FORT LEE, Va. (March 28, 2013) -- On a dreary March 18 morning, Fort Lee’s 392nd Army Band created a rush of musical sunshine for 250 students at Sunnyside Elementary School in McKenney.
Five musicians in the band’s Appomattox Brass Ensemble performed for 60 minutes as part of the Army’s “Music in Our Schools” month.
This year, the band reached out to about 40 area schools during March and plans to extend the visits into April due to heavy demand. In addition, the band performs at many Fort Lee military events and other off-post civic gatherings.
In these public performances, the bandsmen exhibit their passion for music and gain many enthusiasts among the students and other groups.
“It’s a real treat to have you here today. You’ll wake us up and inspire all of us. We look forward to you coming every year,” said Principal Wanda Snodgrass while welcoming the ensemble during the assembly in the school’s gym.
“We’re glad to be here today at Sunnyside Elementary School,” said Staff Sgt. Andrew Spinazzola. “This is the best job in the Army to play music everyday especially in front of school children.”
In addition to Spinazzola, who plays the trumpet, the other brass ensemble members were Staff Sgt. Billy Carmack, trombone; Sgt. Jared Miles, French horn; Spc. Andrew Thomas, trumpet; and Spc. Kevin Ward, tuba.
Serving as the group’s photographer for the program was Spc. Courtney Martin, a flute player.
Sunnyside students were courteous and clapped quietly as the performance opened with the “William Tell Overture.”
They quickly applauded and clapped louder after being encouraged by the band members.
The ensemble played a mixture of 11 pieces, offering a taste of marches, jazz, classical, popular tunes, patriotic songs and even several baroque pieces. The selections included “Can-Can,” “Beale Street Blues” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” They closed with “Army Strong,” which drew a loud and enthusiastic response from all the students.
Before each piece, the bandsmen took turns introducing the songs and provided a little history behind the music.
When Spinazzola asked if they had ever heard of Katy Perry, there was an eruption of cheers from the students and smiles from the ensemble.
They followed with a medley of songs from the pop singer-entertainer, drawing louder hand clapping, smiles and even hand gestures as if the students were conducting the ensemble.
During the performance, each of the ensemble members spoke to the students and explained and demonstrated their instruments.
The usual opening line – “I play the most important instrument in our group” – drew further applause from the students and laughter from the other ensemble members.
In demonstrating the French horn, Miles invited two students to join him. A young girl was a little shy but a bolder boy did not have stage fright and tried to blow the horn with some success. This drew laughter from the students while the girl covered her face.
Thomas told the students that he was an elementary school music teacher before joining the Army.
“I am excited to be here. It’s cool to be back in a school,” he said.
The trumpet player is a native of Arizona and taught music for six years, first in an elementary school and then high school.
Ward was a high school teacher before joining the Army.
“We’re doing what we love and it’s great to be back in a school today,” he said.
Snodgrass said the school was delighted the Fort Lee band was able to perform and they were looking forward to future performances.
The ensemble members were pleased with their performance and the reaction from the students.
“But, we may want to move the Katy Perry Medley higher up in the program next time,” said a smiling Ward.
After the concert, several fifth grade students asked Martin, who was wearing her Army Combat Uniform, if she was the Soldier in the Army’s TV commercial. She thanked them but explained that she was not that female Soldier.
“Music in Our Schools” is an Army-wide initiative that gives students an opportunity to see music as a profession.
Each year, Fort Lee invites local schools to schedule performances and the 392nd Army Band reaches several thousand participating youths.