Army Field Band logistician shares music, faith with Cubans
November 17, 2009
FORT MEADE, Md. - "For me, it was an answer to a dream, and it represented the Emerald City of my Latin journey."
Eugene Cedras, a logistician with The United States Army Field Band and a 23-year Army veteran who retired from the 1st Army Band at Fort Meade in 1992, spoke these words with such admiration and inspiration for a country that, to many, is a paradise ... albeit a paradise with its share of problems.
Gene, as he is known by many, traveled to Cuba recently as part of a spiritual and musical mission-sharing his enthusiasm for music, his enthusiasm for his religious faith, with Cubans.
Anyone who meets Gene is immediately struck by his passion, struck by his genuineness, struck by his compassion for others. Every story he shares is filled with excitement, every joke filled with zeal.
He is, quite simply, a giving person-always willing to reach out and help others. So, it makes perfect sense that he would jump at the chance to accompany a missionary team to Cuba. It had been a dream of his for 35 years.
For Gene, this voyage began in October 1971, as a 19-year-old from New Hampshire who received an Army draft notice in the mail. He remembers that piece of paper as if he just received it yesterday. At the time, he was given two choices-select a military occupational skill (MOS) and perform 3 years of service or let the Army select his MOS and complete a 2-year enlistment.
He chose the first option.
Because he played drums in high school, Gene thought joining the Army bands program would be a perfect fit.
What began as a 3-year contract extended into a lifetime career. Yet, admittedly, Cedras says the process wasn't as easy as he thought it would be.
"I failed my first audition," he said playfully.
"I immediately thought, oh no, here I come Oh Two Bang Bang [a term referring to the infantry MOS at the time]. I had to scramble. I went home, practiced the specific sections of the test I had difficulty with, and I passed the audition the next go around."
There were still a number of Army bands in Vietnam at the time, and there was a chance Gene would be sent there. He figured, though, that if he had to go to Vietnam, why not as a part of an Army band ... as part of an entity designed to boost Soldiers' morale.
Vietnam was not his fate.
Instead, Gene landed at Fort Dix, N.J., for his first assignment as a drummer with the 19th Army Band.
It was here that he got to witness, to experience the beginning of the Salsa movement. It was here he became fascinated with learning as much as he could about Latin cultures and Latin music.
"I was really blessed. Due to the installation's proximity to New York City, I was able to travel to the Big Apple frequently to listen to many popular bands of that time. I remember, too, hearing music emanating from a nearby Soldier-musician's quarters, music with an infectious beat. I was drawn to it, as a percussionist, as a fan of all things music. It was Salsa," he said.
Gene reminisces on many blessed moments, many special times during his duty at Fort Dix. Not only did he acquire an appreciation for Latin culture and musical composition, but he also joined his first Latin band, and he met, and married, Lorancy, a native of the Dominican Republic.
With Lorancy, Gene explored Latin traditions in a more intimate, familial sense, as the two would frequently visit her family. There he was introduced to the meringue, a traditional musical style of her native country.
Gene lights up when he speaks of Lorancy, who he considers to be his soulmate. And, it is quite befitting that the two met, by chance, through music ... at a USO dance.
"I saw her walk in the room with a friend of mine, who had brought along his girlfriend. I made my way over to their table and sat down with the group. I felt an instant connection to her ... I immediately thought 'wow'!" he exclaimed.
That "wow" factor lasted throughout their 30-year marriage, a union which ended in 2007 when Gene lost Lorancy to a long bout with cancer. His passion for her remains. To this day, his eyes sparkle at the mere mention of her name. Gene attributes his strength, his ability to get past the tough times, to his family and his faith in God.
Gene's reputation, both as a man of music and a man of faith, brought him the offer to embark on his musical, evangelical mission to Cuba.
"My friend with whom I served at the 19th Army Band at Fort Dix and the 1st Army Band at Fort Meade is still a practicing musician. He plays music with his church and had traveled to Cuba with a mission team last year. He connected me to the Global Missions Project-an organization that brings together teams of musicians to perform and instruct ecclesiastical musicians all over the world."
Gene threw his "high" hat in the ring, expressing his interest to provide music for, and instruct, the people of the island nation and Cuban church musicians.
"Being able to share my faith and help the Christian Cuban musicians was amazing. Religious freedoms are being relaxed in Cuba, and there are currently 400 Baptist churches there, which surprised me. Though there is still a lot of ground to cover, I am inspired by the mere opportunities to share the word of the Lord in Cuba," he remarked.
His mission to Cuba was such a success that he has already been invited back next year. This time, he will by flying solo-providing one on one instruction with church percussionists there.
Gene is pleased that he has a unique skill, one that allows him to share the message of hope, of faith, in such a distinctive way.
He fondly reflects on his life, his decisions that that have brought him so much joy over the years. He longs to continue communicating to others the four loves of his life-God, family, country, and, of course, music-which he got to do in Cuba-a place, for Gene, that united his passions for music and spirituality, a place representing the birthplace of his beloved Salsa music, a place that has brought his journey, his story full circle.
<i>About The United States Army Field Band </i>:
The United States Army Field Band, the premier touring musical representative for the United States Army, has been inspiring, entertaining and educating audiences of all ages for more than 60 years with a diverse and engaging musical repertoire and commanding performances.
Since its formation in March 1946, the Field Band's four elite performing components-the Concert Band, Soldiers' Chorus, Jazz Ambassadors and The Volunteers-have appeared in all fifty states and in more than thirty countries on four continents.
The Soldier-Musicians continue the Field Band's rich tradition in musical excellence, as they travel more than 100 days a year with a touring schedule that includes formal public concerts, school assemblies, educational outreach programs, festivals, as well as radio and television appearances.
As these internationally-acclaimed "Musical Ambassadors of the Army" make their way across America, they share the Army story through music-concerts that reinforce and reenergize patriotism, help us celebrate the American spirit and support our troops, both here and abroad.
The United States Army Field Band is one of the most versatile and inspiring musical organizations in the world, and its members, selected by highly-competitive audition, represent the finest musical talent in America. We are proud to be a part of America's Army: The Strength of the Nation.
Go to www.armyfieldband.com to learn more about The United States Army Field Band.