officially became an organization to serve the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York; the U.S. Army; and the Nation.   Musicians were actually stationed at West Point as early as the Revolutionary War, but our official beginning started in 1817.

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The West Point Band has performed in this parade at least two other times in 1970 and 1982.   Since Macy’s is celebrating its 90th parade, it is very likely the West Point Band marched it during the early years.  About three million people will line the streets of New York City to watch the parade and another 65 million will watch on television.    

The West Point Band’s preparation focuses on two parts of the day: the live street parade and the TV broadcast.   The band will march the parade in a typical parade block with the Marching Band in the front and the Field Music, The Hellcats, in the rear.  On the route the band will perform standard marches in rotation: Washington Post, by Sousa; National Emblem, by Bagley; America Exultant, by Hays (a pen name of Fillmore); and the trio strain of The Official West Point March, by Egner.   Between the marches The Hellcats will perform a few traditional holiday selections.

Once the band approaches 34th street, it moves to a broadcast silent zone.  The band will re-configure from the standard block to the Macy’s show block.   Once we are on the ready line, the band will get a cue to perform its one minute and 15-second marching show.  The music we perform is called a Joyful Fanfare and includes a number of song references in this short timing.

The band will march into position with Auld Lang Syne.  While this song is known best to ring in the New Year, it is performed to ‘bid farewell’ at other occasions like graduations.   At West Point, Auld Lang Syne is part of the West Point Graduation March.  This medley of songs was put together in 1938 and represents music from the early days of the Academy (formed in 1802).  Auld Lang Syne pulls together the “Long Gray Line (West Point graduates)” at two alumni parades a year at homecoming and during graduation week.

After the band has marched into position, snippets of The Army Goes Rolling Along, Army Blue, and On, Brave Old Army Team will sound as the band drills on the Macy’s star.   The Army Goes Rolling Along is the Army’s official song and is performed at the end of official ceremonies throughout the Army.  Army Blue is a traditional West Point song performed at graduation.  The melody was originally from the Civil War song, Aura Lea.  This song represents the emotions of West Point graduates as they change from the Cadet Gray uniform to the Army Blue uniform on Graduation Day.   On, Brave Old Army Team is the U.S. Military Academy’s fight song and composed by a former West Point Teacher of Music, Lieutenant Phillip Egner.

The traditional rope tension drums will feature just before the Hellcat buglers perform Joy to the World.   This bugle rendition is often heard on the West Point Holiday Show.   The band ends the one minute and 15 second show with a short musical quote from Let There Be Peace on Earth.   

The West Point Band will then march off to the Army’s official song, The Army Goes Rolling Along and then the full version of Lt. Phillip Egner’s On, Brave Old Army Team.   

It is awesome to lead this band as drum major!  Thank you to everyone involved in making this show happen.   The West Point Band, inspiring leaders for 200 years!

 

Words by Sergeant Major Christopher Jones – Concert Band Element Leader and Drum Major Emeritus

Reaching a Younger America

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If you walk into Egner Hall and ask any West Point Band musician what the band’s mission is, the response would most certainly be, “to provide world-class music to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets…” While this is certainly our primary focus at the United States Military Academy, it is one of many, many missions that we pursue in the band. Amidst a constantly evolving and often chaotic operations schedule—USMA reviews, and Trophy Point concert series, and patriotic parades—smaller contingents of the band are running in every direction to complete additional missions. You can find West Point Band musicians playing on news networks in the city, at sporting events, patriotic ceremonies, hops (formal dances), banquets, and community concert series. In addition to all of these, the West Point Band also pursues an education outreach program that serves the local Hudson Valley and New York City communities.

As a professional musicians, we are personally invested in the quality of arts education in our country. The arts help students explore ideas and relationships that cannot be conveyed easily in a traditional classroom. Studies have consistently shown that arts education can engender innovative problem solving, develop critical thinking and cognitive skills, and promote self-discipline, self-esteem, and teamwork.

