No Music Without Fun


, , , , , , , , , , , ,

In the band, we often get asked about our connection with the Cadets here at West Point, especially in relation to music. The band has always enjoyed a musical relationship with the Cadet Glee Club, as we both serve to enhance life at West Point, and to represent West Point and the Army. We perform alongside each other at special annual events and ceremonies like Graduation, and occasionally collaborate for joint concerts. But looking back in time to our alumni, we find another interesting link.

The West Point Band and the West Point Glee Club performed a concert of Celebration and Remembrance at Trinity Church in New York City on September 11, 2014.

The West Point Band and the West Point Glee Club perform a concert of Celebration and Remembrance at Trinity Church in New York City on September 11, 2014.

Recently a new award—the William H. Cosby Award—was established by the West Point Alumni Glee Club and presented for the very first time at the Glee Club Graduation Concert this past May. This award highlights another unique connection between the band and glee club, which is that William H. “Bill” Cosby was himself a former band member. He joined the West Point Band as a specialist in 1970.

William H. Cosby conducts the Glee Club.

William H. Cosby conducts the Glee Club.

Originally from California, Mr. Cosby was an organist, pianist, and five-time National Champion Accordionist. In 1971 COL William Shempf, Professor of Music at West Point, turned the Cadet Glee Club over to Mr. Cosby, and he continued to serve as director for the next 17 years. He then moved on to become the Founding Musical Director of the West Point Alumni Glee Club in the D.C. area, and returned to playing his beloved Knowlton accordion in recordings and live concerts.

Mr. Cosby and his accordion

Mr. Cosby and his accordion

Mr. Cosby has influenced hundreds of United States Military Academy graduates with his zest for life, music, fun and support of the military. The William H. Cosby Award is awarded annually by the West Point Alumni Glee Club to the Most Valuable Member of the West Point Cadet Glee Club. Selected by the members of the Cadet Glee Club, it is awarded to the individual who best exemplifies the spirit of the motto: “No fun without music; no music without fun!”

Dr. Terry Ryan (left) and Mr. Jim Ferguson (right), both of the Class of ’65, present the very first William H. Cosby Award at the Glee Club’s Graduation Concert on 19 May 2015 to CDT Sebastian Sakarapanee, Class of 2015.

Dr. Terry Ryan (left) and Mr. Jim Ferguson (right), both of the Class of ’65, present the very first William H. Cosby Award at the Glee Club’s Graduation Concert on 19 May 2015 to CDT Sebastian Sakarapanee, Class of 2015.

Mr. Cosby participated in the first ever West Point Alumni Reunion Glee Club concert at West Point in 2007, an event in which former Glee Club members from across the country came together for several days of rehearsing, all culminating in a joint concert with the band at Trophy Point. The second reunion of this type took place in 2011. You can come see the third ever West Point Alumni Reunion Glee Club concert this Saturday at Trophy Point at 7:30 p.m., with a pre-show starting at 6:30 p.m., featuring former Cadet Glee Club specialty groups that still rehearse and perform: The Grouptones and The Headliners. This special collaborative concert is aptly titled “Songs of the Long Gray Line,” celebrating the musical traditions of West Point, the U.S. Military, and our nation.

A Saxophonist’s Swan Song


, , , , , , , , ,


After 20 years of service to the West Point Band as a soldier in the U.S. Army, saxophonist Master Sgt. Wayne Tice retired on Friday, June 19, 2015. Throughout his time in the band, he served as principal saxophonist, section leader, and woodwind group leader. We are thankful for the skills and leadership that he contributed throughout his career.

18985931712_7ddefb7f33_o-2 As Master Sgt. Tice thumbed through the music library one day, he came across a piece that struck his attention, an arrangement of Tableaux de Provence by Paule Maurice for solo saxophone and winds. On April 8, 2015, the West Point Band recorded the piece, which was arranged by Brian Sparks. Sparks, a classical saxophonist and conductor, was also a member of the West Point Band and U.S. Coast Guard Band. MSG Wayne Tice collaborated with Brian Sparks to help bring this recording to fruition.


