An integral part of the Army, bands better equipped to move with troops

By Reba Lean/ rlean@newsminer.com
The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

News story photo
Photo credit: Reba Lean/ Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
SGT Amy Mahoney fronts the 9th Army Band's "Arctic Groove Orchestra" as she sings in preparation of an upcoming show for Alaska Days
FAIRBANKS, AK — There is one part of the U.S. Army that is often misunderstood. The Army Band’s purpose may not be obvious to outsiders, but is of great importance to insiders. Their significance can be seen in the way they are received by their fellow soldiers, retirees or veterans, and Army families. It can also be seen in the new regulations that make it easier for Army Bands to move with remotely located soldiers.

In July, 2010, a new field manual for Army Bands was released. The manual formalized changes that began in about 2006 when the Army decided its bands needed to become more mobile. The formal changes have created musical performance teams, which split up a whole band into groups that can be deployed faster than in the past.

With MPTs, “the bands become more modular, lighter,” Chief Warrant Officer Jeffrey Price said.

‘Soldiers playing for soldiers’

The Army Band is an integral part of the Army, and its musicians are more than just musicians. They not only have to be musically proficient with the instruments they play, but they have also gone through basic training, and when deployed are often required to do more than their musical duties.

On Sept. 21, musicians from the 9th Army Band, stationed at Fort Wainwright, cleaned their weapons in one of the classrooms after coming back from target practice, while others practiced in small musical performance teams in different parts of the building. Downstairs, the rock band worked out kinks in new equipment and upstairs the brass quintet practiced some old favorites.

“We’re always soldiers first,” Price said, but “We give that healthy emotional release.”

“Over in Iraq or Afghanistan or wherever you’re deployed, the mission is more of a morale booster,” said Spc. Daniel Loeschen. “It kind of brings a little bit of home to them.”

Fearless leader

“I'm the Simon Cowell of the band,” Price joked. The commander is not what many picture — a rigidly upright officer who barks orders at his subordinates. While he is still respected, he is laid-back and chatters nonstop, poking fun at himself to the bandmates. He says they don’t believe he even plays an instrument because he rarely gets to anymore. His job is to oversee all aspects of the band, including proficiency of musicians — hence the former American Idol judge remark.

But he loves it.

“It’s my hobby and my job,” he said.

For him, there’s no question about the importance of the band. They are a necessary part of the Army, and have been an institution since 1775.

“You know something’s important in the Army when an Army band's there,” Price said. He said the band gives a weight of importance wherever they show up, and it’s not taken lightly by the musicians.

Modern tastes

Within the Arctic Warrior Band, there are five major musical component groups. The overarching ceremonial band is probably the most recognized because it is the largest and has marching capabilities. There is a brass band, a dixieland band, a groove orchestra and a jazz combo. Each group is tailored for specific music preferences. For instance, the Arctic Groove Orchestra won’t play the National Anthem, but will play a rock and roll song like “Message in a Bottle” by The Police.

In the past years, the musicians have become more accommodating to modern tastes.

“I’ve seen people rap,” Sgt. Amy Mahoney said. Mahoney is one of the musicians who is multi-talented, playing several different roles in the Arctic Warrior Band. She plays the trumpet and piano and does vocals.

She also played Johanna in Fairbanks Light Opera Theatre’s production of Sweeney Todd last spring.

Price feels it is important to reach out into the community. That’s part of the reason they call their brass bands Denali Brass and Arctic Brass, the rock band is called Arctic Rock and the dixieland band is known as the Jammin’ Salmon.

“You’re trying to be a part of Army Alaska, but also try to have your links into the community,” he said.

The 9th Army Band’s next public performance in Fairbanks will be at the Noel Wein Public Library Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. The concert is very family-oriented, and will be in the Berry Room for Children. The musicians explain their instruments and play music that children will like, according to Youth Services Librarian Susan Jones.


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