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I attended Indiana University, home of one of the largest college opera program in the world. (In fact, it might be the largest.) IU does 10 full productions each year. In my five years there, I played zero. The reason was sheer chance … I somehow always ended up in the orchestra that played that semester’s ballet.

After eight years in the West Point Band, I just finished my second ballet performance. My opera tally remains at zero. I am happy about this. I prefer the brief, tuneful melodies of a ballet than the sprawled out, often-overly-dramatic opera. It’s a personal preference.

We performed with Newark-based New Jersey Ballet. We also played with them last year, marking the first collaboration of the two world-class organizations. It was also the first time New Jersey Ballet performed with a military band. I’m thrilled they asked us back. This year, we played Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, Nelson’s Courtly Airs and Dances, selections from Persichetti’s Divertimento, and a pair of pieces by Morton Gould: American Salute and Interplay. The latter is a piano concerto performed by our magnificent pianist, Staff Sergeant Yalin Chi.

Lt. Col. Keene conducts the West Point Band in the pit at NJPAC.

Lt. Col. Keene conducts the West Point Band in the pit at NJPAC.

 

The performance was held at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Awesome doesn’t do the facility justice. As I sat in the dress rehearsal, I realized I was playing standard band repertoire for a professional dance company in a world-class concert hall. It was one of those moments where I remembered why I went into music.

Staff Sgt. Andrew Garcia performing on stage with the NJ Ballet

Staff Sgt. Andrew Garcia performing on stage with the NJ Ballet

An added bonus: as a rabid New Jersey Devils fan, it is always a thrill driving by Prudential Center, home of my favorite hockey team. It’s another world-class venue in downtown Newark, and just a few blocks away from the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. Too bad my Devils missed the playoffs this year …

Following the excitement of the ballet, we performed our annual “Young Artists Concert” at West Point. This year we featured two winners: Mirana Stoker on piano, and Amanda Kim on flute. Both soloists performed wonderfully. Truly inspiring.

Amanda Kam performs Chaminade

Amanda Kam performs Chaminade

There is a lot of scrutiny on young people these days. I often hear things like “the future is bleak” and “kids in this country won’t amount to anything.” I wish those critics would have been at our concert this past weekend. I came out of this concert thinking the future has never been brighter. And I feel that way every year after hearing these young musicians.

Mirana Stoker performs Mozart

Mirana Stoker performs Mozart

This concert was a nice reminder of the importance of arts in education. I grew up in Kansas City, but had I lived in the Hudson Valley, perhaps I would have been a young artist soloist with the band. Growing up in a non-musical house, I’m not sure I would have been introduced to classical music had band not been offered at my school. Who knows what I would be doing for a living? Music education taught me so much: creativity, work-ethic, teamwork … things that cannot be measured in a standardized test. This year’s young artist winners reminded me of this. I’m proud to be a musician and I’m proud of our youth.

April has been a good month in the West Point Band—ballet, young artists, and this weekend we’re returning to the West Point plain for a parade. Let the good times ensue.

Words by Staff Sgt. Phil Stehly

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