Aspen Music Festival

The Army Chorus and I performed at the Aspen Music Festival this past weekend.  Yes, even I sang.  I travelled there on your (the American taxpayer’s) dollar, so I thought it appropriate that I do something other than walk around feeling self-important.  Plus, it was an opportunity to put myself back into a singing ensemble to see first hand what I would want from a conductor.  It’s good to get back on the other side of the podium (baton?).

Let me take a moment to welcome those of you who are reading this only because “Army Chorus” set off your Google alert.  Hello!  By the way, the Chorus is the most manly, masculine musical force ever to walk the face of the Earth.  So there.

The Chorus was on hand to supplement the Colorado Symphony Chorus in Schoenberg’s Gurre-lieder, his beyond-massive magnum opus for three men’s choruses, gigantic mixed chorus, and a ludicrously-sized orchestra.

The score calls for seven, count ’em, seven harps.  Because six simply wasn’t enough, I guess.  (There’s only six in this picture, but the seventh would come later.)  You can also see a few of the ten required horns, some of which doubled on Wagner tubas.

And here’s the huge bassoon section, complete with two contras.

All in all, it was a 160-piece orchestra squished into the music tent.  The venue itself was quite beautiful.

And here’s a shot of the choruses in rehearsal with Duain Wolfe, conductor of the Chicago Symphony Chorus.  He came and worked with the Army Chorus a few weeks ago to prep us for this performance.  He is quite brilliant.

He sneaked in behind me the evening of the performance and it turned out to be a pretty nice shot.

Overall, it was a tremendous experience.  I don’t know exactly how much I contributed vocally (hopefully, not too much), but it was a rare treat to sing with such a huge ensemble…on a piece that is rarely performed…under the baton of David Zinman…at scenic Aspen, Colorado.

This is an interesting job

Music and the military sounds like a bizarre marriage, and it is.  It often surprises me, however, that when it’s done well, music serves the military.  It keeps soldiers in step, makes them march a little taller, makes them feel good and proud about what they do, and picks them up when they’re feeling down.  Music is usually a centerpiece when the Army (or any branch of the military) celebrates long-standing traditions in ceremonies.  A military parade or review without music just isn’t the same, and most high-ranking people recognize this fact.  They might not necessarily be great listeners, but they see how music effects the people they command and recognize music’s power to build bridges across cultures, to soothe, and to excite.

But even after 8-1/2 years in the Army, I still have to laugh sometimes at what I do.  It takes a different kind of artistically-minded musician to accept the grind of military life.  For example: This morning I go for a run around Washington as I do nearly every week.  I’m out for about an hour and cover probably six miles.  Running by Arlington National Cemetery always makes me run just a little faster than I would somewhere else.  I figure those thousands of servicemen and women buried there gave everything for their country; maybe I can give a little more running near them.  I cool down in the shadows of the Iwo Jima memorial, and I look at those Marines hoisting the American flag as I stretch.  Then after a shower, what do I do?  I sit down to study Shoenberg.

Well, of course!  Because the Gurrelieder has everything to do with winning the War On Terror!  This makes perfect sense!

This ranks up there with a command inventory at the 82d Airborne Division Band, where nylon straps in O.D. green designed to hold combat packs at the knees of a fully loaded paratrooper are counted in the same breath as sousaphones and clarinet reeds.

Also funny how military terminology invades (see, there’s another one) the musical vernacular.  Sometimes if the ensemble doesn’t stop immediately after I cut them in rehearsal I will show the hand signal and call out “cease fire” as if we’re at the rifle range.  No one thinks twice about this.  Using the right kind of language is important because we have to be able to articulate what we do to people for whom the military is the only life they know.  So when speaking outside of the band building, we don’t rehearse, we train.  We don’t work with people, we coordinate with them.  And we definitely don’t perform concerts, we conduct band operations. 

It’s a strange clash of cultures, but it’s also a lot of fun.

Sunset with a Soundtrack

I have just a few photos from the concert with The US Army Band on the steps of the Capitol–my debut with the band!  It was a busy day: spent the morning and early afternoon listening to auditions for a new bass for the chorus.  There were several excellent candidates, but we ended up hiring one from the Soldiers’ Chorus of the Army Field Band.  When I got home mid-afternoon, we had a little barbeque at our house.  Lots of family and friends came out to support me and enjoy an evening of great music.

Here I am:

This is me with my old college band director and overall swell guy, Dave McKee!  Thanks, Dave (and wife Charlotte) for coming up to DC for this special day!

 

The Supremes

Okay, this post is way late and I’m going to backdate it, if WordPress will let me.  It’s my blog and I can do what I want.  No one’s reading anyway.

