'Sound the Bells!' concert rings in the holiday season

By Lisa R. Rhodes
Fort Meade Soundoff

News story photo
Photo credit: Noah Scialom
Col. Timothy J. Holtan, commander and conductor of The U.S. Army Field Band, which includes the Soldiers' Chorus, leads the musical organization in its annual "Sound the Bells!" holiday celebration concert on Dec. 7 in the Meade High School auditorium.
Classic holiday songs with a multicultural twist were performed by The U.S. Army Field Band and Soldiers' Chorus during their annual "Sound the Bells!" holiday celebration concert on Dec. 7.

About 800 people filled the auditorium at Meade High School for the 75-minute concert that featured a surprise visit from Santa Claus, who closed the show by conducting "Sleigh Ride."

"I thought it was great -- wonderful," said Master Sgt. Kelly Sharpe of the District of Columbia Air National Guard. "It was a perfect way to bring in the holidays, especially on a rainy night."

An evening of steady rainfall did not dampen the enthusiasm of the audience. Many people wore reindeer antlers, while others dressed in holiday red and green.

The concert began with the majestic "Sound the Bells!" composed by John Williams in 1993. The song, written for bass and percussion, was inspired by the royal wedding of the crown prince of Japan and Japanese temple bells.

Col. Timothy J. Holtan, commander and conductor of The U.S. Army Field Band, then led the audience in the National Anthem.

Garrison Commander Col. Edward C. Rothstein briefly took the stage, along with Garrison Command Sgt. Maj. Charles E. Smith, to welcome the audience to a performance of what he called "the best of the best."

The colonel asked the audience to pause for a moment of silence to remember the service members and civilians who lost their lives during the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

The concert continued with a jubilant rendition of "We Need a Little Christmas," followed by "Ocho Kandelikas," a Jewish song celebrating Hanukkah. Performed in Spanish by Staff Sgt. Charis Strange and Master Sgt. William Gabbard, the song owes its Latin flavor to its roots in the Sephardic Jewish community, whose ancestors lived in Spain before the 15th century.

Later in the evening, the audience clapped to a Yiddish rendition of "Dre Dreidele" sung by Master Sgt. Allen Bishop and Master Sgt. Robert Jefferson, who patted their feet to the song's rhythms.

The three-part harmonies of Master Sgt. William Gabbard, Sgt. 1st Class Mario Garcia and Sgt. 1st Class Erica Russo made the renditions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings," an audience favorite. The double bass solo by Staff Sgt. Joel Ciaccio added the finishing touch.

A highlight of the concert was Staff Sgt. Brendan Curran's reading of Clement C. Moore's famous poem, "'Twas the Night Before Christmas," written in 1822. Curran's narration was backed by the band.

The U.S. Army Field Band's Men's Ensemble then performed "O Holy Child" and "When Christmas Comes."

The Tuba/Euphonium Quartet gave a stirring rendition of "Christmastime Is Here," followed by a jazzy, swinging performance of "Jingle Bell Rock" by Master Sgt. Laura Lesche, Staff Sgt. Pamela Terry and Staff Sgt. Meghan Whittier.

The female trio, dressed in black pencil skits, white shirts and red and white shruggs, sang and danced in a style reminiscent of the Andrew Sisters of the 1940s. They were accompanied on the violin by Staff Sgt. Rachel Farber, who wore reindeer antlers.

The mood of the concert changed with Garcia's melodic performance of "I'll Be Home For Christmas," followed by "Stille, Stille, Stille," an Austrian Christmas song performed by the Soldiers' Chorus and conducted by Capt. Curtis Kinzey, who was joined by Staff Sgt. Kasumi Leonard on flute.

The chorus then performed "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day," a traditional English carol.

As the concert drew to a close, the audience enjoyed a mixture of jazz, Latin and soulful rhythm and blues with performances of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" featuring a soprano saxophone solo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Sacawa; "Feliz Navidad" sung by Staff Sgt. Jessica Coates; and "Go Tell It on the Mountain" sung by Terry and Master Sgt. Victor Cenales,

Holtan later asked the audience to remember "those who are serving far from home in defense of our nation," then led the Field Band in the traditional performance of the U.S. Armed Forces medley.

As Santa Claus took Holtan's baton to end the concert, members of the band and chorus greeted the audience with a handshake and holiday wish.

Bill Fields, a Jessup resident, said it was his first time at the concert and he wasn't disappointed.

"A terrific show," he said. "Splendid."

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