Band Camp Battles

by Mark on November 23, 2010

Lake Placid

There is a flurry of activity as sixty-two musicians assemble saxophones and buzzes from trumpet mouthpieces at the Northeast Instrumental Music Festival in Lake Placid, New York. My wife, Kathy, is among them. This is the year’s final band camp after events in Georgia, Dayton, Williamsburg, and Chautauqua. George drove eleven hours from Detroit while good friends Dick, MJ, and Marty came over from New England. It is 6:30PM on a frosty Friday in the Adirondack Mountains. After seven hours of rehearsal the band will perform six pieces before a sell-out crowd on Sunday.

Colonel Arnald D. Gabriel (USAF Ret.)

Friday Night – November 19th

Colonel Arnald Gabriel (USAF Retired) stares into the souls of each individual musician. A decorated WWII hero and Commander/Conductor of the renown U.S. Air Force Band, Symphony Orchestra, and Singing Sergeants for twenty years, the 85-year old Colonel does not use a score. Each measure and note of hundreds of pieces are memorized. He is fond of saying, “Don’t have your head in the music. Have the music in your head.” Never looking down Colonel Gabriel is paying attention to each individual band member. He corrects one of the 14 clarinet players. “In measure 212 your second note should be on F-Sharp, not F.”

The Colonel announces the performance will include the full fourteen minute version of the ‘1812 Overture.’ There are groans from the tubas.

Saturday Rehersal

Saturday Morning & Afternoon – November 20th

Performing six pieces on Sunday is challenging. The ‘1812 Overture’ will be a battle. The orchestra piece was translated for a band, and there are many accidentals when moving from strings to brass and wood winds. The band works on mastering each measure. There is rework. One measure is optimized but two cannot be put together. The Colonel is frustrated. They break away from the ‘Overture’ to practice other pieces.

For ‘Danny Boy’ the Colonel explains the tune about the lost lass longing for her lad. He then requests the band sing it. “You have to be able to sing ‘Danny Boy’ before you can play it.” They sing. It is sweet. There are tears.

By the end of the day all ‘Overture’ measures are rehearsed, but the entire piece was not played. Band members are worried at dinner. They will be looking directly into the Colonel’s eyes in a few hours and playing a difficult piece in-front of a sell-out for the first time. Is it his eyes or the audience that is most frightening?

1812 Overture

Sunday Afternoon – November 21st

The first three pieces went well. Colonel Gabriel is in dress uniform with rows of medals on his chest. The band looks wonderful in black and white. ‘Danny Boy’ brings the audience to its feet. The Colonel smiles at his musical army.

It is time for the ‘1812 Overture.’ His hands rise as flutes move to lips. The auditorium is silent. The magic of the opening measures capture us. For the next quarter hour we see the Russian and French Armies clash. Guns blaze. Trumpets sound charge, then retreat. The battle is reaching its peak before bursting in a rush of victory and celebration. The audience jumps to their feet. The Colonel and his happy instrumental warriors take grinning bows. They finish with a rousing ‘Stars & Stripe Forever.’

Back stage the triumph is in the air. While cleaning and packing instruments they discuss lost notes and missed counts as if you might find them on the stage floor. It is the smiles and hugs of comrade. They achieved victory, together. The next band camp is in January at Cincinnati. There are dreams of the next battle and triumph as they drive out of the Adirondacks.

Triumph!

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