Meet the Band

Staff Sgt. Alaina Alster

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Staff Sergeant Alaina Alster joined the West Point Band in October of 2013.  Originally from Long Island, NY, she earned her Bachelor of Music in both trombone and euphonium performance from the University of Michigan and her Master of Music in trombone performance from the Manhattan School of Music.

Teachers:

David Jackson, Fritz Kaenzig, Steve Norrell

Influences:

My major influences were my band directors and private teachers growing up. I was very lucky to have an amazing music program from elementary school through high school. All of the music teachers were amazing educators and musicians. They all maintained active performing and teacher careers outside of school and absolutely played a huge role in my becoming a musician.

When did you join the Army?

2013

Current Projects:

Currently getting back to basics…focusing on fundamentals.

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What are you working on?

What do you enjoy doing off-duty?

My extra duties include education outreach. My hobbies include food- (eating it, cooking it, and trying new restaurants), and traveling.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

I would attend concerts in high school and wish I was on stage performing rather than listening.

An Army performance highlight:

Playing with the Julliard Trombone Choir

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Meet the Band

Master Sgt. James Barnard

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I am from Chesapeake, Virginia. My music education includes attendance at East Carolina and Old Dominion Universities and later, Purchase College.

Teachers:

Graham Ashton, James Searl and Stephen Carlson

Influences:

Everything—I have a difficult time separating music from everyday life.

When did you join the Army?

August 1997

Current Projects:

I am constantly finding something new to tackle. Over the last three months I have been focusing on improving my piano technique and singing ability. I am always looking for a non-trumpet piece to adapt for trumpet (and my use).

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What do you enjoy doing off-duty?

I ski, hike, rollerblade, bike and run.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

I was in eighth grade, and I beat everyone in my trumpet section.

An Army performance highlight:

A combined concert in Vienna, Austria—The venue and audience were tremendous.

Did you know?

Prior to entering the military I was a public school teacher.

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Meet The Band

SSG Courtney Martin

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Highland Military Tattoo, Edinburgh, Scotland

-Photo by Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers

 

I am from Stafford, Virginia. I began my bachelor’s at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, and completed my bachelor’s in Flute Performance at the University of Texas at Austin in 2012 (hook ’em horns!) I have two dogs, Freya and Gromit.

Teachers:

Marianne Gedigian (UT Austin), Jennifer Steele (Pittsburgh Symphony), and David Lonkevich (Washington DC)

Influences:

I became interested in the flute in elementary school after hearing a recording of Jean Pierre Rampal. Other influences are Julius Baker, Marianne Gedigian, Jennifer Steele, David Lonkevich, Jeanne Baxtresser, Susan Milan, Amy Porter, Steven Finley, Bonita Boyd….This list can go forever. I find every flutist influential, because they all have great musical ideas :) As for non-musicians, my biggest influences were my grandfather and my mother. They both worked so hard and came from nothing. It is very inspiring and has taught me to never give up, and to continue to go after exactly what I want.

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-Photo by Sergeant First Class Willie Calohan

 

 

When did you join the Army?

In 2012; I attended BCT at Fort Jackson, Army School of Music in VA Beach, and my first band was the 392nd Army Band.

Current Projects: 

I am currently working on two video projects- one is for the first football game of the season. It is a slideshow of the plebes’ journey so far at West Point (R Day, CBT). The second is for the 1812 concert.  I am also working on classes for Master Resilience training for the unit. I love teaching about that subject. I teach lessons on Skype for my students back in Virginia.

 

What do you enjoy doing off-duty?

I enjoy reading. Give me a book and I’m happy. I’m also a huge “Doctor Who” fan (check it out if you haven’t yet!) and also love the show Merlin. I really like cooking and often look to Pinterest for new recipes.

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I love food and am willing to try almost any kind. I have recently started taking my dogs hiking, which we all enjoy doing.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when… 

I saw my first performance of the President’s Own in middle school.

