By By Staff Sgt. Mark Tonelli, West Point Band PublicityMay 14, 2009
The Army has designated 2009 as the Year of the NCO. Noncommissioned officers are the backbone of the Army and execute the day-to-day operations of the force. One of the largest units on post is the West Point Band, whose membership is 88 NCOs strong.
Of the Army's 105 active, Guard and Reserve bands, the West Point Band is designated by the Army as one of four special bands, along with the Fife and Drum Corps, 3rd Infantry (Old Guard); the U.S. Army Band and the U.S. Army Field Band, all located in Washington. As the Army's oldest continuously serving band, its primary mission is to support the U.S. Corps of Cadets.
All band members are active-duty Soldiers and form a select group of musicians, chosen through a nationally competitive audition process. Many band members enlisted specifically to perform in the West Point Band, arriving at West Point with a considerable degree of professional experience and are often well-known in the civilian music world.
The majority hold bachelor's or master's degrees in music and some hold doctoral degrees. A position in the West Point band is "stabilized," a permanent duty assignment. Many band members spend their entire military career at West Point and retire from the band.
To most people, the Marching Band is the face of the West Point Band. It performs a vital role supporting reviews, parades, football games and funerals. However, it is actually a combination of three distinct musical components--Field Music (called the Hellcats), the Concert Band and the Jazz Knights. Each functions autonomously, rehearsing regularly to perform its own repertoire.
The Hellcats, a 13-piece drum and bugle corps, have performed duties since the 1800s, sounding Reveille and Retreat and marching cadets to their meals in the mess hall each weekday.
The Jazz Knights are an 18-piece big band, focusing on jazz and other popular styles. At 50-pieces, the Concert Band performs classical music and pops. Chamber ensembles, such as brass quintets and jazz combos, are formed from the larger components to support various functions.
The band performs locally and accepts invitations to perform at prestigious music conferences, festivals and at universities and public schools across the country. Band members compose and arrange music, which is performed in concert and on radio and television often to support well-known guest artists.
West Point Band music is available to the public for free at the listening room page at www.westpoint.edu/band. The band hosts annual events such as the West Point Jazz Festival and The Conductor's Workshop.
A good cross-section of the band will be in action during Graduation Week. The Marching Band, with Field Music, will perform in the Alumni Review on Tuesday, at the Superintendent's Award Review on Thursday and at the Graduation Parade May 22. The band also will support the Awards Convocation and Banquet May 22, and the Jazz Knights will perform at the Graduation Hop. Chamber ensembles will support various functions including the Superintendent's Garden Reception.
The Concert Band and Field Music will perform at the Graduation Ceremony May 23.
But there's plenty of music before and after Grad Week. At 3 p.m. Sunday in Eisenhower Hall Theatre, the Concert Band hosts an Armed Forces Day Concert with special guests Jay Ungar and Molly Mason, best known for their music featured in the Ken Burns' documentary series "The Civil War." At 7:30 p.m. June 14, the popular summer concert series, Music Under The Stars, begins at Trophy Point Amphitheatre, with the Jazz Knights performing The Music of Duke Ellington. The series continues at 7:30 p.m. June 21 as the Concert Band presents Hudson Quadricentennial.
Concert schedule, band member biographies, photos, music and history can be found at www.westpoint.edu/band or by calling 938-2617. Visit the Jazz Knights at myspace.com/jazzknightsofwestpoint and become a fan of the West Point Band on Facebook.com.