USAREUR Band Woodwind and Brass Quintets in Georgia and Azerbaijan for Historic Cultural Exchange

By SPC Kelly Hancock and SGT Blake Helander
US Army Europe Band and Chorus

News story photo
Photo credit: SGT Stephen Schultz
Members of the USAREUR Woodwind and Brass Quintets Pose with U.S. Ambassor to Georgia John F. Tefft
The US Army Europe Band’s Woodwind and Brass quintets spent six days in early March visiting Tbilisi, Georgia and Baku, Azerbaijan on an important cultural mission, where music was the language of diplomacy and a bridge between these culturally rich nations and the United States. Georgia and Azerbaijan are located between Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East and are part of the famous Silk Road trade routes of ancient times. In addition to over a dozen performances in the two countries, the USAREUR Band musicians became familiar with the wonderful culture, art, music and food of the two nations.

Upon their arrival in Tbilisi, the two groups went right to work. Both ensembles visited the Tbilisi Conservatoire for performances and master classes. With the aid of translators, USAREUR Band Musicians worked one-on-one with college level musicians, answering questions and exchanging ideas with the students.

That evening, the brass quintet performed an outdoor pops concert in the ‘Old Tbilisi’ section of the city in a town square that dates back centuries. A television crew and members of the media were present to promote the group’s visit to Georgia.

The next day, both groups had the opportunity to work with members of the Tbilisi Opera Orchestra. There was exuberant collaboration and discussion as ideas were exchanged, duets and trios were played, and instruments, mouthpieces and reeds were closely examined. At the request of the Georgian musicians, the brass quintet got on stage to preview some of the music featured on that night’s concert. Despite the language barrier, both groups communicated quite freely though their instruments and musical ideas.

The visit to Tbilisi culminated in a recital at the Tbilisi Conservatoire Recital Hall. The winds featured works by Piazzolla, Danzi and di’Rivera while the brass played pieces by Bernstein, Duke Ellington, J.S. Bach and Mozart as well as some Dixieland Jazz. In attendance were students and faculty from the conservatoire as well as John F. Tefft, the U.S. Ambassador to Georgia, and his wife.

The following day the groups were off to Baku in neighboring Azerbaijan in hopes of an equally successful experience. The visit was historic because no US military band members had ever performed in the nation of Azerbaijan. The first full day in Baku began with a press conference with the local media.

Following the interview, the wind quintet went to the Baku Academy where they listened to and coached solo performances played by several of the students. The master class was followed by a preview performance of several selections prepared by the USAREUR quintet. Later that evening, the quintet gave a recital at the home of Anne E. Derse, the U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan.

The woodwinds’ visit to Baku also included a visit to the Sumgayit Music School. The school trains high school aged students in Mugam, the national style of music in Azerbaijan as well as in western-style classical music. Students must do well in this school in order to attend the Baku Academy if they wish to study music as part of their higher education. After performing a short program, the quintet members listened to student performances which were followed by tea with the school’s director. The director educated the USAREUR musicians with a short history of Mugam music and Azeri culture.

Meanwhile, the brass quintet performed and fielded questions at a performing arts college, an elementary school and a local orphanage. Here, a talented youth band made up of children from the orphanage entertained the group.

The brass quintet’s final performance at Baku’s ‘Jazz Center’ night club featured Sergeant Stephen Schultz on drums in front of a packed audience. Baku has a long tradition of jazz music fused with their own national styles.

The reception of both quintets was warm and inviting in both countries as both groups made an impact wherever they performed. The successful cultural exchange fostered goodwill and friendship between the United States and the two nations.

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