By Mike Strasser, Fort Lee TravellerFebruary 21, 2007
Most musicians would agree the best way to learn music is by listening to music.
Local high school and middle school students received that learning opportunity at Fort Lee Saturday during a free jazz ensemble clinic taught by the U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble, a component of the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own," out of Fort Myer.
The young musicians received hands-on tutorials and discussion time with jazz members in their instrument field. Nicholas and Michael Balducci were the youngest musicians at the brass clinic, but the brothers took front row seats to learn from the Army trumpet section. Nicholas, 13, and Michael, 11, attended the session with their band director, Alan Craig, from Chester Middle School.
"I met an Army band member last year at a clinic in New Jersey, and thought it would be a wonderful thing to bring the students to a clinic here," said Craig.
That band member was Staff Sgt. Liesl Whitaker, who was on hand as lead trumpet to talk to the students.
"I never imagined in my life when I was young, that I would be playing trumpet professionally as an adult," said Whitaker.
She told the class how she was raised on a sheep farm in the middle of Kansas, and because her trumpet playing was too loud to practice in the house, she spent most of her time playing in the barn.
"I didn't get to hear a lot of jazz until I was in college," she said. "Most of what I could get was John Denver and Elvis Presley. That's why it's really important that you listen to everything you possibly can. You learn from listening."
Hosted by the 392nd Army Band and the U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum, the classes offered tips, techniques and tutorials for brass, woodwind and percussion musicians, but was open to questions from the students.
Alex Pless, a senior at Monocan High School, has been playing the saxophone for seven years. He is a three-year member of the marching band and symphonic band, with two years in the jazz band and one in the concert band.
"This was a worthwhile experience for me because I learned a lot of little technical things that I wanted to know and was able to ask," said Pless. "They were able to expand on questions I had and made it really interesting."
Warrant Officer Joseph Parenteau, 392nd Army Band director, sat in on the woodwind class during the question and answer period which discussed the need for musicians to absorb a variety of music.
"Parents teach you to talk, but you learn the language of music from listening to musicians," he said.
To that end, Parenteau said that students should explore the many avenues available for expanding one's catalogue of music. He said that the Internet is an excellent tool to find an assortment of musicians and arrangements, and it is easy to find several variations of the same song or arrangement.
The students were treated to a concert by the U.S. Army Blues Jazz Ensemble at Prince George High School that evening.
For Chief Warrant 5 Charles Vollherbst, Army Blues Jazz Ensemble director, it was a homecoming of sorts. As former director of the 392nd, he recalled his time at Fort Lee as an enjoyable one.
"I enjoyed my time here, and enjoyed living here," said Vollherbst. "I got to experiment a lot with the band, and they were a great bunch a musicians. They're still a great bunch."
The daylong event was an outgrowth of the "Bands of Brothers" exhibit at the QM Museum. During its development, programs were discussed to complement and support the exhibit.
"The exhibit was a fun one to do because everyone loves music," said Tim O'Gorman, QM Museum director.
"We wanted an enjoyable program where people could hear, learn and appreciate the musicianship of some of the Army's best bandsmen."