TUSAB brings season to life with holiday festival
November 30, 2012
Connoisseurs of fine music and football rejoice.
The U.S. Army Band's annual concert, The American Holiday Festival, has been moved up a weekend this year so it won't coincide with the annual Army-Navy game. Not that a ringing in the ears from a body contact sport could ever compete with a joyous ringing in of the holidays.
"That might be a good omen," noted Sgt. 1st Class Cristal Rheams, about the schedule change. "I'm a football fan, but Army hasn't beaten Navy in so many years."
This year's concert, which features the U.S. Army Orchestra accompanied by vocalists from The U.S. Army Chorus, Downrange and The U.S. Army Voices, as well as select elements from the Army Blues and Herald Trumpets, takes place this weekend with performances at DAR Constitution Hall in the District Nov. 30-Dec. 2. It features popular numbers from previous holiday concerts along with a couple of new songs and fresh arrangements.
"The American Holiday Festival is maybe my favorite time of the year," said Col. Thomas H. Palmatier, leader and commander of TUSAB. "Take a wide variety of terrific holiday music performed by world-class Soldier musicians in one of the nation's most storied performance halls, and most importantly, with thousands of audience members there to enjoy the concerts, that's a combination that can't be beaten."
"This is a show that everyone -- adults all the way down to children -- can appreciate," said Capt. Richard Winkels, officer in charge of the Army Concert Band and American Holiday Festival director. "The music is very popular and light-hearted in nature." He said Santa Claus and the Grinch from the classic Dr. Seuss story are also likely to make appearances at the concert.
This year's holiday festival offers many familiar chestnuts, but many with arrangements you might not expect. There's a toe-tapping, brass- and string-heavy version of "Feliz Navidad," with Master Sgt. Caleb Green on lead vocals that is more Latin-drenched than versions by Jose Feliciano and Tito Puente.
The holiday concert's "Joy to the World" has a distinct gospel feel to it, with Rheams enunciating the lyrics in declamatory fashion -- as if the words were being revealed to her mid-song -- while a backup chorus huddles and sways side-to-side like a church choir, repeating key phrases.
The arrangement also features Sgt. Maj. Tony Nalker teasing out a seductive organ riff on synthesizer while Sgt. Maj. Jim Roberts plucks notes on his guitar reminiscent of "Pops" Staples or Steve Cropper.
While there's no reference in the concert, Rheams said her rendition of "Joy to the World" serves as a tribute to the late Whitney Houston.
Master Sgt. John Knox, TUSAB's supply and budget noncommissioned officer in charge, usually has a behind the scenes role with the band. For the holiday concert he will be center stage using his deep mellifluous voice in a recitation of "The Night Before Christmas," the poem set to musical accompaniment by Randol Alan Bass. If the voice sounds familiar, you might recognize Knox from Military District of Washington Spririt of America performances, where he provides the narration.
Knox said he didn't have a lot to play with in terms of interpretation. "Because it's set to music, the dynamics of the music tell the story," he said, and helps determine the rhythm.
If you examine the concert program beforehand, you'd be forgiven for initially thinking "Hanukkah Blessings" to be a traditional multicultural nod to the Jewish holiday. It's actually a sprightly modern number by the band Barenaked Ladies, said Sgt. 1st Class Cliff Ogea, who is the vocalist on the number. "It's a very singable song," he said.
The American Holiday Festival takes place at DAR Constitution Hall Friday Nov. 30 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 1 at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. For ticket availability visit the U.S. Army Band website at www.usarmyband.com, or call the concert line at 703-696-3399.