FORT BENNING, Ga. -- The MCoE Ceremonial Band was named the 2011 Music Performance Team of the Year Feb. 22. It's the first band to hold this honor since the Armywide band contest kicked off last year.
The award was based on receiving the highest number of votes within the Ceremonial Performance Category. The contest was open to all 100 Army bands, and more than 1,200 votes from former and current Army musicians figured into the final tally. The MCoE Band submitted a compilation video of its Ceremonial Band performing at several graduations.
"I'm very proud of the Soldiers in the band," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jeremiah Keillor, bandmaster. "I think winning this is going to drive our guys to do more. We have a lot of ideas ... to expand our show. Over the next six months, you're going to see some positive changes."
Change has been a major theme within the band and part of the reason it won the award. Each leader, going back to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Fred Catchings, added "flavor" to the graduation show, Keillor said.
"Leaders before us got it to where we are today," he said. "We are more than stewards because we have to continue to improve."
Some of these new "tweaks" include moving the band closer to the audience -- they're right only a few feet from the front row -- and rolling out some new tunes.
All in all, the changes have happened in "stages," said Sgt. 1st Class Darryl Washington, a saxophonist who's been with the band since 2002, minus a yearlong tour in South Korea.
The first touch of choreography came with Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Brazier, who commanded the band from November 2009 through September.
It started with musicians swinging themselves and their instruments in time with the music, Washington said. Then the kick line was added, and lastly, the cymbal player started to become more interactive with the audience.
"That's a big change," he said of the choreography additions. "I think this is a lot more fun. The band loves it. The crowd loves it. Once you have the rhythm, the music goes with the movements."
The band's newest moves include side-to-side steps to the beat of the music.
So far the audience's response has been enthusiastic, Washington said.
"You see them bobbing their heads, tapping their feet. Sometimes they stand up and clap with us," he said. "It's what you live for as a performer."
The graduation show is an important part of the band's mission, Keillor said, because for many visiting Families, it's their first real introduction to the Army.
"It's amazing to be a part of," he said. "We do this show almost 100 times a year. Every time we do it … it's the one and only time most people in the audience are going to see it. It's definitely worth our best effort.
"Every time, they go out and play it like it's the first time. You can really hear the crowd responding. They're clapping for us -- but they're clapping for those Soldiers. We've done our job. We've made them proud to be there. It's some of the most rewarding music I've done in my time in the Army. We can help create a day that they won't soon forget."
Keillor said the show, with its choreography and high-tempo songs, is different from anything else he's done with other bands.
"The first time the band starts choreography you can almost feel it in the crowd. It draws people in. There are a lot more smiles. It's a big event … not just playing music but putting on a show."
Sgt. 1st Class Jennifer Staggs, a flutist, vocalist and piccolo player who has been with the band since November 2010, said she was "thrilled" to hear the band received the award.
"It deserves to be recognized," she said. "These Soldiers work hard each and every day to produce an outstanding, musical and inspiring show, whether it be on the field for a graduation or an indoor full band concert."
Staggs has also enjoyed adding movement to the music.
"I am a ham so I love any and all choreography," she said. "I am always in the kick line, grinning from ear to ear."
The next opportunity to see the Ceremonial Band perform will be at the 9 a.m. graduation Friday at the National Infantry Museum and again that night at the Black and Gold football game.
The shows will vary slightly, Keillor said.