An Army performance highlight:

I really enjoyed when we went to the VA Hospital last year. It was very touching to talk to veterans and hear all of their stories as well as see their faces light up when we played tunes, such as Gary Owen for them. Also, our Scotland trip was pretty amazing. Being in a new country and experiencing the culture firsthand was pretty remarkable and a memory I will always hold close to me. When I was stationed at Fort Lee, we participated in Music in Our Schools month. We had a performance on my birthday and my team leader had the whole elementary school sing happy birthday to me—and in that same performance, one of the kids informed me that I was “their favorite artist on the radio”.

Dream Group: 

Any Military Band (West Point, Army Field Band, Pershing’s Own, Navy, President’s Own)…has been my dream job since I was 12.

 

Did you know? 

I actually lived in Florida the first 14 years of my life in a one-stoplight town. I wanted to be a veterinarian, pilot, artist and writer (All at once…dream big) from age 3 to 12. Then, music took over.

I am currently getting my Master’s Degree in Sports and Performance Psychology. I can knit and sew. I used to sew outfits when I was in the fourth to sixth grade and compete in sewing competitions (nerd).

Did I say I was obsessed with Doctor Who?

Meet the Band

MSG Shawn Herndon

Photo by Sgt First Class Kaestner

Photo by Sgt First Class Kaestner

I am originally from Dallas, TX and have been in the Army for 19 years. I began my career with the 296th Army Band at Camp Zama, Tokyo, Japan and was stationed there for 1.5 years before coming to the West Point Band in 1998. While in Japan, I was able to perform with the musicians of their version of our special bands and still maintain those friendships today.

Teachers:

Stephen Girko (SMU) Ron deKant (CCM)

Influences:

Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, my high school band director, my first private clarinet teacher, the Dallas Wind Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, and both of my college clarinet professors.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers

Photo by Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers

When did you join the Army?

1996

Current Projects:

I am the Woodwind Group Leader for the Concert and Marching Band. I have had an interest in featuring the woodwind group as a singular entity and am currently developing some projects that would allow this to happen. We have had the fortune to be able to work as a separate group recently, borrowing a few brass and percussionists when the rest of the Concert Band was being utilized as a jazz band, and it was quite a success. I have been assisting our double reed section in their initiative to travel to Japan and perform as a featured group at the International Double Reed Summit. I am also facilitating a proposal that would feature our members on an Academy Recital Series aimed toward Academy faculty and Cadets.

What do you enjoy doing off-duty?

I am an avid cyclist and former amateur road racer. I was able to finish 2nd place in the largest Pro/AM road race a few years ago in the CAT4 division, going onto to attain CAT3 status (CAT1 being the highest in the amateur circuit). I have ridden too many cycling centuries to count and have recently began hosting a 1-hour training ride at West Point geared toward cyclists of all levels.

U.S. Army photo by: John Pellino/ USMA DPTMS)

U.S. Army photo by: John Pellino/ USMA DPTMS)

 

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

I knew I wanted to be a musician when I knew that I could not imagine doing anything else! When I felt with every fiber of my being that I wanted to be a professional musician, I knew I had to go for it!

An Army performance highlight:

I had the opportunity to perform the Artie Shaw Clarinet Concerto with the band when we went out to Seattle, WA. The performance took place in the Pantages Theater in Tacoma, WA and it was one of the most beautiful halls I had ever had the opportunity to perform in. We had a large, enthusiastic audience, which included the Commanding General from Fort Lewis. After the performance, the GC came backstage and congratulated me on an exciting authentic performance and gave me his coin. I was really floored that I had the impact on a senior Army official in that manner and it still carries great meaning to me.

Did you know?

I began singing when I was a small child, and continued to do so through my senior year of High School. I hadn’t sung for a couple of years once I committed to focus solely on clarinet in college, but decided to audition for the Dallas Symphony Chorus as it didn’t seem like it would take that much prep. About halfway through sight reading the 2nd tenor part to the Dies Irae of the Mozart Requiem, I knew things were not going to work out so well. Needless to say, I was not selected and the rest is history so to speak.

