Son Tropical educates, entertains, and motivates Baltimore students

By Sgt. Michael Kiese
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) Band

News story photo
Photo credit: Sgt. Michael Kiese
An aspiring drummer in the Roland Park Elementary/Middle School band watches Son Tropical perform authentic Latin and Afro-Cuban music Feb. 1 during a performance at the school.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. --Son Tropical, the eleven-piece ensemble made up of members of the Jazz Ambassadors, Concert Band and Soldiers’ Chorus, performed at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore on Feb. 1.

The band performed authentic Latin and Afro-Cuban music for Roland Park’s students with a unique educational reward. Enterprising teachers at Roland Park spent the last week leading up to Son Tropical’s visit teaching the students the basics of Latin music history and dance, empowering the students to be educated listeners and participants. During call and response sections of the performance, students were quizzed on Latin music terminology, history and geography. They were also encouraged to dance to the appropriate styles of Latin music being played.

Roland Park’s school band also got into the action by performing “Malaguena” before Son Tropical’s set. The students in the band were especially delighted to hear a live performance of professional musicians.

“My lead trombone player is a 7th grader, his name is Julian and he’s been playing trombone since the 4th grade,” said Danni Schmitt, Roland Park band director. “When he was watching somebody playing a trombone solo, he said, ‘Mrs. Schmitt! Mrs. Schmitt! Come here!’ I walked over and he turned around and pointed at the guy and his mouth just dropped. It was just such a beautiful and perfect moment. Seeing that kind of reaction from the kids, that’s why we get up and do what we do every day.”

Julian plans on auditioning for the Baltimore School for the Arts next year. A total of three students in the jazz band have already auditioned.

Son Tropical worked with Roland Park students last year as well. Following the Army Field Band’s engagement, Schmitt noted an influx of beginner students, and attributed that in large part to Son Tropical’s last visit. “For the students who aren’t in music, it exposes them to [music] they probably haven’t ever heard before,” said Jared Perry, Roland Park assistant teacher. “And for them to learn the dances and to be able to dance along with the band is phenomenal. Now for the musicians who are up-and-coming … it gives them motivation to practice. As we all know as musicians, we can’t do anything on our instrument without practicing. And to [hear] the range on the trumpet, the range on the trombone, the dexterity of the saxophone, and just the rhythm and just feeling it … it’s just a phenomenal experience for everyone.”

Eventually when Perry is in charge of his own band, he hopes to be a part of the Army Band’s educational outreach mission. “You all did a phenomenal job; keep doing what you do and keep going,” said Perry. “The kids really don’t even know how lucky they were to hear what they just heard … it’s inspiring on all levels. Teachers dancing with students, students dancing with each other, teachers dancing with teachers, that’s what you want -- unity. And that’s what this band is doing, bringing folks together.”

Master Sgt. Timothy Young, Son Tropical pianist, joined the Jazz Ambassadors in 1998 and has been a member of the Ambassadors Jazztet since its inception in 1999. “It’s part of the Field Band’s mission to do educational outreach,” said Young. “We mostly do these kinds of things when we are out on the road. One of our goals is just to present ourselves. A lot of people aren’t aware of the opportunities the Army affords people musically and otherwise. So a big part of what we do is to just expose people to the Army and the military. As far as careers go we help to show a lot of high school and college students options they may not have been aware of, and hopefully inspire them to maybe do what we do.”

Young continued, “We were doing a performance out in Red Bluff, California in 2007. There was a young guy there who was an aspiring jazz piano player. He and his friends were ushers for the concert we were performing at. I think we met but didn’t have a whole lot of dialogue. He later looked me up and sent me some of his [recordings] to show me what he was doing, and I gave him some feedback. Come to find out, he later joined the Marines, and in 2011 he hit me up and told me he was stationed in Quantico as a pianist with the Marine Corps Band based there. Since then I’ve brought him to one of our rehearsals and he sat in with our band and played a few tunes and now he takes lessons from me and we’ve established a nice relationship. So it’s very cool and inspiring to see a young man like that follow in my footsteps so to speak.”

When asked what advice he’d like to impart upon young people, Young said, “Learn what your gift is, and use it to the maximum. Don’t sit on it. Mine is music, so when I play, I play! You don’t have a right to sit and give a half effort. You have to maximize it, develop it, nurture it, and then you have to be willing to give it.”

In addition to instrumental demonstrations, the Army Field Band also performs clinics, masterclasses and educational music assemblies throughout the year. The Army Field Band also offers a wealth of free educational materials online at www.ArmyFieldBand.com. To learn more, visit the website and click the “Education” tab on the top of the homepage.

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