Saturday, February 19, 2005

Improvised Explosive Light Orchestra 

Remember when the National Guard Band was shipped off to Iraq, along with the first entire National Guard division to be deployed since Korea?

Well, the New York Times has a fluffy feature story about it today!
The 199th Army Band has had to cut back on its repertory these days. After all, it is not easy playing Sousa when half your woodwinds and a quarter of your brass are in Iraq.

"Sergeant, I'm going to need you to cover the tuba part on this one," the conductor told the trombone at a recent rehearsal.

"Yes, sir," came the answer.

The tuba was in Tikrit.


"The band's upset," said Chief Warrant Officer Joseph Martellaro, its conductor and commander. "Everybody thought the band was a sacred cow. We all thought there's no way they'll send a Guard band to Iraq."


Today, it is made up mainly of high school band directors, music teachers and professional performers. Mr. Martellaro, for example, leads a high school band in Highland, N.Y. His French horn, Sgt. Peter Bellanca, teaches music at the College of New Jersey. Sgt. Thomas Gorman plays trombone for Off Broadway theaters and acting troupes in the Hudson Valley. In his spare time, he plays with a group that performs Renaissance music.

The band is typically called upon to play at state military ceremonies. It might perform when a commander leaves a base or at a Veterans Day parade. Two weeks every summer it goes on tour around the region playing outdoor concerts or the occasional Nascar race. Like all Guardsmen, its members gather once a month to practice.

So it was something of shock when the band was told last spring that more than a dozen of its members would be heading to the war.

Huh. So we're sending high school band teachers and Off-Broadway musicians to put down the insurgency? Thank god we have finally, as of January 30, turned the corner in Iraq. Because all the high school band teachers I ever knew couldn't even get five clarinets to play in the same key.

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