Army Field Band’s Favorite Place to Perform

By Kelly Petryszyn
The Chautauquan Daily

News story photo
Photo credit: Robert McIver
Maj. Bruce Pulver, United States Army Field Band deputy commander, conducts the Field Band during the June 27 performance at the Chautauqua Amphitheater in New York.
Chautauqua, NY -- Among all the locations in the 50 states where the United States Army Field Band has performed, one site stands out to Commander and Conductor Col. Thomas Palmatier: Chautauqua Institution.

“It’s probably our favorite place to play in the entire country,” he said. “It is magical.”

Chorus member Sgt. Maj. Joan Mercer seconded Palmatier’s sentiments.

“It’s always the highlight,” Mercer said. “Chautauqua is so full of history and beauty. We just love going there.”

The band is a frequent returning performer at the Institution, but one year it didn’t play because of a schedule conflict. Mercer vividly remembers that the members were disappointed.

Mercer and her group will not be disappointed this year. The band will perform from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

The U.S. Army Field Band began in 1946 as a way for musically talented soldiers to support their fellow soldiers. It has expanded to four units: the Concert Band, Soldiers’ Chorus, Jazz Ambassadors and the Volunteers with members from all over the nation. Its powerful performances have entertained in more than 30 countries. Over the years the band has earned the title “The Musical Ambassadors of the Army.”

The band has performed at public concerts, school assemblies, educational outreach programs and festivals. Other performances include the 40th anniversary of D-Day at Normandy and the National Memorial Day Concert at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The 63-member band and 28-member chorus are the only performing units coming to Chautauqua. Both are in the midst of a joint summer tour, which includes stops in Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.

The band and chorus are known for their versatile programming. The program at Chautauqua will include marches, opera, ragtime and music from Broadway.

All of the musical selections have a patriotic theme. Palmatier said these selections are meant to tell the story of the soldier. He does this by choosing pieces that educate, inspire and entertain the audience.

Palmatier also pays attention to how he can use music to tap into the audience’s emotions.

“It’s been scientifically proven that music creates a powerful emotional reaction within people,” he said.

It is not easy to provoke strong emotion from a large crowd, but the band and choir practice tirelessly until they are able to deliver a performance that resonates with the audience. The band rehearses every day it is not on tour and between its fall, spring and summer tours.

It is important that the soldiers are displaying excellence because “we represent America’s Army and the pride people have in their nation and in their army,” Palmatier said.

Each song offers specific members a chance to shine during vocal or instrumental solos.

“I am absolutely convinced that when listeners walk away they will think: ‘Holy cow, that was good,’” Palmatier said.

The soldiers further communicate excellence when they are able to talk and shake hands with audience members before and after the show.

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