By Tim Hipps, U.S. Army Installation Management CommandNovember 25, 2011
WASHINGTON -- Staff Sgt. Christina Wensel went toe-to-toe with Kansas violinist David Ragsdale during an improvised solo portion of "Dust in the Wind" at Army Entertainment presents the "Carry On" Concert with Kansas, featuring the U.S. Army Orchestra on Veterans Day at DAR Constitution Hall.
"We didn't actually get to rehearse it until the sound check right before the show, so I was just totally -- words can't really describe how exciting it was to play up there with them," said Wensel, 32, a violinist for Pershing's Own. "That was the highlight of a lifetime to get to share the stage with legends."
That made her performance even more dazzling to the veterans, Soldiers, Families and friends who attended the free concert, courtesy of Army Entertainment, Kansas and the U.S. Army Orchestra.
"They were just the nicest to work with and so encouraging," Wensel said. "I've never done anything like that before, so I was really freaked out about getting up there and trading solos. That part was just improvised -- it was made up on the spot."
And Wensel nailed it by echoing Ragsdale note for note, eliciting a roar from the crowd in the house built by Daughters of the American Revolution.
"I think there's only one way you can feel when people start screaming like that from the audience," she said. "It was pretty great to get that kind of feedback."
Growing up, Wensel did not expect the violin to carry her onto a "Carry On" stage, much less front and center with the likes of Kansas.
"The violin is sort of an instrument that gets you picked on in school when you're carrying your violin case to and from," Wensel said. "I never expected to get that feeling of like being a rock star, when you're on stage and have people standing up and screaming.
"I wish I had gotten to see that band when I was about 16. I would have definitely thought the violin was a lot cooler."
Kansas is one of the few bands that could offer such a scenario.
"Letting somebody step in like that is really awesome," Wensel said. "I just want to thank them for their generosity supporting the vets and the troops. What they did, I think, is really, really great.
"It really makes all of us feel special that they would perform with us, but offering to reach the whole Washington region -- and I know there were people from quite far away -- I think that's fantastic."
Finding her place in the Army Orchestra was a three-year process for Wensel, who holds a masters degree from Juilliard Conservatory in New York City.
"I never thought I would ever join the Army," she said. "Honestly, completely, no, there was no possibility I would ever, ever join the Army -- but that's how far I've come. What we do in Washington is a really cool opportunity to reach people that do a lot of hard jobs and people that make a lot of hard decisions for the country."
It was Kansas' idea to perform for the troops. Drummer Phil Erhart contacted concert promoter Glenn Smith early in the year and said "it's going to be 11-11-11, and it's Veterans Day -- we've got to do something."
Smith contacted Army Entertainment's Scott Radosevich, who booked the U.S. Army Orchestra to back Kansas. Then they convinced Sting to reschedule and play Constitution Hall one night early to secure the venue for Veterans Day. And the ITT/ITR offices came aboard to distribute tickets around the Military District of Washington.
"It was a joint effort between community recreation, marketing, Dan Yount from ticketing services, and public affairs," Radosevich said. "We all came together. Of course, we got our command's approval to even make offers and execute the contract. After that, getting the hall and all the rest fell into place because everybody was excited about the project."
Members of Kansas said they were just as excited about playing with a military orchestra.
"This is a great, great group of musicians," said lead guitarist Billy Greer, who celebrated his 23rd wedding anniversary playing with the U.S. Army Orchestra. "What better place for a military orchestra than at Constitution Hall in our nation's capital on Veterans Day on 11-11-11? There's something special about that."
Ragsdale seconded that sentiment.
"I first heard about it from Phil," he said. "Phil is a colonel's son, and I'm a bit of a patriot myself. I got choked up when he told me. Washington, D.C., Constitution Hall, Veterans Day, military orchestra -- I was overcome.
"They are a phenomenal group. … And we would like to say to all the troops: 'For all you do, this tune is for you.'"
Kansas opened with "The Star-Spangled Banner," played classics "Point of No Return," "Dust in the Wind" and "Miracle out of Nowhere," before closing the 90-minute show with "Carry on my Wayward Son."
The Soldiers drew inspiration from the classic rockers.
"To see how those guys perform those songs, just with a real love for what they are doing, and with just an authentic sense of fun and performing, it was really inspiring," Wensel said. "You could tell that it was coming from the right place."