By Heather Santos (The United States Army Field Band)August 25, 2009
FORT MEADE, Md. - Despite a sizeable downpour, hundreds of concertgoers packed the Fort Meade Pavilion Aug. 22 to catch The United States Army Field Band in action.
As the finale performance of Fort Meade's Summer Concert Series, the Field Band put on a spectacular, and memorable, performance. Each year, this particular event draws a large crowd primarily due to the inclusion of the popular "1812 Overture," a tune best known for its deafening cannon fire and corresponding chimes.
As is tradition, Soldier Musicians from the Field Band's Concert Band and Soldiers' Chorus were joined on stage by Field Band family members and alumni. Approximately 30 family members and former Field Band musicians, many of whom traveled great lengths, joined in a weekend of memories, merriment and music.
Prior to the Aug. 22 capstone event, the Field Band hosted music rehearsals and an outdoor picnic. Sharing in the music and the festivities was a great way to kick off the weekend, a great way to reconnect.
"The annual organization day/alumni picnic is a chance for the 'four pillars' of the Army Field Band family to come together and have some fun. Those pillars are the current members of the Band-the Soldiers who represent over one million Soldiers serving around the world; the dedicated civilians who provide such great support; the family members who keep the home fires burning while their Soldiers are on the road about one-third of their careers; and the former members of The Army Field Band who built our unit's legacy of excellence and dedication," said Col. Thomas H. Palmatier, the Field Band's commander and conductor.
The synergy experienced at the rehearsals and gathering carried over into the performance.
With the wave of a baton, the music began.
First to take the podium was Col. Jack Grogan, who wielded his baton decisively, as if he had never left the Field Band.
Grogan, commander and conductor from 1991-1999, gave a brief history of the unit during the band's Aug. 21 rehearsal and how it evolved into what it is today.
"If you want to know why this band is as good as it is, there it is right there!" Grogan exclaimed as he turned and pointed to the Field Band leadership, both past and present, seated behind him in the rehearsal hall that afternoon.
One such leader in attendance was Capt. Sharon Toulouse. Toulouse, one of only two female commissioned officers in the entire Army band field, currently serves as the Field Band's administrative officer.
As she took the stage, the audience applauded. And, with incredible rhythmic movements, she led the Soldier Musicians of the Concert Band through "Halls of Honor." Though Toulouse has only been with the Field band for a few months now, her skill in conducting is evident.
"She communicates her musical intentions very well with the baton, which is the mark of an excellent conductor. You could tell that the band respected her musicianship by their immediate response to her every conducting gesture," said Chief Warrant Officer Gordon Kippola, director of the Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors.
Kippola, too, was tapped to conduct a song for the alumni concert. The song, "The Cool School," was arranged by Sgt. Maj. Loran McClung, a saxophonist with the Concert Band. McClung, alongside trumpeter Staff Sgt. Phillip Johnson, stood in front of the band as they passionately played the lead roles in the tune.
McClung's performance on this night was particularly special, for it signified his final performance as an active member of the Concert Band. On this night, Palmatier took a brief moment to appoint McClung to his new position, that of the Field Band's Command Sgt. Maj., the organization's top noncommissioned officer.
The crowd roared as McClung's mother, Teresa, and his niece, Tess, affixed his new rank, rank bearing a star in a wreath.
Palmatier then stepped onto the podium solemnly. He took a deep breath before he began his brief explanation, the special meaning behind the performance of the next song-Edward Elgar's "Nimrod."
Under the direction of Col. Hal Gibson, the senior retired Field Band officer, the Concert Band would play this tune in honor of former commander, Col. Finley R. Hamilton.
Palmatier was visibly emotional as he told the story of Elgar, who wrote "Nimrod" in honor of his dearest friend.
"What an incredible gift it is to have had a friend like that. All of us here at the Field Band had such a friend in Col. Hamilton, and we will forever hold him dear in our hearts."
Palmatier quietly left the stage as Gibson made his way to the podium.
Gibson conducted the number with a serene fluidity, using sweeping arm movements that evoked emotions from the musicians as they played-emotions that could be felt until the piece very slowly faded to silence.
The special piece, the special moment was very touching.
There were other Field Band Soldier Musicians that conducted pieces throughout the concert, including Sgt. Maj. Joel Dulyea, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Soldiers' Chorus.
Dulyea, who will retire in the fall of next year, was overwhelmed by the experience, due, in part, to his wife, Meri Jo, and daughter, Jill Vickerman, joining him on the stage as part of the chorus on this night.
As he directed the song "America: My Country 'Tis of Thee," he found it difficult to fight back the tears.
"As I looked into the sea of faces that I had worked with over the years, into the eyes of my wife, my daughter, I kept thinking of all the good things about my job, about my life. Being able to conduct my fellow choral members, my friends, my family during this concert was definitely a bittersweet moment," Dulyea said.
For the signature piece, the "1812 Overture," the deluge of rain forced the cancellation of The Old Guard's salute battery. Though the thunderous blasts would not be heard from live cannon fire, the Field Band came prepared.
Armed with a laptop and an index finger, Toulouse had the honor of disseminating the recorded blasts that sharply punctuated the number.
As the concert came to a close with "The Stars and Stripes Forever," the entire Field Band-the instrumentalists, the vocalists, the alumni and the officers-gathered on stage for one final salute to the audience. The song was capped off by one final note of simulated cannon fire.
The crowd, on their feet saluting the Field Band with a standing ovation, responded using their own source of replicated explosions-resounding cheers and energetic clapping.