By Kevin Jackson, AMCJuly 30, 2018
McALESTER, Okla. -- You could almost hear a pin drop. Then the band pierced the silence with its powerful, brass-inspired "American Fanfare" to kick-off the concert in the Grand Event Center, here, recently.
The Air National Guard Band of the Southwest concert, billed as a "Salute to the 75th Anniversary of McAlester Army Ammunition Plant", was part its 14-day "Celebration of American Music" tour through Kansas, Oklahoma and north Texas.
Former ANG Band of the Southwest commander/conductor, Col. Jeffrey C. Mathews, chief of all Air National Guard bands for the National Guard Bureau, led the 36-member group through the "Star Spangled Banner".
But it was a rousing version of "Oklahoma" conducted by current commander, Lt. Col. Eric Patterson, which literally brought the audience to its feet. The title song from the Broadway musical, written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, became the official state song in 1953.
The tour of American music moved briskly through the "George M. Cohan Patriotic Fantasy", a traditional bullfighting pasodoble, "La Virgen de la Macarena' which included an ole-worthy trumpet solo by Tech. Sgt. Lonnie Dooley, and finally George Gerschwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" punctuated by Tech. Sgt. Marty Witczak's piano solo.
Not to overlook the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birth being celebrated worldwide, the band performed "Candide Suite", "Turkey Trot" for Divertimento for Symphonic Band conducted by McAlester native and French horn player, Master Sgt. Shonda (Huffman) Mashburn, and selections from "West Side Story" ending with "Mambo" sung by Master Sgt. Erika Stevens and Staff Sgt. Jessica Tingle.
Taking the stage for a few minutes, Col. Joseph D. Blanding, commander, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, expressed his gratitude to the band and presented a framed certificate of appreciation with a specially minted MCAAP 75th Anniversary commander's coin of excellence to Patterson.
"In the U.S. military, the thing that makes the loudest sound, you make right here in McAlester. And the thing that makes the second loudest, we make right here," Patterson said, drawing prolonged applause from an appreciative audience after the presentation.
Upbeat compositions from the "Guardians of the Galazy" Medley swept the nearly 200 attendees on a musical journey through the 1960s and 1970s with "Hooked on a Feeling", "Come and Get Your Love", and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough".
Before launching into patriotic tunes to finish the 90-minute performance, the band took a country music detour with "I'm from the Country", "Rocky Top" and It's America", all sung by Tech. Sgt. Josh Kean, and Patsy's Cline's "Crazy" crooned by Stevens.
Frank Zugelder, former 8th grade band director of Mashburn, was invited to take the podium and lead the band through John Phillip Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever".
The Texans closed out the concert with the sweet sound of "America the Beautiful" sung by Tech. Sgt. Ruth Petkaitus.
"We are grateful and appreciative of the Air National Guard Band of the Southwest for providing us with such an uplifting performance," said Col. Joseph D. Blanding, commander, McAlester Army Ammunition Plant, earlier to the audience. "I believe I can safely speak for Mayor [John] Browne and everyone in attendance tonight when I say, we hope you will come back to entertain us again in the not so distant future."
During its June 21 to July 4 swing through Kansas and Oklahoma, the band performed in Ottawa, Kansas, Olathe, Kansas, Tulsa, Bartlesville, Oklahoma, McAlester, Talihina, Oklahoma, and then in Sherman, Texas, before concluding its tour at a Texas Rangers game in Arlington, Texas.
MCAAP is one of 17 installations of the Joint Munitions Command and one of 23 organic industrial base facilities under the U.S. Army Materiel Command.