U.S. Army Europe Band Featured in European Brass Symposium

By Rick Haverinen

News story photo
Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Rotondi, Commander, USAREUR Band and Chorus
USAREUR polished up its musical brass by importing noteworthy members of European orchestras for a symposium in mid-February. The United States Army Europe (USAREUR) Band and Chorus coordinated the four-day series of workshops and master classes at Tompkins Barracks in Schwetzingen, Germany for wind instrumentalists from Army bands across Europe.

"Everybody kind of gets bogged down in their daily job of performing on their instrument and just making sound instead of really working on basic musicianship," said Sergeant First Class Greg Bennett, USAREUR Band trumpet player. "It helps to bring in clinicians who listen to you and help you play as musically as you can."

USAREUR Band French horn player Staff Sergeant Sarah Witt organized the symposium. A student of Berne Symphony Orchestra principal hornist David Johnson, Witt originally wanted Johnson to conduct a workshop for horn players in the four USAREUR bands, but the symposium grew to eventually include all brass instrumentalists.

Johnson brought along the other three members of the American Horn Quartet, a performing and recording ensemble that Johnson founded, plus he invited Bill Williams, solo trumpet for the Berne (Switzerland) Symphony Orchestra and the Santa Fe (New Mexico) Opera Orchestra. Johnson also suggested the inclusion of Stanley Clark, trombone teacher at the Musikhochschule Zurich, and Renee Allen, former French hornist with the Quebec Symphony, National Ballet of Canada and the opera orchestras of Mainz and Stuttgart.

Allen is noted for performing on period horn instruments, but was included in the symposium as a teacher of the Alexander Technique, a turn-of-the-century method originally employed by actors and dancers to improve stage movement. Musicians have adapted the discipline to improve the purity of musical instrument sound production by thinking of the musician's body and the instrument as a whole entity.

"We've asked (the clinicians) to do a lot more than I realized when I made the plan," Witt said. "It's kind of like cooking. Everything looks good on paper, and when you try and bring the whole meal together again on the table, hot at the same time, it turns out to be a lot more work and time than you realized it was going to be. And (the clinicians) have borne the brunt of that in many respects, so I'm very grateful."

Johnson said military bands have a greater challenge in achieving the lofty status of some symphony orchestras because like all soldiers, the musicians are always in transition. "You never know if you've got the same instrumentation or the same people sitting next to you a year later," Johnson said. "The people tend to come from all different walks of life. Some of the people are surprisingly well-trained, considering that's not their main job."

The symposium was opened up to some high school musicians as well. Heidelberg High School junior Geoffrey Reed, a student of Witt, participated in French horn classes led by Johnson.

The USAREUR Band and Chorus commander said some of the bottom-line results from the symposium happened almost suddenly. "These instructors have been talking about some of the basic skills of wind playing," Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Rotondi, Jr. said. "I've heard differences within five minutes with some of the players here."

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