We are delighted whenever there is an opportunity to bring music back into schools, particularly in a time when funding for arts education is being slashed around the country. According to the Department of Education’s report Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 2009-2010, more than 1.3 million students in elementary school receive no music instruction. The same is true for roughly 800,000 secondary school students. By extension, schools in higher income areas consistently offer more music and arts classes than schools in poor areas – a finding consistent with both reports. [1] While 93% of Americans agree that the arts are vital to providing a well-rounded education for children, the arts remain on the fringe of education.[2]

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SSG Katrina Elsnick teaches young children about the flute at the Instrument Petting Zoo portion of the Quintette 7 Kids Night Concert.

The West Point Band’s own Education Outreach Division helps to fill that gap by bringing band musicians to elementary and junior high schools, opening the doors of discovery for young people who might otherwise not have the opportunity to hear live classical music. The summer was a very busy season for the Ed-Outreach team.

 On July 6th members of the band and the Education Outreach Division performed chamber music for and coached the New Jersey Youth Symphony. The following week the West Point Woodwind Quintet performed in the Summer Music Institute at Monroe Woodbury Middle School. The quintet performed an innovative “menu-style” program for choir, orchestra, and band students. Audience members were given a raffle ticket; those whose numbers were drawn chose the music to be performed from a list of prepared repertoire. This creative approach to engaging young audiences resulted in extremely positive feedback from the students, parents, and teachers.

In August, Quintette 7 performed its popular children’s concert as part of the Trophy Point summer concert series. Based on storytelling, Quintette 7 set music to popular children’s books, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Other stories were written by members of the West Point Band that included a tale about a West Point cadet, and an exciting journey through New York City. Aided with props, members of the West Point Band interacted with its young audience through dancing, clapping, and marching.

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SSG Cooper entertains kids for Quintette 7’s annual Kids Night concert at Trophy Point.

Additionally, our Ed-Outreach team organizes field trips in which students from local schools can watch and participate in West Point Band rehearsals at Egner Hall. Most recently, on September 22nd the Ed-Outreach Division presented the West Point Band’s annual Young People’s Concert. Nearly one thousand elementary and middle school students attended this concert, which had been tailored specifically to them. The concert program, “Music Moves You,” explored the way that music moves us physically and mentally in our everyday lives. It featured the West Point Concert Band, Quintette 7, and vocalist Staff Sgt. Mcaleesejergins. Consistent with all of the Ed-Outreach performances, the concert was a hit, and the kids left Ike Hall with grins on their faces.

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MSG Reifenberg and SSG Mather de Andrade perform at “Kids Night with Quintette 7” at Trophy Point.

Staff Sgt. Kristen Mather de Andrade is head of the Education Outreach Division, and she continues to help the band present successful programs to young audiences in the community. “As ambassadors of the United States Military Academy, outreach is one the biggest parts of our job. We have the opportunity to not only share the inspiring stories of the cadets and the academy to the communities we serve, but also to do so with some really great music. As a musician in the military, nothing is more gratifying than reaching someone, regardless of their age, with a great performance and a healthy dose of positivity.”

With a healthy dose of positivity, and a strong sense of humor, the West Point Band’s Education Outreach Division continues to reach young audiences with innovative and entertaining concerts. Not only are they serving an important (and sometimes forgotten) demographic of the Hudson Valley community, but they are also promoting arts education for the next generation. Check the West Point Band calendar for an Ed-Outreach concert near you!

Written by Staff Sgt. Natalie Wren

[1] Judson, Ellen. “The Importance of Music.” Spread Music Now. Accessed May 2016, http://www.spreadmusicnow.org/the-importance-of-music.html

[2] Harris Poll referenced in “News and Information.” Americans for the Arts. June 15, 2005. Accessed August 2016,http://www.americansforthearts.org/sites/default/files/pdf/news/press-releases/2005/06/New-Harris%20Poll-Reveals-93-Percent-of-Americans-Believe-Arts-are-Vital-to-Well-Rounded-Education.pdf