56th Army Band spreads holiday cheer across JBLM
December 16, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- As if their holiday concerts weren't enough, what may be the hardest working Army band in show business continued to earn their title as 56th Army Band instrumental quartets played festive music throughout the month of December.
From conventional shows at places like Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Carey Theater, to almost impromptu appearances like the one held at The Exchange at McChord Field Dec. 16, Sgt. 1st Class Mark Islas, senior operations NCO for the band, popularly referred to as the I Corps or America's Corps Band, said as driven as he and his fellow bandmates are to perform year round, the holiday season may offer the best satisfaction for the Soldier-musician.
"That's one of the missions we look forward to every year," Islas said, who is on his third set of orders with 56th Army Band over his career. "We try and get out and perform for as many agencies and units as we can and get them in the mood. It's not like work at this time of year; it's just a fun thing to go and do."
Islas, the senior production manager for the band's holiday concert schedule this year and also a trombone player, added that he feels that another driving force behind the Soldier-musicians is remembering deployed troops who are unable to enjoy a live concert with their Families, as well as giving those Families of deployed troops the best performance they know how.
"We have a lot of Soldiers that deploy, so when we're able to be home and go out and holiday carol for the troops and their Families, or maybe for Family members whose troops are deployed, it means a lot," he said. "When I've been deployed we'd go out and perform at Forward Operating Bases for 20 to 30 Soldiers who didn't know what they were getting and were like 'wow.' Deployments will help you appreciate things a little bit more, and make you realize that little things can be very important."
Sergeant 1st Class Christopher Hite played the tuba for the brass quartet which brought holiday music to JBLM this season. He said after many years as a Soldier-musician, the holiday music may be the same, but it's the audiences, whether it's hundreds of people in a concert hall, or random passing listeners at The Exchange, which keep the work new and exciting for him.
"That's the thing that keeps it fresh, otherwise I would have left a long time ago," Hite said. "The faces of some of the kids, some who've never seen live musicians before, even if they don't know some of the songs, they're dancing around and having a good time."
Retired Lt. Col. Andrew Armijo, who worked as a concessionaire during the group's Friday showing, said if other I Corps Band quartets brought the same talent and energy to other places as the brass one did to The Exchange Dec. 16, the JBLM Family received a lot of great
musical treats this season.
"The people I could see definitely appreciated it," he said. "People stopped and clapped, this music definitely helps morale."
He also said in an age of military spending cuts, the 23-year veteran felt that scaling back of military entertainment programs such as I Corps Band would be a mistake.
"That wouldn't be a good idea at all," he said. "It would decrease morale for the troops, and also, especially when they're away, it gives them a piece of home."