Photo by Sgt. First Class Sam Kaestner

Photo by Sgt. First Class Sam Kaestner

Meet Your West Point Band

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SSG Phil Stehly

Short BIO:

I grew up in Kansas City, Mo. I attended Indiana University from 2000-2005, graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree.

Teachers:

Roger Oyster (Kansas City Symphony), Dee Stewart (IU), and Peter Ellefson (IU)

Influences:

The Beatles, Ben Folds, John Williams, Joseph Alessi, Christian Lindberg, and countless peers and colleagues, both from college and here in the band.

When did you join the Army?

May of 2005

Current Projects:

I’ve been teaching myself guitar for the past several years.

What are you working on (i.e. pieces of music, arrangements, techniques you’re practicing, other music projects)? 

I’m working on a combination of original trombone music (Rochut etudes, Tomasi Concerto, Creston Fantasy), and vocal pieces that work well on trombone (various pieces by Mahler, Verdi, and Brahms)

What do you enjoy doing off-duty?

Hanging out with my wife, our two kids, and our dog. I also enjoy reading, writing, cooking, Kansas City Chiefs football, and New Jersey Devils hockey.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

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I discovered The Beatles in 5th grade.

An Army performance highlight:

Conductor’s Workshop 2012 in Poughkeepsie. We performed Grainger’s Lincolnshire Posy under Michael Haithcock (University of Michigan.) It is my favorite piece in the band repertoire and we performed it at a remarkably high level.

Did you know? 

For most of my life, I’ve been unable to eat any raw fruits/vegetables due to allergic reactions. Two years ago, my doctor at West Point referred me to an allergist, where I was diagnosed with Oral Allergy Syndrome. I’ve been receiving allergy shots ever since. As of one year ago, I’ve been able to eat raw fruits and vegetables without incident. I feel born again! Fruit is awesome, especially pears.

Members of West Point Band Visit Tokyo Children’s Home

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This past August members of the West Point Band travelled to Tokyo to perform at the annual International Double Reed Society Conference. While we spent the majority of our time attending the conference, Master Sgt. Glenn West, Staff Sgt. Anna Pennington, Staff Sgt. Briana Lehman, and I took a day to visit and perform at the Kiyose Children’s Home in Tokyo. I’ll be honest, before our trip I didn’t know that Japan still had orphanages, and the thought brought to mind scenes reminiscent of a Charles Dickens novel. But when we visited Kiyose, I was pleasantly surprised at the facilities of this particular children’s home. According to research done by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Labor in 2014, almost 29,000 children are living in orphanages throughout the country. Of those kids, over 14,000 had previously suffered from neglect or physical, sexual, or emotional abuse by their primary caretakers. While many orphanages can house over one hundred children, the Kiyose Children’s Home is a smaller home that enjoys support from Living Dreams. Living Dreams is a non-profit organization that provides artistic and technological training to these children. Directed by Michael Clemons, a California-born accountant, Living Dreams focuses on finding the children’s passions and strengths, not only to develop them into well-rounded individuals, but also to gain access to possible careers that might otherwise be unattainable.

The West Point Band Double Reed Ensemble performs for children at Kiyose Children's Home in Tokyo

The West Point Band Double Reed Ensemble performs for children at Kiyose Children’s Home in Tokyo

The USMA Band’s double reed section made it a top priority to visit Kiyose and meet the children there. Staff Sgt. Pennington recalled, “The kids were a little shy at first, but as soon as we started playing our first tune, they were so enthusiastic! And it was a blast to work with them on their “straw-reed” craft instruments.” We presented two short performances for different age groups while at the Kiyose Children’s Home, and I had a hard time focusing on the music; they were so darn cute! Michael educated us on the Living Dreams program and while it sounded interesting, I didn’t really understand the significance of the program until the end of our second performance. While we had played Master Sgt. Reifenberg’s “American Folk Suite,” the kids had recorded the music and were then able to upload it onto a really cool movie they had made that week. This was done in a matter of minutes, which is more than I can say for navigating my Facebook newsfeed. Michael explained that Living Dreams enables these kids to “participate in 21st century learning” and gain the “skills of communication, collaboration, and seeing the world in a more holistic way.” I like to think that our visit might have given the kids another way to understand their world, through the power of music.

