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The following day, we had another rehearsal with the Central Band. The trip was very brief, so we only really had two rehearsals to make everything happen. Fortunately, the Central Band had been rehearsing without us for a while before we arrived. There was an unexpected challenge in Friday’s rehearsal however. In an all too common occurrence for the West Point Band, several ceremonies were added to the performance calendar for the Central Band on short notice. This took about fifteen musicians out of rehearsal for the day. While it was not ideal to play the last rehearsal before the concert without all of the musicians, it was heartening to know that military bands all over the world face the same challenges we do. And just like our band, the Central Band found a way to cover down and complete all of the missions for the day.

Japanese Soldiers march to a ceremony. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Japanese Soldiers march to a ceremony. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Towards the end of rehearsal, we exchanged some small gifts with the Central Band. We had a brand new set of band coins minted for this trip, and Lt. Col. Keene and Command Sgt. Maj. Mullins presented coins to each member of the Central Band. We also handed out a photo of the West Point Band on the march on the plain, which everyone seemed to enjoy.

Lt. Col. Keene presents a newly minted band coin to Sgt. Maj. Noguchi. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

Lt. Col. Keene presents a newly minted band coin to Sgt. Maj. Noguchi. Photo by SFC Sam Kaestner

After we had presented our gifts, the Central Band had a special presentation for us; they told us that Sgt. Maj. Noguchi, the Central Band’s principal clarinetist and a junior member of the section would perform a clarinet duet version of the Star Spangled Banner. We arranged ourselves in a line and the entire room stood at attention while they performed.

Their performance held profound meaning for both bands, as it was not just the U.S. national anthem that was performed, but rather both the U.S. and Japanese national anthems, performed together in harmony. The performance was a perfect distillation of the sincere partnership that our two nations have shared for decades now. All in the room were profoundly moved.

Once all of the presentations were made, we retired to our hotel to find dinner and get some sleep before the big performance the following afternoon.

Words and images by Sgt. 1st Class Sam Kaestner

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