How surreal is it that only the second performance with a new ensemble is in front of the members of the highest court of the land, and that you’ve programmed your own music for it?  People will think I’m a raging egomaniac.  I’m really not, but why not be proud of what you do?

We sang my new arrangement of ‘America the Beautiful’ among other things at a dinner in the great hall of the Supreme Court building.  This in celebration of the end of the court session.  Wish I had pictures but didn’t have the opportunity.  Or a camera for that matter.

No worries, there are pictures of me conducting the band on the steps of the capital!  Those come soon!

Army Chorus on CNN

Here’s a great little video CNN did on us and our diplomatic mission. Hopefully this link will be good for a little while. Too bad I’m so new to the group that I had no part in the story, but I will have plenty of opportunities to do neat things in the future.

Here is the link!

Cloud eleven

I am home after my third day at TUSAB (that’s Armyspeak for The US Army Band). I’m still in observation mode–just sat and listened during rehearsal yesterday, taking my time getting to know the guys. I’ve been given carte blanche to jump in whenever I feel like it, but I think it’s wise to get a sense of where they are and what they do before I, the young whippersnapper captain, jumps in and tries to change everything. (The Army band program is strange; some of these guys have been in the chorus nearly my entire lifetime. They’ve sung for Presidents, kings, queens, popes (just a few days ago), etc. Some serious international bigwigs ask for soloists like Jon Deutsch and Alvy Powell BY NAME. And yet, lil’ ol’ me is their new director. Unbelievable.)

Having gotten my uniform ready yesterday, I was able to accompany the chorus to their performance this morning IN THE ROTUNDA AT THE CAPITOL BUILDING FOR THE PRESIDENT AND THE SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE AS THEY GAVE THE FIRST CONGRESSIONAL GOLD MEDAL IN FORTY YEARS TO THE DOCTOR WHO INVENTED THE CONCEPT OF A MASH UNIT. And Wayne Newton was there, too. That sounds like a joke, but it isn’t.

Did I mention this was my third day on the job?

Oh yeah and by the way, the chorus is scary good.

I wish I had pictures, but I have a feeling there will be other opportunities.

A major award!

Okay, well maybe it wasn’t an award like an electric leg or anything, but I did receive a very nice and thoughtful gift.

 When I arrived in Ft. Jackson last October, I stopped by the 282d Army Band building to say hello and met the commander, WO1 James Bettencourt.  Long story short–the band played four of my charts for their holiday concerts in December, and I was invited to conduct one, too.  I conducted Army Bells, a piece I wrote for the US Army Europe Band that pits Jingle Bells against the Army Song to see how they’d fight it out.  It was nice to be invited, and fun to get back to doing music, if only for a few minutes.

 So in front of the band today, Mr. Bettencourt presented me with a Certificate of Appreciation and a custom Mollard baton with ‘282d Army Band’ burned into the shaft.  I was given these things in appreciation of them allowing me to be a part of their concert.  Who should be giving who gifts?  I don’t have a camera here with me, so I’ll post a picture later.

Once again, thank you so much to Mr. Bettencourt, First Sergeant Harvey, and all the members of the 282d “Victory” Band for allowing me to be a part of your concert last month!

World Bowl XV

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I originally planned on using this blog to post only things related to my own composing and arranging efforts. But I thought it would also be alright to comment on events that are a result of my role as a military musician. By virtue of my position, I get to do some pretty cool things!

Exhibit one: Yesterday, the US Army Europe Band & Chorus participated in World Bowl XV by playing the anthems and a terrific halftime show. In the game, the Hamburg Sea Devils defeated the hometown and critical favorites, the Frankfurt Galaxy something-to-something. Never mind that, we reached an audience of 48,000, plus whoever watched on the NFL channel!

First, a field’s-eye view of the band in place:
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Here’s a shot of me conducting the American anthem:
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..and here’s me conducting the German anthem (please keep in mind that when you’re on a Jumbotron screen the camera adds 800 pounds):
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…and a few shots of the band and chorus during the halftime show. On the other side of the fifty-yard line are several teams’ worth of scantily-clad cheerleaders that are in no way affiliated with the United States Army or this happily married man.

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It was a great thing for the Band & Chorus, and also for many families, especially mine. The wife LOVES football and got to teach my son quite a bit (we’ve been missing out on football for three years now–you can’t just stay up all night when you have little kids). And the daughter loved seeing the cheerleaders. Her cheerleading outfit covered her belly button but she says she can show it when she gets “older.” Don’t count on it, kid.