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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Interview with Clarinetist Shawn Herndon of the West Point Band

Master Sergeant Shawn Herndon is an active recitalist, teacher and clinician.  He has appeared as a soloist with theWest Point Concert Band and has given recitals and master classes in the United States and Japan.  He is a clarinetist with the Concert Band and member of the Academy Clarinet Quartet.  He has premiered works by Paul Harvey and Collage by Hudson Valley composer Robert Baksa for clarinet quartet and band.  Recently with the Academy Quartet he performed with Mitchell Estrin, former clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic.  A native of Dallas, Texas, he earned a bachelor's degree in clarinet performance from Southern Methodist University in Dallas and a master's degree, also in performance, from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.  His teachers have included Stephen Girko, former principal clarinetist of the Dallas Symphony, and Ron deKant at the University of Cincinnati.  He has also performed with Albany Pro Musica and the Albany Symphony

1. When did you join the military and where have you been stationed?

I joined the Army in 1996 after being a finalist in an audition for the Army Field Band. I had a choice of any of the regular Army bands since I had been a finalist for that audition. I took a job with the 296th Army Band at Camp Zama Japan just outside of Tokyo and was stationed there for 1.5 years before winning the job with the West Point Band in 1998.

2. Where were you before you came to the military?

Cincinnati, OH. I had finished grad school at CCM in 1995 and taught public school in Dayton, OH for one year before I joined the military.

3. What is your favorite basic training memory?

We had a couple of guys that had been caught goofing off right before we were all marched to dinner. The drill sergeant told them to get down and start doing some exercises as part of their punishment. After eating, we were all giving a head count and were a couple of people short. We all looked up the hill from where we had marched and those 2 guys had stayed through our dinner, working themselves to muscle failure waiting to be released from their punishment so they could go eat! I still remember both of them limping and running the best they could as the drill sergeant screamed for them to get into the dining facility to eat!!

4. What did your family and friends think when you joined the military?

They were happy I could get employed as a musician and proud as my dad had served in the Army and my brother with the Navy.

5. What has been your most memorable clarinet moment in the military?

Sorry, but I have more than one:

Performing with a group of musicians from the Japanese Central Army Band (their version of Pershing's Own) on a chamber recital.

Performing the Artie Shaw clarinet concerto with the West Point Band at the Pantages Theater in Tacoma, WA

Performing with Larry Combs at the 2003 Clarfest as part of the West Point Clarinet Quartet.

Creating the West Point Clarinet Summit in 2006, featuring the section and band.

6. On an average week, what do you do at work?

Rehearse with the Concert Band, organize and manage the clarinet section as the Section Leader (a personnel management position) and work in the operations section for the Concert Band.

7. Would you encourage interested clarinetists to join the military?

Absolutely! It's a great paying gig with excellent benefits and great job security first and foremost. The Army pays student loans off (one of the reasons I was initially interested) and does it within 3 years. So essentially a person could do one hitch in the Army, get out of debt, gain professional experience and move onto something else. Musically, it is a job that will be as much or little one wants to make of it. The musicians in my group are extremely talented.

8. What is the weirdest thing you do at your job?

March halftime shows at the home Army football games as well as the Army/Navy game.

9. What are your after military plans?

That's a good question! I have many interests in addition to playing clarinet and won't limit myself to one career focus my entire life. I know the clarinet will always be a part of what I do in the future.

10. Do you have any regrets about joining the military?

The West Point Band does not have strings and I do miss playing with strings.

11. It seems like everyone was in a military band at some point, and there's always that gossip about which great symphony players were in the military. Who is someone you know that was a military musician at some point?

My teacher and mentor Steve Girko. I studied with him when he was principal with the Dallas Symphony and he really got me thinking about a gig with the military based on his time with the West Point Band. I also became friends with Larry Combs after grad school who was in the West Point Band as well.

12. What is the number one question you get asked by the general public after a concert? (For example: so you are IN the army?)

Usually it's about the uniform. The West Point Band uniforms are different from all the other Army uniforms and specific to our organization.

13. Do you feel any more or less patriotic than you were before being in a military band?

I'd say when I first got into the band, it was more about it just being a gig regardless of the fact that it happened to be a military band. As I've gotten older and the job has turned into a career, I have become quite proud to serve my country in this capacity.

14. What is a question you would ask each other in an interview?

Is having a job as a musician more, less or as you expected it would be?

15. What is your favorite note on the clarinet?

Low E

16. What is your most memorable musical moment?

See answers to #5

17. If you could magically wake up and play any kind of music, what would you do?


18. What are you listening to now?

Rob Zombie, Korn, Three Days Grace, Lacuna Coil.

Nerdo question... What is your clarinet set-up right now?

Buffet R-13 silver keys
Hawkins R facing MP
Vandoren Optimum ligature
Rico Reserve Classic #4+ and #4.5 reeds

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