December 22, 2010
The U. S. Army Band "Pershing's Own" performed its annual "A Holiday Festival" Dec. 10-12. The show was attended by thousands during four performances at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. In addition, a group of federal employees from Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall and the Military District of Washington were treated to a full dress rehearsal performance Dec. 10 at the hall hosted by Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, commanding general Joint Force Headquarters National Capital Region and U.S. Army Military District of Washington.
"It's always a great opportunity to get together with the U.S. Army Band and spend time with this wonderful group of talented musicians, particularly at Christmas, "Horst said. The commander had the opportunity to spend time with the show's special guest artist, country star Mark Wills, before the show began.
"We clicked easily and I enjoyed spending time with him," said Horst who is a country music fan. Backstage before the show began, Sgt. 1st Class Pablo Talamante, a tenor with The U.S. Army Chorus, said, "I'm extremely proud to be part of such a fantastic show. We always have such great audiences who are very appreciative of the performances." This is the Soldier's eighth year performing in the holiday show. Staff Sgt. Meredith Rouse, playing oboe and English horn, has been with the band for just over a year but this is her first holiday show.
"It's such a well-oiled machine and I really am enjoying being a part of these performances," she said. Col. Thomas Rotondi, Jr., leader and commander of The Army Band, kicked off the performances directing the Army Orchestra and Army Chorus with Robert Shaw's "The Many Moods of Christmas (Suite Three)" - a medley of traditional holiday songs featuring "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" "Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella" and "Angels We Have Heard on High." Sgt. 1st Class Leigh Ann Hinton, a soprano, glowed under the stage lights in her holiday-themed gown and strong, lovely voice. She mesmerized the audience with her stirring rendition of "O Holy Night."
The entrance of vocalists from the Army Band's Downrange, wearing festive attire, entertained the audience with the upbeat medley ''Winter Wonderland" and ''Let it Snow." The set design added to the ambience of the holiday mood, complete with fireplace and snowflakes falling from the air.
The group was joined on stage by Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for a children's Christmas medley. Following Downrange's energetic set, Staff Sgt. A. Miles Simmons, tenor, and Staff Sgt. Martha Krabill, soprano, changed the performance's mood with "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve'" followed by an equally stunning performance by alto Sgt. Maj. Mercy Diez singing "All I Want for Christmas is You." Master Sgt. Alec Maly followed with the movie-themed "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," and was joined on stage by none other than the green creature himself, who drew laughter from the audience with joking attempts to upstage Rotondi while he conducted the orchestra. Another highlight of the show which had audience members tapping their feet and clapping along was The Army Band's five-piece ensemble Swamp Romp, performing their "Swamp Romp Christmas Medley" featuring alto Sgt. 1st Class Christal Rheams on vocals.
The last half of the show opened with a video montage of The Sergeant Major of the Army's Hope and Freedom Tour, a USO-sponsored tour the band undertakes each year with a contingent of celebrity performers to entertain troops overseas during the holidays.
The video introduced the guest star for the Constitution Hall show, Wills, who has accompanied the Hope and Freedom Tour for several years but was unable to make it this year. Backstage before the concert began, Wills said that due to rupturing his intestines and surgery he was unable to wear battle armor and couldn't make the tour this year.
"I'm happy things worked out where I was able to do the holiday show," he said. A big supporter of servicemembers, Wills said, "I respect our military... the men and women that devote their lives to our country. Anytime our nation calls upon our military, they're there to answer that call." Wills said he considers it an honor to be able to perform with our military, whether it's a USO tour or a 70-piece orchestra.
"It's an honor and a privilege and I consider myself fortunate to have the opportunity to do that," he said. Playing acoustic guitar with bandmate Kevin Key on electric guitar, Wills sang a variety of holiday tunes including a stirring rendition of "Christmas in Dixie," followed by "Santa Looked a Lot like Daddy," "The Christmas Song" and "White Christmas."
"It's always a treat to perform [with The U.S. Army Band] and whenever we get to see members we've performed with in the past [on the Hope and Freedom Tour] it's always a treat to see them," said Key.
"They're like old friends to us." Taking a break from singing and strumming his guitar, Wills read an emotional Soldier's version of "The Night before Christmas," which had a few members of the audience reaching for tissues.
"This is Col. Rotondi's favorite," said Wills before performing the upbeat "Christmas Cookies," followed by "New Star Shining" and "A Holly Jolly Christmas." The concert concluded with a full cast performance of "Joy to the World." "We like to be able to share the holiday season with everyone and always look forward to putting on a good show," Rotondi said.