Son Tropical heats up concert series

By Lisa R. Rhodes
Fort Meade Soundoff

News story photo
Photo credit: Jonathan E. Agee
Vocalists Master Sgt. Marva Lewis and retired Sgt. 1st Class Eugene Cedars dance to the rhythms of Latin music performed by Son Tropical on June 20 at Constitution Park. The concert, which featured Afro-Cuban and Latin music, kicked off the U.S. Army Field Band’s annual Summer Concert Series that runs weekly through Aug. 24.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- When Kim Sierra heard the beat of Latin music from outside the window of her home in Heritage Park, she wondered what the commotion was all about.

“We heard the music and decided we should go out,” said Sierra, wife of Sgt. Juan Sierra of the 741st Military Intelligence Brigade.

The Sierras and their friend Heather Latham followed the music to Constitution Park to hear Son Tropical, an 11-piece ensemble of the U.S. Army Field Band’s Jazz Ambassadors.

The ensemble, which plays a wide repertoire of Afro-Cuban and Latin music, performed June 20 for the first time as part of the Field Band’s annual Summer Concert Series at Fort Meade.

“The brass section was hot and the percussion section did well,” said Latham, a cellist.

The weekly series, which runs through Aug. 24, was slated to begin June 6 but was rained out twice.

The Field Band is sponsoring an extended concert series at Fort Meade this year due to the sequester, which curtailed the organization’s traditional summer touring schedule throughout the country.

The Field Band is under a 100-mile travel restriction, so concerts are being held closer to home.

More than 200 people turned out for the Son Tropical performance.

Col. Timothy Holtan, commander and conductor of the Field Band, said he is confident the audience for the concert series will build throughout the summer.

“We’re thankful we got off to a good start,” he said.

The 90-minute concert featured music primarily from Cuba.

Sgt. 1st Class Todd Harrison, the noncommissioned officer-in-charge of the band who plays the timbales, explained after the concert that salsa is a slang term for Afro-Cuban music and a style of dancing.

“Bamboleo,” a salsa originally sung by Celia Cruz, was a highlight of the evening. Master Sgt. Marva Lewis, the Jazz Ambassador’s lead vocalist, sang in Spanish. Staff Sgt. Jonathan Epley performed an electric guitar solo.

“Juana Pena,” a salsa originally performed by Hector Lavoe, was another favorite. Vocalist Eugene Cedars, pianist Master Sgt. Timothy Young, congas player Staff Sgt. Albert Sanchez and Harrison gave a foot-stomping performance.

The program ended with “Mi Gente,” a salsa originally sung by Lavoe.

Before the concert ended, Holtan asked the audience to applaud former Sgt. Bernard Vanberger, a Field Band alumnus who was a vocalist with what was then the Concert Band from 1956 to 1959.

At the concert’s start, Holtan and the musicians encouraged the audience to dance.

“If you are failed to be moved by this music, check your pulse,” Holtan said.

But the adults were content to tap their feet and clap their hands. Several children played on the grass.

“It was wonderful,” said Connie Bristol, a resident of Columbia. “I’m Hispanic and I grew up listening to Latin music. I really enjoyed the music.”

Sgt. Juan Sierra agreed. “I’m from Puerto Rico and I think they did a great job,” he said.

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