america, Army, army band, band, big band, Chanukah, Christmas, Classical Music, concert band, Eisenhower Hall, Eisenhower Hall Theatre, free performance, Hellcats, holiday, holiday music, Jazz, Jazz knights, Jeremy Gaynor, military band, military music, Music, santa, service, trombone, United States Military Academy, West Point, West Point Band, West Point Holiday, wind ensemble
Speaking as someone who’s been in the band for nine years, I can honestly say that the holiday show is one of my favorite performances we do. I’ve only not been involved in two of them, and I was bummed out each time to not play, and still attended the performance anyway. This isn’t because I am a holiday fanatic, up on my roof stapling Christmas lights after Halloween and decorating my car like a reindeer (although I do admit to being excited each year when the stations start playing holiday songs)— but it’s because I really feel our holiday shows are just that good.
Every year we do something a little bit different; when I first got in the band, we would incorporate local children’s choirs and dance troupes. In the first show I ever played, I specifically remember the Fairfield County Children’s Choir singing the South African hymn “Siyahamba” with percussion accompaniment. It was something so different than I was used to hearing on traditional “holiday” programs! I feel that the way we program a diverse array of songs— as well as using arrangements in a wide variety of musical styles (classical, jazz, funk, pop, country, etc.)— is part of what makes our holiday shows so entertaining. For instance, we have done “O Holy Night” as a soul-bluesy trumpet feature, “No Place Like Home for the Holidays” as a country tune, “What Child is This” as a jazz saxophone duet feature, and “Carol of the Bells” as a fantasy with a slow and steady minimalistic buildup into a rock section with electric guitar solo (the last three of these which will be performed this week!).
For this year’s show I also had the opportunity to help write the script, which gave me an insight into just how involved the show is even beyond the music. Having only ever just played my clarinet part, I didn’t fully understand just how much goes into a production like this. There are all of the vocalist and instrumentalist cues, lighting, sound, props, stage setups, etc— all of which have to work together. Before the band even rehearses a single note, hours upon hours have been spent conceiving, planning, and organizing. To give you an idea, going into the first rehearsal ever for this year’s show, we were already up to draft number seven of the script! And even though the group of musicians on stage for the performance is only a part of the whole band (a hybrid jazz-concert band), this concert is quite literally “all hands on deck,” with all band members either on stage, back stage, ushering, directing cars in the parking lot, playing pre-music— or any combination of the above— not to mention all the work that goes into publicizing the event beforehand. In the end, though, it’s always a great payoff to get to bring in the season with so many people and their families who show up each year for the West Point Holiday!
Words by Staff Sgt. Erin Beaver