July 23, 2009
THE smoke clears. The curtain slowly rises as rowdy fans cheer. A group emerges sporting larger-than-life hair and lurid clothing. Bright lights and earsplitting noise ensue. That's what typically comes to mind when you picture a rock band, right'
Enter The Volunteers, a component of The United States Army Field Band. No, they don't have big hair or glitzy attire, but they can rock the house with more than their fair share of talent.
Master Sgt. Kirk Kadish, Sgt. 1st Class April Boucher, Sgt. 1st Class Peter Krasulski, Staff Sgt. Tom Lindsey, Staff Sgt. Gerald Myles and Staff Sgt. Randy Wight have another thing in common besides being musically gifted.
These six noncommissioned officers are active-duty Soldiers.
The Volunteers have told the Army story through music-rock, pop, country, rhythm and blues, and patriotic tunes-since 1981, and they continue to communicate the Army message as they travel worldwide, performing for enthusiastic concert goers at venues ranging from huge outdoor crowds to hospital bedsides.
Kadish, keyboardist and noncommissioned officer in charge, understands the band's impact on the nation. Kadish, a member of the group since 1994, acknowledges, "It's remarkable how important it is to so many people that they connect with us. There is something emotionally vital about what we do that deeply affects many, many people."
<b>Good doesn't begin to describe the necessary skills</b>
Becoming a member of The Volunteers isn't easy. The process is incredibly competitive.
"We may receive 50 applicants for one vacancy. From that list, the selection committee might bring in 10 to audition," noted Sgt. 1st Class John Lake, the group's tour coordinator.
Candidates chosen to audition, instrumentalists and vocalists alike, must perform with The Volunteers before an appointing panel prior to making the final cut. Even so, holding an audition does not imply anyone will be hired to fill an opening.
Lake emphasized, "I have witnessed numerous occurrences where no one in the final round was selected. They have to be that good."
Kadish chuckled as he lightheartedly recalled his own audition, "I managed to make the first cut, although there were some folks who felt I was too much of a 'jazzer' and not enough of a 'rocker' or vocalist to really qualify. Fortunately for me, the other players appreciated my instrumental skills and weren't much concerned with the 'dying cat' quality of my vocal stylings."
Once selected, there is another, minor hurdle-enlisting in the Army and conquering basic training. From there, you're assigned to The U.S. Army Field Band, and your career as a performer begins. But, don't expect a life of fame and glory.
<b>Not the typical rock-star lifestyle</b>
The Volunteers make their way from town to town in two, eight-passenger vans. Often, there are countless miles between gigs. The group has made similar treks hundreds of times, so generalizing the atmosphere while they travel is pretty easy.
"The journey begins with a little laughter, a little chitchat and a little coffee. Before long, we tend to get a little quiet. Sometimes we find silence soothing. It allows us to reflect," remarked the band's accomplished drummer, Staff Sgt. Gerald Myles.
Krasulski, the animated bassist, says that the vast amount of travel is a double-edged sword but, for the most part, enjoys it, "for it means seeing new places I never would have had a chance to see if I weren't a part of The Volunteers."
The group stops periodically for breaks as they roll past all-too-familiar terrain. They stretch, walk around a bit and enjoy the fresh air. But, soon it's time to pile back into the van and hit the road again.
Travelling makes the hotel arrival that much sweeter...most of the time.
"It can get a little confusing as we perform in so many places in such a short timeframe. I have wandered into a closet thinking it was the bathroom. And, I have caught myself thinking I am in a completely different town," confessed Boucher, vocalist. "Yet it gives us a place to call home, albeit short-lived."
The hotel becomes the group's hub, the place where they gear up-mentally and physically-for the performance.
Touring requires an enormous amount of work and energy. Putting on a show involves travel to and from the hotel to the venue, load-in, set-up, sound check, a brief break, the concert itself, tear-down and load-out. The pre- and post-concert phases (load-in, set-up, tear-down and load-out), in particular, are physically demanding. They each have responsibilities, and they accomplish them with an amazing amount of efficiency.
The equipment truck pulls up. The band launches into action like a NASCAR pit crew as they hurriedly roll large, heavy steel boxes from the truck onto the stage. Like kids ripping open birthday presents, they delve into each metal container pulling cables and equipment out. It's a bustle of activity. At the end of the concert, they get to do it all over again, just in reverse.
The days can be long and taxing. However, the grueling labor eventually leads to the true bread and butter (for the band, as well as the audience)-the performance.
<b>Blowing your mind</b>
A few minutes before the show, The Volunteers crack jokes helping the group relax and creating the right mood-fun. Making their way onto the stage, they are met with uncontrollable cheering.
Their performances are intensely delivered and reinforced by an unequivocal amount of pride in what they do.
And, what The Volunteers give to the fans is unique-a blend of tunes from different styles, varying genres and multiple generations. Despite the wide variety of music, the message is clear, and it transcends generations.
"The thing that amazes me is that their performances can have an equally profound effect on a 60-year-old and a 16-year-old," acknowledged Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Kippola, officer in charge of the group.
There is universal agreement about the group's ability to appeal to an extensive range of audiences.
"At first I thought it was going to be some boring band that gave whack music, but I was really impressed! I loved that it reached out to young people and older people! You guys rocked!" exclaimed Sky Tanco, a Platt High School student in Meriden, Conn.
Paige Coles, student council president at St. Clement High School in Medford, Mass., reported, "The Volunteers came to my school a few weeks ago...you got everyone out of their seats-even my principal was dancing!"
Wight, who wows audiences with his incredible imitations of popular artists like Willie Nelson, appreciates the ability to do what he loves (entertaining audiences) and "to be able to represent the Army in support of our troops."
The newest member of the sextet is Lindsey. Lindsey, known for his awe-inspiring licks on the guitar, truly believes in the band's mission. "At the end of the day," he said, "it's about Soldiers representing Soldiers and sharing the Army story. And we get to do that-through our music-with people all over the world."