“FIRE!” yelled service members dressed in formal military attire. For a few moments, the stage at the Hawaii Theatre Center was transformed into a battlefield as the loud boom of military band drums mimicked the sound of gunfire during the 29th annual joint-military service band appreciation concert in Honolulu, May 17, 2014.
In celebration of Military Appreciation Month and Armed Forces Day, military bands from the four main branches stationed in Hawaii, as well as the Army National Guard, came together to perform for the public.
Hosted by the Hawaii Theatre Center and the Honolulu Navy League, the concert featured the 25th Infantry Division Band, 111th Army Band, U.S. Air Force Band of the Pacific, U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific Band and the Navy’s U.S. Pacific Fleet Band.
“These men and women (literally put their lives) on the line for us,” said Burton White, the artistic director and general manager of Hawaii Theatre. “(Because) we have a month and a day that’s dedicated to (military appreciation), we should pool our resources together and sponsor an event that highlights the month and reminds everybody at least once a year that the freedoms that we enjoy (come) at a great cost.”
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael J. Smith, the band officer and officer in charge of the MarForPac Band, said that while the Hale Koa Hotel (where the concert was hosted for a few years) may be good for summer concerts, the Hawaii Theatre provides good acoustics, a backstage musicians can use to easily transition from piece to piece and multimedia equipment that can add to the presentation.
Local ukulele artists Jodie and Kody Kiyokawa provided pre-concert entertainment. Then, Air Force Capt. Haley Armstrong, commander of the USAF Band of the Pacific, led the band through “Masque” by Kenneth Hesketh.
“(One of) my favorite moment(s) of the evening was when the curtain came up and I turned around to conduct and saw all of our joint service dress uniforms on stage,” Armstrong said. “It (was) impactful to know that what we did this week from a joint-service perspective is so reminiscent of how we are fighting in the deployed environment. It gave me chills.”
Each year, one military branch serves as the lead band for the concert. This year, the Air Force took charge, and the branches managed to fit in three rehearsals before the concert.
“It works because all of the services employ amazingly talented musicians who are dedicated professionals,” Armstrong said.
The concert featured pieces from various eras, a musical tribute to the 150th anniversary of Arlington Cemetery and a short video about deployed military musicians.
“(Bringing the services together for a concert is) a great way to show a small island community like Oahu how many services are represented on their island,” Armstrong said. “The community can’t (access) our bases so this is a chance to really demonstrate our presence and thank them for their support.
“(Joint-service concerts are) good for our military musicians because it gives us a chance to work and train together and learn from each other,” she added. “Each service is very different in its mission and goals but music is universal. It is great we can use music to get together and share what our service is working on and what makes us unique.” The concert also featured active-duty vocalists performing various songs like “Happy” by Pharrell Williams and “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey.
“(Active-duty musicians) have to do the same training during the year as well as being professional musicians and it’s terrific,” said retired Lt. Gen. Hank Stackpole, who attended the concert. “We hear sometimes from Congress why (does the military) need musicians? That’s our spirit, our song. It brings us together and it’s all for America. It’s just tremendous.”
During the second half of the concert, Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps musicians gathered at the front of the stage to sing each branch’s official song.
Audience members who served or are currently serving stood when their branch’s song was played.
“(Another of my) favorite moment(s) is when I saw all of the service members and veterans standing for their service song toward the end of the show,” Armstrong said. “It is one of the best parts of my job to recognize the service of others and I was immensely proud.”
Armstrong also dedicated Lamonica’s performance of “Hero for Today,” arranged by Ralph Martino, to the military family members in the audience.
“We know that it isn’t easy when (service members are) gone for months (or) years at a time,” Armstrong said. “(Family members are) taking care of everything behind the scenes and so we appreciate everything that our family, our friends and our community do for us.”
After the last song, the crowd requested an encore, which was honored with “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
“The interaction and the integration of these four branches all working together toward a common goal is obviously something that the military reinforces and makes the message really (artistic),” White said.
White said the theatre center plans to host the concert again next year, and the public is invited to attend.
“Whether it’s free or costs $20, people want a break from the stresses of the day,” Smith said. “They’re making time in their evening to spend it with us. We owe it to them to give them the break that they came for and to re-instill the trust in the military that we’re good stewards of what they’re paying us to do.”