“You’re from North Texas! Aren’t you?”

It wasn’t long after my first few steps in Egner Hall at West Point that I was greeted with an eagle claw. (OK, not really, but I had mine ready alongside a vigilantly practiced hand salute). Upon accepting a position in the band, enlisting in the United States Army, and completing Basic Combat Training, I joined the band in February of 2014. I serve alongside ten North Texas alumni.

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Photo Credit: Sgt. 1st Class William Calohan

Pictured left to right:
Staff Sgt Katrina Elsnick, 2007-2009;
Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Prosperie, 1989-1999;
Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Uhl, 1995-1997
Staff Sgt. Sam Ross, 2007-2009;
Sgt. 1st Class Rone Sparrow, 1997-2002;
Staff Sgt. Eric Ordway, 2000-2003;
Staff Sgt. Ashley Mendeke, 2006-2011;
Staff Sgt. David Bergman, 2000-2005;
Master Sgt. John Manning, 1996-1998;
Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Nelson

On October 22, 2016, Army West Point football plays North Texas, so I saw it fitting to gather the alums for a group photo as we briefly reminisced about the experiences and interactions that helped prepare us to be non-commissioned officers in the West Point Band—one of the Army’s premier bands, tracing its roots to a fifer and drummer during the time of the American Revolution.

Exceptional Mentorship

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“UNT’s College of Music is known as a powerhouse over the world. The large number of music students fuel an array of ensembles in which I was able to take part. Although my program was large, I never felt like a number. I was able to form close mentorships with my professors there that were extremely important to my development.”

-Staff Sgt. David Bergman

Some of my most vivid memories while at UNT were interactions with faculty members.  My professors coached me to a higher, more consistent level of artistry, which included performing when I didn’t “feel” ready amidst balancing several deadlines—in other words, real life experience. I remember my flute instructor Dr. Mary Karen Clardy handing me Variations on “Nel cor più” by Theobald Boehm, and performing it less than 12 hours later. I also recall my conductor at the time, Professor Fisher, giving the Symphonic Band a piece to sight read during a performance. Looking back, these performances instilled confidence in my musical development. While the instructors challenged me to consistency in performing, everything was very process-driven, focusing on fundamentals and musicality.

“My musical duties in the West Point Band primarily consist of rudimental snare drum, and orchestral percussion including timpani and drumset. At UNT, I honed these skills with three world-class musicians as my teachers: Paul Rennick, Christopher Deane, and Ed Soph respectively. Their mentorship was a critical part of my development and success.”

-Sgt. 1st Class Rone Sparrow

Unique Opportunities

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“I’m really grateful for my time at UNT; it afforded me countless performing opportunities, from Wind Symphony and Symphony Orchestra, to NOVA (contemporary music ensemble), opera orchestra, and chamber ensembles. Being in such a large music school, I was able to study with two teachers in the course of the same semester and gain a wider perspective, and as a means to improve myself as a musician at a faster rate. Everything was really centered on that for me.”
-Staff Sgt. Sam Ross

One common aspect appreciated among fellow North Texas alumni was that of being afforded the opportunity to perform in an array of ensembles. Through numerous performances in diverse ensembles, members of the band gained a unique outlook while practicing the skill of performance in and of itself.

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“I had the opportunity to perform in so many ensembles: small chamber ensembles, Wind Symphony, Symphony Orchestra, Opera productions, NOVA ensemble, and flute choir.”
-Staff Sgt. Katrina Elsnick

This perspective has come to serve us well in the West Point Band, where programs and ceremonies are regularly adapted to serve our audience: the United States Corps of Cadets, as well as local, national, and international communities. Being versatile, flexible, and willing to change at a moment’s notice are skills that I have come to appreciate.

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“I absolutely loved my time at UNT. The mentorship of Regents Professor Keith Johnson and the experience gained from performing in ensembles as varied as the 2 o’clock Lab Band, Wind Symphony, Baroque Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Opera Orchestra, solo recitals, and chamber music groups prepared me for any musical opportunity which might arise.”
-Master Sgt. John Manning

A Healthy Dose of Competition

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“The real world level of excellence and competition that the faculty and students create at North Texas gave me the skills and confidence to pursue any professional goals I have achieved.”

-Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Prosperie

With over 30,000 students enrolled in the University of North Texas, there is an inherent competitive atmosphere of the College of Music. Similar to music conservatories across the country, talent, excellence, and sheer virtuosity practically burst out of the doors at 415 Avenue C, Denton, Texas. Nevertheless, I remember the environment being incredibly supportive. In my time there I observed fellow studio members’ lessons and attended numerous recitals and concerts. I’ll always remember scurrying off to the practice building upon hearing the inspiring performances.

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“UNT was my first choice for graduate studies. I knew the size, diversity, and quality of the percussion department and the student body would provide the greatest opportunity for me to learn and grow as a musician. It was an energized environment with great music and stiff competition.”
-Sgt. 1st Class Rone Sparrow

The Real Question

Who will we root for this Saturday?
That’s easy.
Go ARMY. Beat North Texas!

Words by: Staff Sgt. Ashley Mendeke

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