Tableaux de Provence by Paule Maurice

I. Farandoulo di Chatouno

II. Cansoun Per Ma Mio

III. La Boumiano

IV. Alyscamps I’amo Souspire

V. Lou Cabridan

Photos by: Staff Sgt. Torin Olsen

Post by: Staff Sgt. Ashley Mendeke

The West Point Graduation March


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


It is hard to describe the traditional depth of the West Point Graduation March. It is a collection of old Army and popular tunes that have lasted for nearly the entire age of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The seven songs that are represented in the march are: “Home! Sweet Home!,” 1823; “100 Days ’til June,” 1938; “Dashing White Sergeant,” 1826; “Wedding March,” 1842; “The Girl I left Behind Me,” 1810; Field Music Bugle Strain and Drum Cadence, unknown but likely 1938; and “Auld Lang Syne,” 1788.

It was Lt. Philip Egner (Bandmaster of the West Point Band from 1909 to 1934) that compiled this collection at first. He probably wished to add in the latest marches of the era to the graduation parade, so he compiled all of the old songs into one piece. In 1938, Lt. Col. Francis Resta (Bandmaster 1934-1957), added in his 100th Night Show overture song entitled “100 Days ’til June.” This version of West Point Graduation March is performed today.

So, if you really look at dates of the songs, nearly every graduate from West Point since 1802 has heard songs from this march. The one song that glues the entire Long Gray Line is “Auld Lang Syne,” dating to 1788. When Robert Burns penned the poem for “Auld Lang Syne,” it was set to a melody that was already ancient, holding the traditional folk song number #6294 of the Roud Folk Song Index. “Auld Lang Syne” is known best to celebrate the New Year at the stroke of midnight, but it is also sung at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.

grad parade

The West Point Band marching in the 2014 Graduation Parade

West Point Graduation March serves a military function that is unmatched when comparing it to other old West Point songs. It is the march performed during the “Sound-off” sequence at the Graduation Parade. Again, nearly every single graduating Cadet has had to stand at parade rest while the band performs this march, trooping the line in front of the U.S. Corps of Cadets.

The scenario is this: the U.S. Corps of Cadets march onto The Plain, and the firsties (aka seniors) march on for the last time of their cadet career. All of the formation is called to parade rest. The adjutant yells, “Sound-off!” The announcer then reads:


The drum major brings instruments up and starts the slow first phrase of “Home! Sweet, Home!” The band then plays a rousing introduction to Lt. Col. Francis Resta’s 1938 100th Night Show opener “100 Days ’til June.” The band promptly steps off to march in front of the Corps of Cadets and on display for all of the parents and friends visiting West Point to see graduation events. The medley proceeds with “Dashing White Sergeant,” Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March,” and “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” As the band nears the end of the Corps, the drum major gives a counter-column signal to turn the band around. Here the field music group, the Hellcats, performs an original bugle strain and the drums continue as the band completes the counter-column. Once the counter-column is completed, the drum major gives a sharp “forward march” with the mace, and the band steps off in full step to “Auld Lang Syne.” The band proceeds to march back to its original position on the field. This march completes with the full-strain of “Home! Sweet, Home!” to finish the sound-off sequence.

grad parade 2014

Here are some historical tidbits on each song in the West Point Graduation March.

West Point Graduation March – The 1938 version compilation is by 1st Lt. Philip Egner and Lt. Col. Francis E. Resta, both Bandmasters and Teachers of Music at West Point

“Home! Sweet Home!” (1823) by Sir Henry Rowley Bishop, Lyrics by John Howard Payne – This song was reputedly banned from being played in Union Army camps during the American Civil War for being too redolent of hearth and home so as likely to incite desertion.

“100 Days ’til June” (1938) by Lt. Col. Francis E. Resta, West Point Bandmaster and Teacher of Music – This song served as the overture to the 100th Night Show in 1938. The show marks 100 days prior to graduation and encompasses the firstie (senior) class’ experience of cadet life at West Point. This song remains as a traditional work performed on modern 100th night shows. West Point graduations used to be held in June, but now graduations occur at the end of May.

“Dashing White Sergeant” (1826) Melody by Sir Henry Rowley Bishop, Words by British General John Burgoyne – In the U.S., the same song was as well-known during the Mexican War as “The Female Volunteer for Mexico.”

“Wedding March” (1842) by Felix Mendelssohn – West Point Cadets are not allowed to be married while attending the Academy. After West Point graduation, a flood of weddings occur on and off post.

“The Girl I Left Behind Me” (1810) – 1810 is the earliest known version of this melody. U.S. Army Soldiers adopted it after hearing a British prisoner singing the song during the War of 1812. The song was used by the Army as a marching tune throughout the 19th century.

