Being in a premier military band has been a dream of mine since I started playing flute at age twelve. I grew up in the Washington D.C. area and attended many military band concerts. From the first one, I knew that’s what I needed to do when I grew up.
When the United States Military Academy Band’s field music group, the Hellcats, announced three piccolo spots, I was ecstatic, but nervous. I was scared to audition and not be hired, crushing my childhood dream. Instead, I was lucky and offered a position. The most exciting part is reestablishing the role of the piccolo in the field music group. There have not been piccolos in the Hellcats for almost forty years, and the three of us now get to restart that tradition. That makes our job even more special to know that we have that part in history with the band.
Once arriving at West Point, we began training to work on our daily job, which is playing breakfast and lunch formations for the cadets. Together, the entire group worked on learning new sets ranging from tunes for the cadets to assemble into formation to music to march them into the mess hall. It has been a fun learning experience.
Besides formations, the Hellcats also participate in military tattoos. We already had three performances planned for April and had to quickly learn a new show. Since it had been so long since the group had piccolos, everyone had to brainstorm ideas for a new show. Some members wrote out new drill to go along with the music. The process of learning the drill and memorizing all of the music was tedious, but well worth the final product.
Our first show occurred on April 5 in New York City. We performed on an international stage with groups from Scotland, Canada, and the United States. As a featured group for the evening, the Hellcats performed for an audience of approximately 1,100 people in Mason Hall. I remember how excited, yet nervous I was before stepping onto that stage for a full house. As we performed, the audience became more and more engaged, and their applause filled the auditorium. After we brought our piccolos down after our feature, “The Girl I Left Behind Me,” the crowd erupted. I couldn’t help but crack a smile. My dream was coming true. We received a standing ovation, and many people expressed their gratitude and joy for the show after its conclusion.
One week later, we were able to debut our new show on our home turf at the 32nd Annual West Point Military Tattoo. It was hosted by the West Point Pipes and Drums, a pipe band organized by the cadets. It held a special place for me because of our daily duty with the corps. We performed in conjunction with 20 other groups from the Tri-State area. The weather warmed up, making it the perfect day to perform at West Point while overlooking the beautiful Hudson. After the performance, many people commented on how much they enjoyed the piccolos. A few even asked why the piccolos took such a long vacation. As a member of the section that is beginning this tradition again, it is exciting hearing people talk about how they enjoy the section and all the compliments about the Hellcats as a whole.
As we prepare for future events, I look forward to the new shows and music we will learn. What an amazing experience to make music and history at the same time!
By Staff Sgt. Courtney Martin