By Heather Santos (The United States Army Field Band)June 17, 2009
WASHINGTON -- Golf, fishing, tours, recreation and live entertainment. Sounds like a vacation. It is ... sorta.
Anyone who has ever thought retirement is boring has not experienced the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C. And, anyone who claims music is boring has not experienced The United States Army Field Band in action.
Put them both together, and the experience is similar to the genius and magic of blending peanut butter and chocolate.
Such was the experience as 'Time Out,' a small ensemble from the Field Band, performed for a group of veterans at the Armed Forces Retirement Home's theater, June 8.
But, the magic almost never happened, as there were a couple of obstacles to overcome.
Obstacle #1: Seven Soldiers, one idea, zero ingredients
The masterminds behind the group tell the story of a septet born from struggle.
"Our commander, Col. Thomas H. Palmatier, encourages Field Band musicians to collaborate in smaller groups and reach out to people within communities who may not be able to attend some of our other, larger venues," said Staff Sgt. Phil Kiamie.
Master Sgt. Tom Enokian added, "People throughout the Concert Band began splintering off to form smaller groups, groups which tended to be based on similar instruments, groups such as the Brass Quintet and the Pentagon Winds."
Enokian and Kiamie, both of whom are percussionists with the Concert Band, looked to one another. "We were pretty much the residual, the leftovers. In fact, we contemplated using that [The Leftovers] as our ensemble's name," joked Enokian.
"But, we had better ideas, bigger ideas," he said with a smile. Enokian and Kiamie had to think outside the box, as inventors often do.
They enlisted the help of some fellow Soldier-musicians who were heavy hitters within the Field Band-three arrangers, one audio engineer and a trumpeter from the Jazz Ambassadors, each of whom hold several talents.
Sgt. 1st Class John Lamirande explained the reason behind the many abilities of this group's musicians. "Each of us plays an instrument. We have all been in the band program for years. But, throughout our career progression, we have also developed other skills associated with music and musicianship," Lamirande said.
Lamirande, an audio engineer for the Field Band, plays the guitar and provides vocals for Time Out.
Sgt. 1st Class Paul Armstrong, who, on a typical duty day, can be found rehearsing and performing with the Jazz Ambassadors, loves the idea of playing with a small, versatile ensemble.
Armstrong believes, "Performing for those who have difficulty traveling to the Field Band's scheduled venues is a great way to let them know they are not forgotten. If they can't make it to the music, we can, through the development of small ensembles like 'Time Out,' bring the music to them!"
Obstacle #2: Location, location, location
Nestled in a not-so-obvious area in D.C., the Armed Forces Retirement Home is somewhat remote, a spot that remains hidden unless you are specifically looking for it.
"I knew retirement homes aimed solely at providing services for veterans existed. I had seen them and heard of them throughout my travels across the Nation performing with the Concert Band. I did a bit of research, found the retirement home in D.C., obtained the contact information and made the connection with the recreation coordinator there," stated Enokian.
The connection went far beyond a phone call.
Master Sgt. Vince Norman, Field Band arranger and multi-instrument artist (he plays the keyboard, saxophone and clarinet for the group), recognized the connection, "We are Soldiers representing Soldiers performing for Soldiers. I am proud to be in the position I am in ... to be able to do something for those who have done so much for us as a Nation."
Time Out has only been a cohesive group for a few months now. They rehearse about once a week and Enokian admits that the ensemble is still learning what works for the crowds they entertain.
As the group performed for the veterans of the Armed Forces Retirement Home, no song went unrecognized, no song unappreciated. With a program that included the themes from Snoopy and the Pink Panther, Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville" and "The Hokey Pokey," which had people literally out of their seats moving and grooving along, Time Out definitely hit the right notes.
In particular, the crowd thoroughly enjoyed the "Nursery Rhyme Suite" -an adaptation of popular nursery rhymes arranged by the group's very own trombone player, Staff Sgt. Adrian Hernandez. The mix of rhymes, ranging from "Itsy Bitsy Spider" to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" included a version of "London Bridge" that had a salsa vibe.
The rhymes themselves are timeless as this musical version of them proved to be.
"Being able to tell stories through song can be somewhat of a challenge, but it was seamless and very entertaining," remarked Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Kippola, Army Field Band bandmaster.
Kippola, on hand throughout the performance, wanted to see how the program translated to the audience.
"The audience really got into the tale of 'The Three Little Pigs' where the group told the traditional story, but they did so in song. They also used embellishments when weaving the tale, both narrative and musical. It was phenomenal and quite innovative," he observed.
"In fact," Kippola joked, "though Master Sergeant Jay Norris is usually arranging tunes for the Field Band, I thought his interpretation of the big, bad wolf was spot on!"
Norris, who plays the tuba, interjected, "I consistently blow 2 out of 3 houses down."
Nicole Chappell, recreation coordinator for the retirement home, agreed with the group's extraordinary ability to entertain. "The residents really enjoyed the show. I could see them tapping their feet and singing along. This was great!" she exclaimed.
The atmosphere could best be described using one simple word ... fun.
Hernandez readily admits that one of the draws to performing with 'Time Out' is the fact that the group is very entertaining, to audiences as well as to the musicians.
Samantha Enokian, daughter of Master Sgt. Enokian's, took a day out of her summer vacation to accompany her father to watch 'Time Out' perform for the veterans. Knowing all to well the history behind the making of this ensemble and how they came to be, she chuckled, "If these are the leftovers, I want seconds."
About Time Out:
Master Sgt. Thomas Enokian-Drum Set
Master Sgt. Vince Norman-Saxophone, Clarinet and Keyboard
Master Sgt. Jay Norris-Tuba
Sgt. 1st Class John Lamirande-Guitar and Vocals
Sgt. 1st Class Paul Armstrong-Trumpet
Staff Sgt. Phil Kiamie-Vibraphone, Xylophone
Staff Sgt. Adrian Hernandez-Trombone
To learn more about The United States Army Field Band, visit our website at www.armyfieldband.com.