Celebration and Ceremony: The Music of the Armed Services

October 21, 2007 at 3:49 pm (Music)

aaron-copland-legacy.jpg Lately we have had some splendid listening in our house, courtesy of the fine musical ensembles belonging to our armed forces. We’ve especially enjoyed the “Legacy” series, each disc of which highlights the musical contribution of a particular arranger, composer or instrumentalist. boulanger.jpg One disc pays tribute to the legendary teacher Nadia Boulanger, whose students were among the twentieth century’s most notable composers, among whom were Aaron Copland, David Diamond, Roy Harris, and Virgil Thomson [pictured in that order, below; Aaron Copland is with the young Leonard Bernstein].

bernsteincopland_1_e.jpg david-diamond.jpg roy-harris.jpg thomson-v.jpg

The discs in the Legacy series come with copious and detailed notes, which provide historical context and explain the importance and influence of the musician they honor. They reflect scholarship of the highest order. Photographs of great interest are also included.

These fine service musicians play all kids of music, from rock through country to easy listening and classical. The recordings they make are, as a rule, not available for purchase. (I did discover this exception on the Marine Band site.) They are, however, generously donated to institutions like the Howard County Library. The stated purpose of the recordings is to contribute to “troop morale and retention,” but they are obviously also a labor of love on the part of the men and women who participate in their production.

In addition to Nadia Boulanger, the Legacy series features music by such artists as Sammy Nestico, San Kenton, Aaron Copland, Randall Thompson, Benny Carter, and Robert Russell Bennett [pictured below, in that order]. At our library, at least, the best way to locate these discs is to search by the name of the particular service band, orchestra, or chorus featured on the recording. To search specifically for the Legacy series, enter “U.S. Army Field Band” in the author field. (Click on the link provided in the previous sentence for more information on the Legacy series.)

sammy_nestico.jpg stan-kenton-3.jpg aaron-copland-conducting-2.jpg thompsonweb5.jpg benny_carter.jpg robert_russell_bennett.jpg

A wealth of material is available on the websites of these bands. Musical selections can be downloaded, and in some cases, the full text and pictures from the booklets that accompany the discs are available in PDF format. (Select the “Education” option on the navigation bar to access to this material.) Here are the links to the websites of the various bands:

jazz-ambassadors.jpg The Jazz Ambassadors, one of the ensembles of the U.S. Army Field Band

The United States Army Field Band

commodoresportrait.jpg The Commodores, one of the ensembles of the U.S. Navy Band

The United States Navy Band

airmenofnote.jpg The Airmen of Note, one of the ensembles of the U.S. Air Force Band

The United States Air Force Band

marine-band.jpg “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band

The United States Marine Band

charles-ives-us-marine-band.jpg We’d like to recommend this download in particular, from the U.S. Marine Band site: their arrangement of the “Alcotts” movement from the Piano Sonata No.2 by Charles Ives. It’s a real sonic wonder!

Also, the Navy Band released a disc in 1997 entitled Ports of Call. ports-of-call.jpgThe final track on the disc is the last movement of The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. Get hold of it if you can!

pines.jpg If you can’t, then listen to the recording made by the Chicago Symphony, Fritz Reiner conducting. Or better yet, go to a live performance of this heaven-storming, orchestra-testing tour de force of a tone poem! (Okay, I know what you’re thinking: She’s telling us, with her usual penchant for understatement, that she rather likes The Pines of Rome…)

We who live in the Washington area are privileged to be able to attend a good number of live performances by these fine ensembles. Still, for me, the most memorable such concert took place some thirty years ago when I was teaching English and French in a small high school in southwestern Wisconsin. One of the service bands – I don’t recall which one it was – came to the school to perform big band and rock selections. There we were, crammed into the tiny gymnasium that also did duty as an auditorium, listening to some world class music-making. I distinctly remember, as we were returning to our respective classrooms, one boy – I think his name was Mike – commented that “They played that Van Halen better than Van Halen!” If you look at the performance schedules of these bands (also available on their websites), you’ll see that no town is too tiny or out of the way but that a service band will go there to play and give it their all, as though they were performing for the President!

1 Comment

  1. Stars and Stripes Forever! The United States Army Field Band « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] 20, 2008 at 8:28 pm (Music, Performing arts) Last night we attended a performance by the U.S. Army Field Band. The Field Band has four separate components; on this occasion, it was the turn of the concert band […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: