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.
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.)
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