Michael Clemons is the director of partnerships and Noriaki Haba  both for Living Dreams.

Members of the West Point Band pose with Noriaki Haba and Michael Clemons, director of partnerships for Living Dreams.

It comes down to this: when words fail, music can still connect people. While we didn’t speak a word of Japanese (other than “sushi please!”) and the kids couldn’t speak a word of English, it was clear that the music we played and the songs they sang were easy to understand by everyone. I’m honored to have met those kids, and while playing for the IDRS conference was a great boon for my professional development, it was our visit to the Kiyose Children’s Home that made the most impact. It reminded me that music can bridge cultural gaps in a way that diplomacy sometimes cannot. And as a member of the West Point Band, I get to do that every day.

Words by Staff Sgt. Natalie Wren

Double Reed Ensemble Performs at IDRS in Tokyo

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In mid-August the West Point band’s double reed section—comprised of Master Sgt. Glenn West, Staff Sgt. Anna Pennington, Staff Sgt. Briana Lehman, and myself, Staff Sgt. Natalie Wren—hopped on a plane to Tokyo where we performed for international and local audiences. At the invitation of the International Double Reed Society (IDRS), the West Point Band’s Double Reed Ensemble performed at the society’s annual international conference at the National Olympics Memorial Youth Center in Shibuya, Tokyo. The IDRS is a worldwide organization of double reed (oboe and bassoon family) musicians, academics, instrument manufacturers, and double reed enthusiasts. This society was founded in 1971 and today enjoys a membership of over 4,400 from fifty-six countries. Each year the IDRS conference draws thousands of its members from around the globe for a week of performances, master classes, and lectures by renowned oboists and bassoonists from the world’s top orchestras and universities.

The West Point Band Double Reed Ensemble with guest pianist Mayumi Yamagishi

The West Point Band Double Reed Ensemble with guest pianist Mayumi Yamagishi

As a long-time member of the IDRS (and self-acclaimed oboe nerd), to be invited to perform at the conference with my West Point colleagues was a huge honor. It was so exciting to look into the audience and see faces of musicians whose solo albums were sitting on my shelf at home. After having one day to rehearse and acclimate to the thirteen-hour time difference, our Double Reed Ensemble performed a concert with the help of guest artist Yue Chang, principal oboist of the Shanghai Philharmonic. “I was honored to be able to work with Yue. He is a truly phenomenal musician,” remarked Master Sgt. West. The concert program featured not only the musical talents of our military’s musicians, but also the premiers of special transcriptions from two of the band’s arrangers; Master Sgt. Mike Reifenberg and Staff Sgt. Noah Taylor. The program comprised Johann Hertel’s Concerto for Trumpet and Oboe (cleverly arranged by Staff Sgt. Taylor for two oboes, two bassoons, and English horn), Jan Dismas Zelenka’s Trio Sonata No. 4, Master Sgt. Reifenberg’s own double reed quartet arrangement of Americana folk tunes, “American Folk Suite,” and New York composer Dana Wilson’s “Kalamus,” for oboe and bassoon. (You can find information on “Kalamus” in a recently published article of mine, “Interpreting the Compositional Style of Dana Wilson” in The Double Reed vol. 38, 2.)

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The West Point Band Double Reed Ensemble performed with Shanghai Philharmonic principal oboist, Yue Chang.

