All-American Marching Band performer joins Army Bands

By Jonathan E. Agee
The United States Army Field Band

News story photo
Photo credit: Command Sgt. Maj. Loran McClung
Kelsey Ferneau plays the mellophone Jan. 6 during a rehearsal for the 2012 All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.
FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. -- She is the first member of the U.S. Army All-American Marching Band to join the active duty Army Bands program, and later this month she will depart for basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.

Kelsey Ferneau played mellophone during the 2012 All-American Bowl (AAB) in San Antonio, Texas and the experience changed her life.

“You don’t realize how much you can be pushed until they push you,” said Ferneau when talking about her experience at the AAB. “And they’re really optimistic people that will never let you fail. They really promoted going after what you want to do.”

Following the AAB, Ferneau contacted her local recruiter to explore the possibilities of becoming a Soldier-Musician. As part of the process, Ferneau had to perform an audition on her instrument. Grading the audition was Sgt. 1st Class Patrick Donahue, U.S. Army 3rd Recruiting Brigade band liaison.

Donahue recalls hearing her play the first note and having to do a double take. It’s rare to hear a high school band student with such impressive sound, he said. Donahue decided to include some more challenging literature for Ferneau to perform. Each time, “She knocked it out of the park,” said Donahue. During the audition, Ferneau also played the piano, bass guitar, and sang.

“The day of the audition I played my prepared pieces, and I played everything on my French horn,” said Ferneau. “It was very casual; he wanted to see what I could do. Then we moved onto piano, bass guitar, and singing. He heard different pieces of each of them. I think he liked that because I think the Army is looking for more versatile musicians. If they need a piece that needs a bass or piano for a ceremony, then I can cover it.”

In the notes section of the audition paperwork Donahue recalls writing, “If we hire one high school musician this year it needs to be this one, because she has a very bright future in the Army and Army Bands… She is going to go far.”

Ferneau has been playing music since she was four years old. She started on the piano, and since that time has learned the mellophone, French horn, bass guitar, singing, and a little trumpet. Having a music major for a mother and a band director for a father, it is no surprise Ferneau found music at an early age. However, it wasn’t until the fifth grade that Ferneau found her passion playing the French horn, the same instrument she was hired to play in the Army.

“I think she is phenomenal,” said Kathy Ferneau, Kelsey’s mother. “I know coming from a mother’s point of view you would expect that, but having been in music I also know what is good and not good and I think she is great.”

Before Ferneau plays her first note as a Soldier-Musician, she must complete basic training. According to the Future Soldier Leader at the North Des Moines Recruiting Station, she will excel in that, too.

“She actually has excelled more than anyone else in the program,” said Staff Sgt. Aldo Gonzalez, Future Soldier Leader. “Her PT [physical training] aspect is outstanding and she never quits. As far as learning the basics such as the Soldiers Creed, Army Values, drill and ceremony, and her General Orders, she pretty much learned them in the first week of joining … I think she will be one of the top recruits in basic training.”

Ferneau’s journey from All-American Marching Band to U.S. Soldier culminates June 26 when she ships to basic training. Although she admits to being a little nervous of the unknown, she also feels confident that she will succeed.

“My brother went through it, so I have a little knowledge of what to expect,” said Ferneau when discussing basic training. “I feel like I can handle it mentally. I have to get used to the fact that I’m going to be wrong a lot and I’m going to mess things up. I think if I just know it is not the real world, it’s just these 10 weeks that I have to get through, then I can handle it.”

After becoming a Solider and completing Advanced Individual Training at the Army School of Music, Ferneau will be stationed at Fort Benning Ga. and be a member of the U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence Band.

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