Field Music Bugle Strain and Drum Cadence – The Hellcats perform, allowing the marching band and Hellcats to counter-march before those chosen to serve.

“Auld Lang Syne” (1788) – In 1788, Robert Burns penned this well-known poem and it was set to the melody of a traditional folk song known as #6294 of the Roud Folk Song Index. The traditional use of this song is to celebrate the New Year at the stroke of midnight. It is also sung at funerals, graduations, and as a farewell or ending to other occasions.

“Home! Sweet Home!” – The Marching Band returns to its original position on the field to play the full version of “Home! Sweet Home!”

hat toss

The hat toss at the graduation of the West Point Class of 2012

The West Point Graduation Ceremony receives the most media attention of all graduation events as usually a prominent guest speaker comes to speak. The words the graduating class always cherishes come from the Cadet First Captain at the end of the ceremony: “Graduating Class, Dismissed!” Here, the class throws their hats in the air for a young child to catch or pick up as a souvenir. The West Point Band marks this moment by performing the West Point Graduation March.

Words by Sgt. Maj. Christopher D. Jones

Honored for a Legacy of Hope


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Each year the West Point Band is proud to provide musical support for the Ellis Island Medal of Honor ceremony. Sponsored by the National Ethnic Coalition Organization, these awards are presented annually to American citizens who have distinguished themselves within their own ethnic groups while exemplifying the values of the American way of life. Past Medalists include six U.S. Presidents; one foreign President; Nobel Prize winners and leaders of industry, education, the arts, sports and government; and everyday Americans who have made freedom, liberty, and compassion a part of their life’s work.


This year marks a special significance for the West Point Band, as we will honor one of our former members, Deric Milligan, who will receive the Ellis Island Medal of Honor at this year’s ceremony on May 9 at Ellis Island.

During his time in the band, Deric served as a Hellcat bugler, sounding Taps at hundreds of military funerals and performing in a multitude of concerts. In addition to his ceremonial duties, he led the Army football production staff. However, it is Deric’s dedication and talent in another area that earns him this distinguished award. This weekend he will be recognized as co-founder and Executive Director of Inheritance of Hope, a nonprofit charity dedicated to serve families with terminally ill parents.


Midway through Deric’s tenure with the band, his life took a turn when his wife Kristen was diagnosed with a rare terminal liver cancer in 2003. After several years of coping with the challenges of raising their three young children while battling a terminal illness, he and Kristen founded Inheritance of Hope together, with the mission to inspire hope in young families who are facing the loss of a parent. The charity achieves its mission by providing life-changing Legacy Retreats, Legacy Scholarships, outstanding resources, and individual and group ongoing support – spiritually, emotionally, and financially.

Kristen lost her courageous bout with cancer in 2012, but her legacy lives on through Inheritance of Hope. “Our goal is to provide families with an experience that they will remember forever,” said Deric. “Seeing the direct impact of Inheritance of Hope on me and my children in the wake of losing Kristen has been very affirming. I can clearly see the importance of the work we’re doing on a daily basis.”


Deric Milligan and his wife, Kristen, taken when he was in the Hellcats.

Former West Point Band trumpeter Eric Miller serves as Director of Marketing and Communications for Inheritance of Hope. A long-time family friend of Deric Milligan, Eric was invested early on in the organization, doing graphic design work and other marketing projects as needed. When Eric left the band in 2014, Deric made him a full-time job offer he couldn’t refuse, and Eric has enjoyed working for Inheritance of Hope ever since.

“It’s due to Deric’s leadership that Inheritance of Hope has become a thought leader in equipping families with the tools to thrive despite the grim circumstances surrounding terminal illness,” says Eric. “It’s been an absolute honor to not only work with Deric and the passionate team he has assembled; it’s also such a blessing to work for an organization that is truly making a difference in families across the country. The impact is profound – thanks to Deric and Kristen’s vision.”

For more information, go to and to watch the video, Kristen Milligan’s Legacy-Our Story in 4 Minutes, click here.

Driven to Serve: Performing at the New York International Auto Show


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


july 4 jeep

It started simple: perform at the opening ceremonies for the New York International Auto Show, and quickly exceeded our expectations—not only are we performing the opening, but we’ll be hosting our own booth for the entire week! We’ve been busy preparing for this promising event, and we have lots in store.

