Musical Ambassadors Break New Ground in the Balkans

By Master Sergeant Wendy Thomson
USAREUR Band and Chorus

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April 12, 2001 - At a time in our Army’s history when civilian affairs and information operations are center stage of peacekeeping missions around the world. Enter the United States Army Europe (USAREUR) Soldiers’ Chorus. Not to be outdone, the USAREUR Soldiers’ Chorus, a 25-member, Top 40, pop chorus and combo, is also familiar with center stage.

Stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, the USAREUR Soldiers’ Chorus recently performed in Tirana, Albania at the invitation of the U.S. Ambassador to Albania, Mr. Joseph Limprecht. There was a capacity crowd of 2,000 at the Palace of Congresses for the April 6th evening show, which featured American popular music from the 1940’s through the 1990’s. The President of Albania, Rexhep Meidani, was in attendance.

The performance, an important cultural event for Albania, was aired on three national television networks, as well as several Tirana-based stations. It was the first public performance by an American military musical organization in the country’s history. This holds particular significance in a country where the populace had been conditioned to more traditional patriotic chants of the military, prevalent under communism.

In 1990, Albania was the last of the eastern European communist states to fall. Since then, the country has been working to put 50 years of isolation and xenophobic communist rule behind it. The transition to a multi-party democracy has proven difficult, as the extremely poor country tries to free itself from the legacy of its past. As recently as 1997 the country experienced widespread civil unrest due to the collapse of a fraudulent nationwide investment scheme.

A widely distributed Albanian daily ran a front-page cover story on the concert, entitled, “Healing Music for Albanians Tired of Politics.” It highlighted the superb caliber of the chorus and uniqueness of the opportunity for Albanians to be exposed to American culture. By exposing the general public to a unique, professional side of the U.S. military as musical ambassadors, the performance provided a boost to the public perception of armed forces in general. One concert attendee remarked, “in one evening, the Chorus broke the military taboo.”

Ambassador Limprecht said that the appearance of the chorus in Albania, “reflected support for Albania’s path to democracy.” He and other high-level Embassy officials described the visit of the Soldiers’ Chorus as a significant symbol of the progress that Albania has made in building a democratic and peaceful society.
The mission of the Army Bands in Europe is to enhance soldier morale, support military operations, and to promote good will and democracy throughout the international community. Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Rotondi Jr., Commander and Conductor of the USAREUR Band and Chorus, notes that the chorus performance in Albania is indicative of exactly what Army bands in Europe do on a daily basis. “Army bands are the most powerful, non-threatening show of force in the Army’s inventory,” Rotondi said.

The Soldiers’ Chorus performance in Tirana was the latest in a series of highly successful Balkan capital visits the group has made in the last 9 months. Working in cooperation with U.S. Embassies in the region, the Soldiers’ Chorus has performed for local nationals in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Skopje, Macedonia; and at the Demir Kapija Institute for the handicapped in Macedonia. In addition to performing for local civilians, the chorus is a mainstay with troops forward deployed in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia.

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