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If you ever ask an aspiring classical musician what he or she wants to do, the overwhelming answer is to play in a full time orchestra. The orchestra has amazing versatility, with its repertoire spanning over five centuries. The concert band too enjoys a wide spectrum of music, from Gustav Holst to David Maslanka. But if you were to ask a professional classical musician the same question, more often than not the answer is playing chamber music. Playing chamber music, usually within a small ensemble ranging from three to twelve players, challenges musicians to really take accountability for the interpretation and performance of a work. When there are only, let’s say five musicians on stage, there is no conductor there to maintain the tempo, influence balance, or guide the musical interpretation. So the musicians must take on the responsibility of leading, following, actively listening, and reacting to the music around them. It is both nerve racking and exhilarating.
The many classical chamber ensembles that comprise the West Point Concert Band include two brass quintets, tuba quartet, two woodwind quintets, steel drum band, and the list goes on. As a member of the Academy Wind Quintet (AWQ), I am proud to work with incredible musicians who challenge and inspire me to be a better musician. On January 23rd, the AWQ had the privilege of performing for 1,200 students at the Hommocks Middle School in Mamaroneck, New York. We performed a variety of music including American folk tunes, marches, several movements from Cuban-American composer Paquito d’Rivera’s Aires Tropicales, and a few movements from Maurice Ravel’s Le Tombeau de Couperin, a piece very near and dear to my heart. The kids were great; they had plenty of questions for us pertaining to our instruments, to the West Point Band, and to the cadets at the Academy. They seemed to really enjoy the music that they heard, particularly the Latin dances heard in Aires and of course the flashy piccolo solo from our national march, The Stars and Stripes Forever. Their enthusiasm was yet another example of the importance of concert music, and how live music enables people to tap into their imaginations, broaden their horizons, and participate in a collective experience. By the end of our second performance in the afternoon, I think we were all ready for a nap. But tired or not, the show goes on! The Academy Wind Quintet recently returned from our recital tour in Ohio and Kentucky, with stops at the Universities of Cincinnati, Louisville, and Kentucky, as well as the VA hospitals in Louisville and Cincinnati. We also made appearances on public radio stations WUOL of Louisville and WVXU of Cincinnati, as well as a television appearance on Louisville’s local Fox television station. To say it was exciting would be a massive understatement. Serving my country by playing great chamber music with fantastic musicians? Yes, please!
By Staff Sgt. Natalie Wren
Photo by Staff Sgt. Torin Olsen