Europe's Musical Ambassadors

By Hasenauer, Heike | Soldiers Magazine, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Europe's Musical Ambassadors


Hasenauer, Heike, Soldiers Magazine


WHEN Soldiers of the 1st Armored Division Band and 76th U.S. Army Band returned to their home stations in Germany after nearly a year in Iraq, the U.S. Army, Europe, Band and Chorus from Schwetzingen, Germany, welcomed them home.

The roughly 120 Soldiers of the combined band and chorus represent the Army's largest musical organization outside the United States, said SGM Joel Joyner, the band's enlisted leader.

In fiscal year 2003 its members gave 198 performances in some 15 countries, said bandleader LTC Thomas Palmatier, a 26-year Army band veteran.

"As the Army's premier band in Europe, we perform for kings and presidents," he said. The band played for President George W. Bush's visit to Normandy on Memorial Day and has played for the prime minister of Poland, among many other dignitaries.

"Several groups within the band are often out performing at the same time," Palmatier said. Those include the 65-piece concert and marching bands, a 35-member ceremonial group, a 19-piece jazz ensemble, a pop-rock group, a Dixieland band, a jazz combo, and brass and woodwind quintets.

Collectively, they appeal to a wide range of audiences and age groups, said Joyner, who leads the jazz ensemble "Soldiers of Swing."

The ensemble's repertoire includes music from the golden days of jazz, when it was played by big-band greats like Glenn Miller, said Joyner, who has performed at world-renowned jazz festivals in Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland.

The band's rock group focuses on music targeted toward younger Soldiers. The smaller jazz combo is ideal for official social occasions. And the ceremonial band, which performs at military functions, is the band's "bread and butter," Joyner said, as ceremonial events are always taking place somewhere in Europe.

Something magical happens when the band performs in former Eastern-bloc nations, Palmatier said. "We may be the first Americans some of the people have ever met. When we go there, our presence puts a human face on whatever stereotypes people have about Americans."

One of Palmatier's most memorable performances was in May 2003 in the Czech Republic, when the band played in the hall where the Czech National Orchestra performs. The occasion marked the day American forces liberated the western territories of Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet army liberated Prague at the end of World War II.

"The Czechs are most passionate about classical music," Palmatier said. "And they're most discriminate: Europeans expect that Americans can play only jazz and some Elvis Presley tunes. We held our breaths. When shouts of 'Bravo' rang out from the crowd, it was a magnificent experience."

The USAREUR band supports all functions of the USAREUR commander, and in the absence of two direct-support U.S. Army bands in Europe, which are currently deployed to Iraq, it has taken on their missions in USAREUR as well, Joyner said.

Those bands' overriding purpose is to boost the morale of Soldiers in war and even "soften the blow of war," Joyner said. The USAREUR band gives deploying Soldiers a rousing send off and welcomes them back when they return.

Most of the band members hold music degrees from highly regarded universities and conservatories, Joyner said. …

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