The New York International Auto Show is the largest of its kind in North America with over a million people in live attendance each year, and is also one of the most comprehensively covered media events in the world, boasting 2.6 billion total media impressions for last year’s show. Of course we would want to be a part of one of the world’s greatest public shows, but what does an auto show have to do with military and community service? As it turns out, a lot.

The opening ceremonies will take place on Saturday, April 4 at 8:30 a.m. at the Javits Center in New York City. As a part of this ceremony, Toyota will donate a RAV4 as part of its Wounded Warriors program to Staff Sergeant Alfredo de los Santos, an Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient who survived an RPG attack on his humvee in Iraq two years ago. To officially open the show, the West Point Band, along with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, will lead a parade of vehicles, including the RAV4, through the Crystal Palace. Our own Staff Sergeant Jeremy Gaynor, who recently appeared on NBC’s The Voice, will be featured singing the National Anthem, and will then be available in our exhibit area to meet the public.

Master Sergeants MaryKay Messenger and Brian Broelmann will also perform at the opening and awards ceremonies for the National Automotive Technology Competition, a high school age competition with teams from 31 countries that culminates at the NYIAS.

We have lots to offer during the week as well. Our booth, located at northern concourse 2 near the main entrance, will be open throughout the duration of the show. If you’re around you will definitely want to check out Tune Up @ 2, a series of performances right at our booth each day at 2:00 p.m., featuring everything from bluegrass to rock, brass and string groups, and more.


And since this is an auto show after all, the USMA Class of 1955 Orange County Chopper will be on display in our area for the entire ten days, with Paul Senior himself stopping by on Saturday the 11th for an interview.

The New York International Auto Show has everything the auto industry has to offer, and then some. We look forward to seeing you there!

Service Through Chamber Music


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If you ever ask an aspiring classical musician what he or she wants to do, the overwhelming answer is to play in a full time orchestra. The orchestra has amazing versatility, with its repertoire spanning over five centuries. The concert band too enjoys a wide spectrum of music, from Gustav Holst to David Maslanka. But if you were to ask a professional classical musician the same question, more often than not the answer is playing chamber music. Playing chamber music, usually within a small ensemble ranging from three to twelve players, challenges musicians to really take accountability for the interpretation and performance of a work. When there are only, let’s say five musicians on stage, there is no conductor there to maintain the tempo, influence balance, or guide the musical interpretation. So the musicians must take on the responsibility of leading, following, actively listening, and reacting to the music around them. It is both nerve racking and exhilarating.

The West Point Band's Academy Wind Quintet

The West Point Band’s Academy Wind Quintet

The many classical chamber ensembles that comprise the West Point Concert Band include two brass quintets, tuba quartet, two woodwind quintets, steel drum band, and the list goes on. As a member of the Academy Wind Quintet (AWQ), I am proud to work with incredible musicians who challenge and inspire me to be a better musician. On January 23rd, the AWQ had the privilege of performing for 1,200 students at the Hommocks Middle School in Mamaroneck, New York. We performed a variety of music including American folk tunes, marches, several movements from Cuban-American composer Paquito d’Rivera’s Aires Tropicales, and a few movements from Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, a piece very near and dear to my heart. The kids were great; they had plenty of questions for us pertaining to our instruments, to the West Point Band, and to the cadets at the Academy. They seemed to really enjoy the music that they heard, particularly the Latin dances heard in Aires and of course the flashy piccolo solo from our national march, The Stars and Stripes Forever. Their enthusiasm was yet another example of the importance of concert music, and how live music enables people to tap into their imaginations, broaden their horizons, and participate in a collective experience. By the end of our second performance in the afternoon, I think we were all ready for a nap. But tired or not, the show goes on! The Academy Wind Quintet recently returned from our recital tour in Ohio and Kentucky, with stops at the Universities of Cincinnati, Louisville, and Kentucky, as well as the VA hospitals in Louisville and Cincinnati. We also made appearances on public radio stations WUOL of Louisville and WVXU of Cincinnati, as well as a television appearance on Louisville’s local Fox television station. To say it was exciting would be a massive understatement. Serving my country by playing great chamber music with fantastic musicians? Yes, please!

By Staff Sgt. Natalie Wren
Photo by Staff Sgt. Torin Olsen

May It Be Said, Well Done


, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 “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.

Blog 4

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


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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


, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,068 other followers