May It Be Said, Well Done

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Chief Bettencourt leads the band during the Star Spangled Banner prior to the game.

Chief Bettencourt leads the band during the Star Spangled Banner prior to the game.

On Thursday, March 19, the band headed down to St. John’s University in Queens to cheer on the Army Women’s Basketball team in the first round of the WNIT tournament. The band does not often play for basketball games, but for the second year in a row, the mighty Army Women’s team has qualified for a major tournament while the rest of the cadets are on spring break. That means that the cadet band is not around to perform for the game, so we take it upon ourselves to support our fellow Soldiers.

Sgt. Major Jones charges out of the rehearsal room to cheer Army on.

Sgt. Major Jones charges out of the rehearsal room to cheer Army on.

The game was a close matchup, with Army remaining within a few points of the St. John’s Red Storm the entire game. You can read a complete game wrap-up here. While the outcome of the game was a disappointing loss for all of the Army fans in attendance, (which there seemed to be more of than St. John’s fans, even though it was a home game for the Red Storm) it is what happened after the game that truly moved me.

Traditionally, after every Army sporting event we perform for, we play the Alma Mater, win or lose. I’m not sure if the women’s team was not used to it, or just wanted to get back to the locker room, but they left the court before we had a chance to play for them. Chief Bettencourt took the entire band down into the tunnel outside of the locker room to play the Alma Mater for the team.

We all stood, drawn up in a long line against one wall, while the team filed out of the locker room and stood at attention against the opposite wall, along with their coaches and other team personnel. They looked downcast, as if they had just lost an important, close, hard-fought game. For a time, it looked as if they would all rather be alone than stand facing us while we played for them. But, bringing dignity, hope, and esprit de corps to all situations is what military bands do best.

Chief Bettencourt leads the band in the West Point Alma Mater.

Chief Bettencourt leads the band in the West Point Alma Mater.

As we started the first tones of the music, immediately I could see the expressions on the player’s faces begin to change. At first a few sang, then a few more, finally all sang in full voice. You could see each cadet remembering that this game, win or lose, is only preparation for the true test they all will face one day after graduation from West Point. Cadets are part of something much larger than a basketball game, and we were able to bring a sense of perspective to the team, enabling them to look down the long gray line, and see what they were a part of.

The band performs the Alma Mater for the Women's Basketball Team after their loss to St. John's.

The band performs the Alma Mater for the Women’s Basketball Team after their loss to St. John’s.

Words by Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner
Images by Sgt. 1st Class Eric Garcia

Military Music and History: Civil War Symposium

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 “To provide world-class music to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets…”Blog 1

To strengthen their purpose and commitment to the Corps of Cadets, the Hellcats looked to the past to help give perspective to the present. On February 19 and 20, 2015, the Hellcats returned to their roots to gain a better understanding of the history of field music and the crucial role music played during the Civil War. Guest artists/Blog 6historians Peter Emerick, RJ Samp, and Jason Maines visited West Point and led a collaborative discussion while sharing their wealth of knowledge. Topics of discussion included: how drums were used as a communication device for movement battles; acoustic variances in relation to bugle calls; and origins of several fife airs. The guest clinicians also offered master classes to each section of the Hellcats.

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Siry and Captain Mark Ehlers, professors of USMA’s History Department, offered a presentation discussing the relevance of Civil War music as well. The collaboration continued as the Hellcats and guest artists presented to cadets of Captain Ehlers’ American Civil War class in Cullum Hall.

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Music was a very important aspect of Civil War armies. Not only were field musicians critical as a means of passing timely instructions to units prior to and during battles, but bands were essential as well. Larger than their fife, bugle, and drum field music counterparts, bands were larger and contained a wide variety of instruments. Bands were useful for everything from recruiting to maintaining Soldier morale in camps. Bands often provided a necessary diversion from the tedium and drudgery of camp life and helped reduce the apprehension of going into battle. General Lee once commented on the importance of bands, remarking “I don’t believe we can have an army without music.” President Lincoln was also fond of music, and his favorite song was reportedly Dixie.  At the end of the war, Lincoln requested the song be played and noted, “I have always thought ‘Dixie’ one of the best tunes I have ever heard. Our adversaries over the way attempted to appropriate it, but I insisted yesterday that we fairly captured it. I now request the band to favor me with its performance.”

