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Monday, May 30, 2011

Clarinet On Memorial Day

As a clarinetist in the military, today takes on a different meaning. Before I was in the military, I would spend this weekend with friends or family and enjoy my extra day off. Now, as you may imagine, I play concerts or ceremonies to honor the people who gave their lives for our country. 

I have interviewed other military clarinetists in the past and asked them all about their level of patriotism before and after joining the military. I wasn't surprised to hear that they all do feel more patriotic now that they're in the military. Here are their answers:

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

(Shawn Herndon) -  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.

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

(Tim Sutfin) - I feel exponentially more patriotic. After spending 2.5 months in basic training with young kids about to go risk their lives for their country, you can't help but feel more proud to be serving America. Also, seeing the looks on peoples faces when you play Stars and Stripes Forever in front of the Capitol Building, or Washington Monument always gets me a little choked up.

K.L.M - Do you feel any more or less patriotic than you were before being in a military band?

(Leigh Lafosse) - Much more. Something about training with 17 years old who will genuinely fight for a country they believe in makes the goose bumps quicker to rise now-a-days.


K.L.M. What would you say the highlights of your career in the Field Band were?

(Tom Puwalski) Two particularly come to mind. We were in France playing the 45th anniversary of D day. We did a bunch of gigs on the beach for survivors. We were then scheduled to march a parade through the first French town liberated by the Allies, St. Mare Eglese. The Brits were playing their march, Colonel Bogey, the French band was playing the French National Defelay. The Belgians were doing the Belgian Parachutist.  We were playing Black Horse Troop, a really good Sousa march but not of the same gravitas as the music of the other groups.  We went to the drum major and asked to change it to Stars and Stripes, he asked the commander who told him that he’s in charge on the parade field, so he changed it. Now the Field Band is pretty much a concert band, we very rarely marched, and we ended every concert with Stars and Stripes with a huge ritard in the trio, and it was no different on the street. The next day the French newspapers said that the Field band is the only band they've ever seen actually march a precision ritard.  When we turned the corner onto the main street of that town, the French were waving American flags in each window. I had Goosebumps. My grandfather had marched through the same town 45 years earlier as a trumpet player.

The second happened a few years later. I was doing a solo on a concert and just before the announcer was to introduce me, he went to the mic and said, “ladies and gentlemen we are pleased to announce that as of 1500 hrs Zulu Time, all hostilities in the Gulf have Ceased, the war is over. Please welcome tonight’s soloist Staff Sergeant Tom Puwalski”. To perform a solo after that was truly amazing experience. I was really aware that I got to take a bow for all the men and women who engaged in that conflict. There was electricity in the air after that announcement.

I have really enjoyed my time with the West Point Band, a job that has offered me many opportunities and happy memories already. To close up this posting, I am going to share some of my favorite "work photos." Enjoy your extra day off!

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