Annual concert puts "smiles on people's faces"

By Julie Smith reporter for North West Guardian
56th Army Band

News story photo
Photo credit: Scott Hansen/ NWGuardian
Staff Sgt. Zach DaShiell sports a special holiday hat while playing tuba with the Sockeye Salmon Dixieland Band during the annual holiday concert at the JBLM Family Resource Center.
Staff Sergeant David Wilzewske, 56th Army Band member, calls music a “universal language.”

Anyone could see the music speaking to the audience Monday at a holiday concert for families of Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Exceptional Family Member Program.

A room full of moms, dads and kids with special needs at the JBLM Family Resource Center danced, clapped and sang along to traditional tunes like “Jingle Bells,” “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” The holiday music was played by the Sockeye Salmon Dixieland Band and a pair of guitar players called The Holiday Punch Duo, two elements of the 56th Army Band.

This is the third year the band has supported EFMP families with a holiday concert, said Nancy Dozier, Army Community Services EFMP specialist.

“They enjoy sharing their music,” Dozier said. “It’s their gift to the kids.”

The package included an interactive, educational element, as the musicians explained and demonstrated how their instruments make sounds, allowing the children to test out the instruments after the concert was over. Families were also treated to cookies and hot chocolate.

One of the impromptu musicians who showed interest in the drums was 7-year-old Erin Mahoney, who is legally blind and has sensory issues. She and her family, including her brother Nick, 12, who has high-functioning autism, spent most of the concert in a room adjacent to the band so she could still enjoy the music without getting overwhelmed, said Erin and Nick’s mother, Maggie.

“I love the fact that there are these events for special needs kids and their families that are smaller and more intimate,” Maggie said. “It’s nice because you get to enjoy events in the community without all the stares and constant explanation of why your child is different.”

Dozier said the EFMP holiday concert is unique because the band doesn’t usually have the opportunity to play to kids with special needs. The music tends to be too loud, but band members were sensitive to those issues, keeping their music at a pleasant, even tone.

“We try to keep it balanced because some of the kids have sensory issues,” said Sgt. Norman Montes de Oca, who along with Spc. Justin Stanton were making their debut as The Holiday Punch Duo.

Montes de Oca enjoys his work as a band member and said making people happy by playing music — especially kids — is one of the reasons he auditioned after serving two combat tours as an infrantryman.

“It’s fun just seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” he said.

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