 -Words by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Siry

The Hellcats 2015

Photos by Sgt. 1st Class William Calohan

Blog Entry by Staff Sgt. Ashley Mendeke

An Audition with the West Point Band

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By Staff Sgt. Sam Ross

Today I would like to give you a detailed look into the process of auditioning for the West Point Band. As someone who has recently gone through the audition process and joined the band, hopefully my experience will provide a realistic glimpse for both the non-musician and someone who is interested pursuing a career in a military band. While auditioning can be a somewhat dizzying and even harrowing experience for some (including myself at times!), we try to make sure it’s a positive experience whether you leave with or without a new job. Like with any audition, musicians search various sources to learn of new vacancies and auditions with various ensembles. Most of these are published on websites like Musical Chairs, trade journals like the International Musician, on the ensemble’s own website and social media, through flyers distributed by the organization, or by word of mouth. As most who are in the audition circuit are in school or recent graduates, information about audition vacancies can be pretty easily obtained through their teachers, job bulletin boards, and of course, the internet. As other musicians can probably relate, there is an ever-continuing hunt for audition announcements, so we make sure ours are disseminated through all the standard means.

The West Point Band handles its auditions somewhat differently than most bands or orchestras. Many organizations hold open-call auditions that simply require résumé submission and a deposit to hold your spot for an audition time. In addition to résumé submission, our band asks the interested person to also submit an audition recording. This essentially serves as the preliminary round of the audition that would typically take place live at the audition site. The applicant is required to record a couple of pieces or excerpts that the Band designates, and then he or she has the creative freedom to put other works on the recording that showcase specific strengths for that particular vacancy. I remember being pretty excited about being able to choose what else I put on my recording. My audition was for an E-flat clarinet position (think high, possibly squeaky notes), which just happened to be the instrument I loved playing most. So making my recording was at least somewhat enjoyable! A few times recently the band has used an open call audition (often in nearby New York City) to fill a vacancy, but more often than not we stick with the recording round process.

Making an audition recording is a process in and of itself—practicing the music, buying/using a personally-owned recorder or hiring someone to record you, and having a good space in which to make the recording. Luckily for me, the time I made my recording coincided with the same time of year when many musicians make application recordings for summer music festivals and graduate schools. Still freelancing at the time, I was doing those very things to further my musical development. And since I was already knee-deep in the process for other pursuits, what was one more thing to add to the list? Once the CD was finished and submitted, there was time to breathe a bit and think about other things until hearing back from the committee. The couple weeks of wait time between the “prelims” (recordings) and the second (live) round was longer than the usual half hour at an open-call audition. Instead of waiting nervously in a holding room between rounds, I was able to chill on the couch and go on with normal life for a few weeks (all the while continuing to practice diligently, of course). After being selected from the recording round, I was invited along with a handful of others to the live audition round on site at West Point. Travel to the live audition at West Point was covered by the Army (ah, there’s some more incentive to make a recording!).

Preparing for the live audition is much like that of preparing to record, but much, if not all, of the required music for us was different. In the midst of preparing for the musical challenges the audition will provide, the invited candidate then gets in touch with a local Army recruiter to start the process of qualifying for enlistment. This ensures that the band selects an audition winner that has no obstacles between them and enlistment. Having gone through the process, it is a bit unnerving to dive into the military world without any previous experience with it. This is one main distinction of taking a military band audition versus a symphony orchestra audition—you are not potentially joining just the musical organization but the respective Armed Service as well.

The West Point Band has another tradition of holding an auditionee dinner the night before audition day. This is an informal dinner where the candidates have the chance to interact with a couple members of the band, just to socialize, and even to have questions answered about the job and what life is like in the band. I remember being strangely anxious about this, but it proved to be an enjoyable time and I learned that the members of the band were normal people. The morning of the audition, we were picked up by one of the band’s clarinetists and driven from nearby Newburgh to West Point to warm-up for the day. At this point I was already shell-shocked by the stunning beauty of the Hudson Valley as well as the brutal cold of a February morning in the northeast, but that didn’t get in the way of my ritual intake of morning coffee. (Caffeine was something I wasn’t quite willing to give up as part of my audition preparation.)

