Army’s ‘Musical Ambassadors’ bring patriotic flair to opening Sunday concert


DEMETRIUS FREEMAN | File Photo

The U.S. Army Field Band & Soldiers’ Chorus perform in the Amphitheater in 2012.

If Lt. Col. Jim Keene knows his band, the first Sunday concert is going to be a tough act to follow.

“There is no finer band on the planet,” said Keene, commander of the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus.

The Musical Ambassadors of the Army will perform at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

“It’s a tremendous honor to come and perform at [Chautauqua] and to support Chautauqua [Institution],” said Command Sgt. Maj. Leslie Nock. “It’s a thrill for us.”

Nock said that the Field Band recognizes that they play for diverse audiences, and try to keep their programming diverse as well.

Sunday’s audience can expect to hear a wide variety of music, including pop songs and pieces that have been featured on TV and in movies, in addition to patriotic favorites. Veterans will also be honored with the Armed Forces Salute.

“The primary message is always going to be patriotism,” Keene said.

According to their website, the Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus was established in 1946 as a means of maintaining a strong relationship between the Americans the U.S. Army after a large number of soldiers left the military at the end of World War II.

Although more than 60 years have passed, Keene said he sees the mission of today’s Field Band in much the same light.

“In today’s society, it is an important thing to recognize that the armed forces are not as connected with the American population as they have been in the past,” he said.

Nock said that music has always been a part of Army life, and the musicians are “in a unique position to be ambassadors for the Army.”

“We speak a language that everyone understands,” she said.

In addition to helping civilians stay connected to the armed forces, Nock said that the Field Band also represents veterans and those who lost their lives in military service.

“Representing them through music is a way to tell their story,” she said.

Today’s Field Band is highly competitive, often with as many as 75 applicants vying for each available seat. All members must compete in an audition process and become active duty members of the U.S. Army.

“We hire only the best of the best,” Nock said. “They’re world-class musicians.”

In addition to three concert tours a year, the Field Band does educational outreach programs in schools and provides video lessons and free sheet music and recordings to school band directors.

The Field Band’s performance at Chautauqua is part of their summer 2015 tour, which includes stops in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This is the second tour for Keene, who joined the Field Band in January. Nock has been touring with the group for five-and-a-half years.

Nock is confident that the group’s dedication will be evident during the performance.

“They’re going to have a wonderful show by the most professional musicians the Army has to offer,” she said.