Island military musicians ‘band’ together for Military Appreciation Month

(Via Ho’okele News)

In celebration of Military Appreciation Month and Armed Forces Day, military bands from the four main branches stationed in Hawaii, as well as the Army National Guard, merged into a musical group of more than 60 service members, providing an evening of free entertainment to the public. The 29th annual joint-military service band appreciation concert was held May 17 at Hawaii Theatre in Honolulu.

Hosted by the Hawaii Theatre Center and the Honolulu Navy League, the concert included performances by the 25th Infantry Division Band, 111th Army Band, U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Band and the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band.

“These men and women (literally put their lives) on the line for us,” said Burton White, the artistic director and general manager of Hawaii Theatre. “(Because) we have a month and a day that’s dedicated to (military appreciation), we should pool our resources together and sponsor an event that highlights the month and reminds everybody at least once a year that the freedoms that we enjoy (come) at a great cost.”

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael J. Smith, the band officer and officer in charge of the MarForPac Band, said that while the Hale Koa Hotel (where the concert was hosted for a few years) may be good for summer concerts, the Hawaii Theatre provides good acoustics and a backstage musicians can use to easily transition from piece to piece. Smith, of Terre Haute, Ind., said the venue also has multimedia equipment to add to the presentation. For example, the concert included slideshows of historical artwork to compliment a Civil War piece.

Local ukulele artists, Jodie and Kody Kiyokawa, took the stage first, providing pre-concert entertainment. Then Air Force Capt. Haley Armstrong, the commander of the USAF Band of the Pacific, kicked off the event conducting “Masque” by Kenneth Hesketh. Armstrong said she particularly enjoyed the moment when she began the piece.

“(One of) my favorite moment(s) of the evening was when the curtain came up and I turned around to conduct and saw all of our joint service dress uniforms on stage,” Armstrong said. “It (was) impactful to know that what we did this week from a joint-service perspective is so reminiscent of how we are fighting in the deployed environment. It gave me chills.”

Each year, one military branch serves as the lead band for the concert. This year, the Air Force took charge of the program. The branches managed to fit in three rehearsals before the concert.

“It works because all of the services employ amazingly talented musicians who are dedicated professionals,” Armstrong said. “Chief Master Sgt. Laura Noel and I have been working (out) the details all year.”

The concert featured pieces from various eras, from “In the Mood” by Wiggy Manone, Andy Razaf and Joe Garland, to “None So Beautiful as the Brave” by Gino Vannelli. The bands paid tribute to the 150th anniversary of Arlington Cemetery, which was established in May of 1864 in Virginia, by performing “American Civil War Fantasy” by Jerry Bilik. Part of the concert also included a short video made in Afghanistan, giving the audience a brief taste of a military musician’s experience on deployment.

“(Bringing the services together for a concert is) a great way to show a small island community like Oahu how many services are represented on their island,” Armstrong said. “The community can’t (access) our bases, so this is a chance to really demonstrate our presence and thank them for their support. (Joint-service concerts are) good for our military musicians because it gives us a chance to work and train together and learn from each other. Each service is very different in its mission and goals but music is universal. It is great we can use music to get together and share what our service is working on and what makes us unique,” Armstrong explained.

The concert also featured active-duty vocalists, Senior Airman Devin Rivas Martin, Air Force Staff Sgt. Courtney Clifford, Air Force Master

Sgt. Lara Murdzia and Musician 3rd Class Steven Lamonica. The four sang various songs, including modern ones like “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.

“(Active-duty musicians) have to do the same training during the year as well as being professional musicians and it’s terrific,” said retired Lt. Gen. Hank Stackpole, who attended the concert. “We hear sometimes from Congress why (does the military) need musicians? That’s our spirit, our song. It brings us together and it’s all for America. It’s just tremendous.”

Stackpole added that active-duty musicians honor fallen service members.

“We wouldn’t have memorials, and we wouldn’t have veterans if we didn’t have musicians,” he said.

During the second half of the concert, Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps musicians gathered at the front of the stage to sing each branch’s official song. Audience members who served or are currently serving stood when their branch’s song was played.

“(Another of my) favorite moment(s) is when I saw all of the service members and veterans standing for their service song toward the end of the show,” Armstrong said. “It is one of the best parts of my job to recognize the service of others and I was immensely proud.”

Armstrong also asked the military family members to stand and be recognized, dedicating “Hero for Today,” performed by Lamonica, for them.

“We know that it isn’t easy when (service members are) gone for months (or) years at a time,” Armstrong said. “(Family members are) taking care of everything behind the scenes and so we appreciate everything that our family, our friends and our community do for us.”

As the last song finished, the crowd gave a standing ovation, shouting Hana Hou to the stage, hoping for an encore. Armstrong smiled and agreed to play one more, “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

“The interaction and the integration of these four branches all working together toward a common goal is obviously something that the military reinforces and makes the message really (artistic),” White said.

White said the theatre center plans to host the concert again next year, and the public is invited to attend.

“Whether it’s free or it costs $20, people want a break from the stresses of the day,” Smith said. “They’re making time in their evening to spend it with us. We owe it to them to give them the break that they came for and to re-instill the trust in the military that we’re good stewards of what they’re paying us to do.”

U.S. Navy photos by MC3 Johans Chavarro, Kristen Wong

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