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U.S. Army Field Band and Chorus receives standing ovation
By WENDY STIVER
Photo credit: BILL CROWELL/THE EXPRESS
Staff Sgt. Lauren Veronie plays the euphonium.
More than 600 people filled almost every seat in the Central Mountain Middle School auditorium Thursday night to hear the U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers Chorus, many in expectation of two hours of military music.
Although the program began and ended with John Philip Sousa, composer of the national march, "The Stars and Stripes Forever," there were many surprises in between.
The audience laughed, clapped to the music, and gave the band three standing ovations.
"The musical ambassadors of the Army" filled the stage and extra risers with talented band members and vocalists, delighting everyone with a strong repertoire and a rising wave of music that crested with two encores.
Eight lucky singers from the 160-member CMMS Chorus, directed by Michael Connor, joined the band's chorus in an Army selection, and 11 instrumentalists from the high school band, directed by Dave Sorgen, took seats on stage to play with the band for the same number.
Eight other CMMS Chorus members served as ushers.
Connor said he chose the lucky 16 at random.
"We had a drum roll and I drew the names," he said. "The kids jumped up and were very excited."
Sofia Childs, Michaela Geyer, Gabrielle Weaver, Amanda Biddle, Cheyenne Young, Desenee Reichert, Annie Bechdel and Noel Moore were chosen to sing.
The local instrumentalists were Amy Middleton, Samantha Howell, Abbey Salmon, Cassandra Stabley, Keri Bechdel, Rosalyn Nardella, Andrew Wheeler, Jocelynn Zeigmann, Michael Frank, Andrew Wasser and Sydney Foster.
Members of the 82nd Airborne Central Pennsylvania Chapter served as the color guard.
The crowd anticipated a fine evening. The early birds were able to take seats in the auditorium before the doors were closed for a pre-show rehearsal and tuning session.
Waiting in the lobby, Vesta Pirc recalled the September concert by the U.S. Army Jazz Ambassadors. "It was a good program and a beautiful night," she said.
Pat Helbley, local organist, said she was sure to enjoy the program even before she took a seat "They are THAT good."
The concert was sponsored by The Express, and publisher Robert O. Rolley introduced the band as "the most talented artists you will ever see and ever hear, period!"
The musicians lived up to that rousing introduction and proved themselves to be top-notch entertainers, from "A Night at the Opera" to the ever-popular "Armed Forces Salute" featuring the theme songs of each branch of service.
Sgt. 1st Class Samuel Chung clearly had a great deal of fun as Figaro, and euphonium soloist Lauren Veronie swept the audience along on a romantic cloud of notes before demonstrating the jazz side of her instrument.
The vocal talents of the Soldiers' Chorus was most evident when several soloists and the full chorus presented selections from "Fiddler on the Roof."
Col. Timothy J. Holtan, commander and conductor, wielded the baton for the evening.
The program seemed designed to send the crowd home on a patriotic note, but the response was tremendous enough for encores that showed the band had saved the best for last - Toby Keith's "An American Soldier" and a jazzy, sassy rendition of "When the Saints go Marching in."
Afterward, audience members turned in survey cards and received a free CD.
They told Sgt. Major Janet Hjelmgren the program was "awesome" and "absolutely wonderful" and called the field band and chorus "a beautiful group."
The sergeant major thanked one of the CM singers for joining them and told her, "I'm a soprano too."
She said the band and chorus were staying in State College and planned a schools day on Friday when teams would visit as many schools as would welcome them, all the way up to college level. When on tour, the musicians normally get a good night's sleep, she said, then travel the following morning to their next venue.
Debra Clare of Chicago, mother of band members Staff Sgts. Joel and Jeremy Klenke, came to the concert and was introduced from the stage. It's not unusual for parents to follow the band for a week or so, Hjelmgren said, recalling fun times with her own parents during tours.
A member of the chorus for 26 and a half years, Hjelmgren called it an honor to perform for audiences and represent the Army.
"It's inspiring to work with so many talented people," she said.