Once we made it to the band building, we drew our audition numbers and were given warm-up rooms, along with the excerpt list for the first round. I went through my usual warm-up, but didn’t overexert myself so I had plenty of energy left to play a strong audition. I would need it, as I ended up playing the entire first round list from top to bottom. In many auditions, there is simply not enough time for the committee to hear every candidate play all the prepared material, but having only a select few auditioning, the committee here was able to hear more from each individual. The first round was played to a black screen set up between the player and the committee to ensure anonymity. The screen came down for our second round, which we played following lunch with some members of the band. We again played the full list of required music, answered some questions asked by the panel, and then a one-on-one chat with the band’s senior enlisted leader. (Another portion of the audition the West Point Band has since added is a marching demonstration for the panel. Marching with instruments is a huge part of the job here, after all.)

After all of that, the nervous waiting period I described earlier took place as I pondered whether or not my life was about to change in a pretty drastic way. It was a mixed emotion winning the audition. On one hand I was suddenly met with the reality of enlisting and going through the process of basic training, but on the other hand so very relieved and excited to have secured a playing job with such a great organization.

Harmony in Harlem

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Members of the West Point Band performing with members of the NY Philharmonic and students from the Harmony Program.

Members of the West Point Band performing with members of the NY Philharmonic and students from the Harmony Program.

On Saturday, January 31, members of the band, myself included, had a chance to work with students from the Harmony Program at the United Palace of Cultural Arts in Harlem. 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 closely modeled after the wildly successful, El Sistema in Venezuela. This day of education and performances was made even more special by the involvement of members of the New York Philharmonic.

Staff Sgt. David Bergman corrects a percussion student's grip.

Staff Sgt. David Bergman corrects a percussion student’s grip.

The students we worked with were from all over New York City, some from Harlem, some from Queens, and still others from Brooklyn. As is common in New York City, they represented a huge range of ethnicities and cultures. They had been working with their regular Harmony Program teachers on the music we performed together for several weeks before we worked together. When we arrived, the students were already in a massed wind and brass sectional led by one of the NY Philharmonic’s resident conductors, Michael Adelson.

Staff Sgt. David Bergman demonstrates on the snare drum for percussion students.

Staff Sgt. David Bergman demonstrates on the snare drum for percussion students.

After their massed sectional, each band member on site took their respective sections to work with them in a more personal setting. I spent an hour or so coaching six clarinetists from all over the city. We spent time working of course, on the music, but also on the fundamentals that are so vital in playing a musical instrument at a high level. The students were curious and attentive. I thoroughly enjoyed working with them.

Normally, a mass sectional and an individual instrument sectional would be quite a lot for a day, especially when you add a concert at the end of the day for the kids. The Harmony Program wanted the students to have exposure to the very best coaches available, so they arranged to have members of the NY Philharmonic give masterclasses during the day as well.

Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner demonstrates a fingering to clarinet students.

Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner demonstrates a fingering to clarinet students.

The coach for the clarinets was Alcides Rodriguez. He is currently serving as the bass clarinetist in the philharmonic. Among all of the coaches in Harlem that day, Alcides has the unique experience of being a former student of el Sistema in Venezuela. He came to the U.S. in 1999 with only a clarinet and a suitcase, and not knowing how to speak English. Alcides was tough with the kids in a way that they may not have been accustomed to. He knew that they were capable of more; more attention, more sound, more expression, better intonation, and he refused to settle for anything other than their best. The students responded well once they understood that he meant business.

Following the coaching, there was a brief rehearsal on the stage with the full orchestra, followed by a concert for the massed friends, family, and general public that had come to hear the product of so much work. The repertoire for the day was Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia and the fourth movement of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony Number 1. It’s tough to know what a group of middle school age kids are going to think of music by Brahms and Sibelius. It’s easy to think that this music is so far removed from today’s culture, that there is no way these kids will ever connect with this music. Seeing the look of accomplishment on the faces of the kids after the concert makes you rethink the notion that classical music has no place in today’s culture. It was inspiring to work with these kids, and we look forward to many more collaborations in the future.

Words by Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner
Images by 1st Lieutenant Darrin Thiriot

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…”

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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.

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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

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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