FORT SILL, Okla. (19 July 2012) -- Summer is the season for command changes and other ceremonies; for those who look closely enough they may suspect some personnel changes in the 77th U.S. Army Band.
Actually, musical contributions for ceremonies and special events from July 7-20 came from the 380th Army Band from Richmond, Va. The Army appointed the Reserve band to come to Fort Sill providing the host active-duty band some down time for administrative purposes and vacations.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Kathy Landas, 380th band commander, leads the 34 bandsmen who made the trek west to Oklahoma for their two-week annual training. She said the band arrived with a mission to "slide in, make a smooth transition from active to Reserve, and for most people when they hear our band, to think it's the 77th Army Band playing."
Landas came to Fort Sill with some impressive credentials. She is the second highest ranking warrant officer in the Reserve bands. She also was the first woman to graduate from the Military School of Music, a course the Army requires warrant officers to complete to become band commanders.
Although the Army appointed the band to come here, Landas said the close-knit community bandsmen serve in contributed to her interest in coming here. She mentioned meeting Chief Warrant Officer 2 Michael Franz, 77th band commander, and several of the band's noncommissioned officers at band leader conferences. Those meetings helped smooth the transition between the two bands.
"Chief Franz is my favorite active-duty warrant officer. He has a great band and great NCOs," she said. "The communication leading up to our arrival has been absolutely wonderful and the reception fantastic."
During their time here the band performed as a ceremonial band. It also tailored the large band down to smaller ensembles playing as a brass quintet, a Dixieland jazz band and a rock band.
Several aspects of family life defined Landas's perception of serving in her Reserve band.
"The Army Reserve is like another spouse in that you never spend enough time with it," she said. "These two weeks are really fun for us, in part because we don't just rehearse and play together, but also spend time together off duty working out, golfing or going swimming."
Playing trumpet for the band since 2004, Sgt. 1st Class Simon Garza agreed with Landas on the family nature of the band. He added the two weeks offer the best time for the band to hone its skills and put everything together.
"I believe if this band was to get activated on a full-time basis, we would sound really good," he said.
In a band that plays or practices together sparingly, that quality sound comes as much from their primary jobs. Garza does a lot of free lance work and teaches aspiring musicians in his own trumpet studio from which two former students are now band mates in the 380th. Garza also plays with Virginia Wind Symphony; which will perform at the 2012 Midwest Clinic in December in Chicago. The clinic draws musicians from across the United States and around the world. He's also a member of Symphonicity, the symphony orchestra of Virginia Beach.
Unlike Garza who has 34 years service time between active duty and Reserve bands, 1st Sgt Bernadine Spencer's resume lists only the 380th for her entire 34-year Army career, a distinction unusual even in Guard or Reserve bands.
Spencer's Army career happened through what she called a fluke. She said her first teaching job began in 1976 in Richmond. At the time she couldn't find a music group to join outside of work. A colleague suggested the Army band to which Spencer's reaction revealed her lack of familiarity with the Army.
"I replied, 'They pay you to play music?'" said the clarinet playing Spencer, with a free and easy laugh of someone who has enjoyed her careers both in the military and civilian life.
Throughout her time with the 380th, Spencer has witnessed and assisted in the professional growth and development of the band. She said the band is coming into a great season with many talented and driven musicians.
"All musicians have a passion for their music and craft striving to be the best they can at it," she said. "Music evokes emotion and you can feel that when you're playing."
She said the bandsmen have experienced some wonderful moments that sustained them through some of the challenges of their development. Drawing from her 20-year career as a band director, Spencer appreciates the professionalism of the band members she plays with and how their expertise allows them to become an extension of their instruments.
"When this band plays an arrangement, it takes something that's just ink on a page and brings it to life, in a sense painting a picture," she said. "When it's done right, people can visualize that portrait through sound."
Wearing the Army uniform offers another perspective that further enhances the high standards they aim for.
"When people see us perform, they see the Army, not a National Guard, Reserve or active-duty band, and musical integrity is No. 1," said Spencer. "Whatever we perform we do it like it's the last time we're going to play that piece of music and give it 100 percent even if it's a same selection that's been done thousands of times.
"Each performance, each audience is different. One can't get relaxed," she said.