Stars and Stripes Forever! The United States Army Field Band

January 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 to strut their stuff. And did they ever!

us-army-field-band-concert-cover-playlist.jpg Imaginative and varied programming was one of the chief pleasures of this concert. First, we all stood and joined the players and their conductor Lieutenant Colonel Beth T.M. Steele in singing the National Anthem. This is not a moment to be lightly glossed over; I surprised myself by tearing up. Lieut. Colonel Steele then welcomed us warmly and introduced the evening’s guest conductor, Dr. Mallory Thompson of Northwestern University.

us-army-field-band-concert-beth-steele.jpg           mallory_thompson.jpg [Lieutenant Colonel Beth T.M. Steele, left, and Dr. Mallory Thompson]

The concert got under way with two short pieces by Aaron Copland: An Outdoor Overture and Variations on a Shaker Melody. Of course, it’s hard to go wrong with Copland; even harder to go wrong with that strangely irresistible little Shaker tune. I first heard it on Judy Collins’ Whales & Nightingales . It was the penultimate selection on the album and was followed by a memorable performance of Amazing Grace, in which Judy began by singing a capella and was then joined by a choir. For decades, those two pieces have been inseparable in my musical memory: both immensely moving, in entirely different ways.

The third selection was the Concertino, op.107 by Cecile Chaminade, a piece for flute and orchestra. We were informed that our soloist, Marissa Plank, a junior at Charlottesville High School in Virginia, was the winner of a Young Artist Competition recently held in the mid-Atlantic region. us-army-field-band-concert-marissa-plank.jpg Then on to the stage strides an absolute vision of blonde loveliness in a knockout red dress. “Wow!” I exclaimed involuntarily. “You mean she can play an instrument too?” Can she ever! The Concertino is a showpiece for the flute and a real challenge as well, studded with swooping melodic lines, trills, and numerous other embellishments. It was a delight, and Marissa Plank breezed through as though it were a walk in the park. A bravura performance!

The second half of the program consisted of Bach’s famous Toccata and fugue in D minor, transcribed for wind band by Donald Husberger, and the Symphony in B-flat by Paul Hindemith. If Chaminade’s Concertino was a showcase for the solo flute, the Bach was a showcase for the entire ensemble. The rich sonorities achieved by these wonderful musicians were thrilling! At the conclusion of this splendid performance, Dr. Thompson spoke to us briefly.

“Did you hear the organ?” she asked. “There was no organ! That’s what truly great intonation can achieve.”

My only objection to the Toccata and Fugue is that it ended too soon. I wanted them to play it again!

Instead, they proceeded with the Hindemith Symphony, with which I was unfamiliar. This work offered some great solo opportunities for these outstanding musicians, and I appreciated it from that standpoint. But I didn’t love the piece itself. Part of the problem, at least for me, was that came right after the Bach. Call me old-fashioned: the Bach gave me goosebumps; the Hindemith didn’t. (I very much like another piece by this composer, Metamorphosis on Themes of Carl Maria von Weber. I probably need to listen to the Symphony in B-flat again.; my husband assures me that it is considered a classic work for wind bands.)

The band played “Start and Stripes Forever” as an encore. In the course of this performance, the audience was treated to a really special variation: four band members and Marissa Plank stepped out front and center to play the famous piccolo part in this beloved march tune. Five piccolos for Sousa’s famous March!

Like October’s powerhouse performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah, this concert was presented at the Rouse Theater, which is about fifteen minutes from our house. This is a small auditorium with marvelous acoustics, a great venue for this kind of music-making.

You can find out more about the U.S. Army Field Band at their site; you can also be apprised of their performance schedule by placing yourself on their e-mail list.



  1. mrschili said,

    We saw them when they came to our “neighborhood” this past summer. It was a wonderful show, and was inspirational to our two young, aspiring musician daughters.

  2. A great weekend for (live - and free!) music « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] the pleasure  of attending a concert presented by the U.S. Army Concert Band.  (Here’s a post on the performance we saw last year.) This fine organization has initiated a program in which guest conductors are invited to lead the […]

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