The musical showmanship and artistry by my colleagues was so inspiring, and the experience was only enhanced by our extraordinary luck to share the stage with Chinese oboist Yue Chang. Our musical collaboration with Mr. Chang summed up the general mission of the whole week: to foster a cultural exchange with experts in our field. The concert was a huge success because we introduced new music for the double reed medium to a very receptive audience. More importantly, we did so while representing the United States Army Bands. As the only professional band member represented in the conference, musicians who were otherwise unfamiliar with career opportunities in the military showed enthusiasm and amazement at the caliber of today’s military musicians. Sharing new ideas on musicianship, pedagogy, and the importance of music in an ever-evolving world culture allowed the members of the Double Reed Ensemble to return to West Point with a greater sense of purpose to educate, train, and inspire through music.

Words by Staff Sgt. Natalie Wren

Meet the Band

MSG Brian Broelmann

Kid's Night with Quintette 7

Master Sergeant Brian Broelmann joined the West Point Band as a saxophonist in 2001. He holds degrees in music education and music performance from the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. Master Sgt. Broelmann is a founding member of the West Point Band’s Quintette 7.

Teachers:

Dr. Timothy McAllister (saxophone)

Mr. Robert Faub (saxophone)

Influences:

A little bit of everything.

Kid's Night with Quintette 7

When did you join the Army?

I joined the Army in the summer of 2001. After finishing my first year of teaching public school music, I realized needed to pursue a different career path. I was fortunate enough to win a position in the West Point Concert Band’s saxophone section, and it was an easy decision to take the job. Despite a stressful Basic Training experience, which included training during the events of September 11, 2001, I have been proud to serve our Nation ever since enlisting. It is my hope to continue serving the Nation in the West Point Band for years to come.

Current Projects:

A little bit of everything. Working with a team designing the program for the West Point Holiday Show; practicing parts for the Alumni Glee Club concert, the CSA Ethics Conference, and Kids Night; working on instrumental technique (scales, patterns, chord voicings); building repertoire for background/cocktail gigs.

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What do you enjoy doing off-duty?

When I am not on duty I enjoy bicycling, running and practicing any of a number of instruments. I have also been known to make giant latch-hook rug portraits of people I find interesting or inspiring.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

Over time, my definition of what it means to be a musician has changed, so it is hard to identify a catalyzing moment in which I determined, “I will be a musician.” In elementary school, I may have had daydreams of being in a rock band. In middle school, I may have convinced myself that teaching music was what I wanted to do. In high school, l I may have thought I could be some kind of performer (jazz saxophone? Speed metal bass?). Through college, I may have been preparing myself for a career as school teacher or a classical saxophone soloist or a university intellectual. More recently, I may have decided that I would like to be a musician that can accompany others in any setting and make a soloist feel at ease. I would like to be a competent sideman that is an asset to others. The kind of musician that can not only get the job done, but others are glad to see is on the job. So in short, I decided a couple of months ago that I want to be a musician.

Trophy Point: Labor Day Celebration

An Army performance highlight:

One of my Army performance highlights (there are many) did not include performing music myself. Not too long ago I had the honor of serving as a member of a two-person flag detail for a veteran’s funeral. The gentleman who had passed away was a veteran of World War II. It was an incredibly profound experience to present the flag of our Nation to the next of kin of one of our veterans who had given his service at such a meaningful time in our history. It is a memory that will always remain with me.

Did you know?

When I was in college I played bass in a band that mostly covered songs by the Dave Matthews Band. Occasionally we would branch out and cover other material. I had the honor of providing vocals for our cover of the Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance.” At the time I could imitate Humpty exactly.

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Meet the Band

SSG Sam Ross

Trophy Point: Labor Day Concert

After starting band in middle school as a percussionist, I switched to clarinet in high school and had some catching up to do. I ended up sticking with and earning both Bachelor and Master of Music degrees in clarinet performance, despite having to now deal with reeds. I pursued studies with many different teachers, both in the Dallas area and through various music festivals. Always having enjoyed wind band growing up, I took the opportunity to audition for the West Point Band in 2012 and have been here since!

Teachers:

Greg Raden, Steve Cohen, Yehuda Gilad, Mark Nuccio, John Scott, Nophachai Cholthitchanta

Influences:

Robert Marcellus; most any opera singer

When did you join the Army?

June 2012

Current Projects:

I plan on putting together a solo recital in the near future; I plan on working on an opera fantasy as well as a very challenging contemporary piece that I’ve been wanting to play for a long time. I’m definitely always working on fundamentals – every day. I’m also always looking out for interesting things to work on with my woodwind quintet as well.

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What do you enjoy doing off-duty?

Extra duties: performance accountability NCO (keeping track of all the jobs the band does and how many people show up, etc.), Point of Contact for my woodwind quintet; Hobbies: weightlifting & crossfit, collecting and enjoying rare & unique beer, nature in general, enjoying the multi-level humor of being Uncle Sam to six nephews and a niece.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when…

Sometime when I was a kid and both my older sisters took piano lessons. It just seemed like the most logical thing to do at the time!

An Army performance highlight:

Playing Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry in Sarasota, FL is one of the emotional musical experiences I’ve had while in the band. That and having the opportunity to perform Bach’s setting of Ave Maria as a solo with the concert band in the beautiful Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City last year.

United States Military Academy Band: Trinity Church Holiday Concert

Did you know?

The only time I ever broke a bone affected me musically. Right before going to college, I fell off a ladder (I know, genius, right?) and broke my right wrist. Up to that point, I had been practicing to audition for the drumline in the University of Arkansas marching band that I would be joining in the fall. I felt pretty ready, but then after that incident, I was relegated to marching clarinet the first time in my life. It ended up being a pretty fun time with the clarinet section, but it was the nail in the coffin of my percussion-playing days.

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Meet the Band

SSG David Bergman

The United States Military Academy Band was honored to be part of The Veterans Legacy Summit. This multi-day conference was hosted by The Patterson Foundation, who works with partners to accelerate positive change by sharing fresh perspectives on strategy, contributing new ideas and providing resources. The summit was held in Sarasota, Florida and brought together leaders from government, military, philanthropy, national veterans-serving organizations and other supporting veterans. On Saturday the West Point Band participated in the dedication of Patriot Plaza at Sarasota National Cemetery, which honored veterans and shared the story behind The Patterson Foundation's unique public-private partnership with the National Cemetery Administration. This event also featured U.S. Army combat veteran Wes Moore, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Jane Chu, and a group of Forever Miss Americas. Maj. Gen. John Rossi, commanding General of Fort Sill in Oklahoma, administered the Oath of Enlistment to a group of more than 20, making them official members of the armed forces. The West Point Band concluded the summit on Sunday with a sold out community concert at Patriot Plaza. Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Chrissy Rivers/United States Military Academy Band

I grew up in the Northwest just outside of Portland. I have an older brother who briefly played electric guitar (in the 80’s, everyone’s older brother played electric guitar), and that got me interested in playing music. Early on, I was very involved in marching bands and drum corps which opened the door to other forms of percussion.

Teachers:

Ed Stephan, Christopher Deane, Tom Freer, Christopher Allen, Andrew Reamer

Influences:

My musical influences are varied, and I find inspiration in everything from Zeppelin to Debussy.

When did you join the Army?

2008

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Current Projects:

Practicing various the classical techniques percussionists use daily, while taking time to explore the drumset as well.

What do you enjoy doing off-duty?

Hiking, running, travel, and continuing to find the most delicious Ramen made anywhere.

 An Army performance highlight:

The Concert Band playing at the Meyerson Hall in Dallas, and performing with the New York Philharmonic in Lincoln Center.

Did you know?

Traveling alone as a kid, I once boarded the wrong flight and woke up to the announcement we were landing in Phoenix (not Portland!). I thought I might still be dreaming as I reached for the call button to explain for the first of many times that I was on the wrong plane.

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