Winman Junior High students enjoyed a performance from The Volunteers, the U.S. Army’s touring rock band, April 7 afternoon, but earlier in the day members of the school’s Jazz Band participated in a Jazz Clinic with The Volunteers to learn a little more about music and the military.
About 15 students participated in the 50-minute practice session with five members of The Volunteers. The professionals explained a little bit about their background and touring, before listening to the students perform a song.
“It’s a pretty unique thing. I don’t think a lot of people know there’s an Army rock band,” said SSG Glenn Robertson, drummer for The Volunteers.
That was true for most of the musicians in The Volunteers.
MSG John Lamirande remembers being in high school at age 18, playing in his school’s jazz band and trying to figure out what to do next. It was his Army recruiter who told him about the opportunity to play in bands as a member of the military.
“I don’t think any of us knew this existed,” said Lamirande. “We don’t go on the road to recruit people. We just like to let people know we exist.”
Robertson told the students The Volunteers and other touring Army bands attempt to bridge the gap between the public and the United States Army, with the performers acting as the face of the military.
“We try to represent what the Army is doing through the music we play,” Robertson told the students.
SFC Peter Krasulski has been a member of The Volunteers for nine years, but has been in the military as an electric bass player for close to 15.
When he was in his mid-20s working as a contractor in Florida, a friend was preparing to enlist. Krasulski was flipping through the Army skills listing at jobs his friend could have when he saw a listing for electric bass player. He had been playing for years and decided to see what it was about.
“After I auditioned, they told me ‘you’re going in the band,’” said Krasulski.
SSG Brandon Boron is the newest member of The Volunteers, joining only about four months ago. Previously, he was a member of Army bands in Europe.
Boron remembers joining the Army as a way to pay for medical school; his plan was to spend a few years as a psychological operations specialist. Then his recruiter noticed Boron’s bachelor’s degree in musical performance and told him about being in the Bands division.
“Then I found out this was the best job in the world,” said Boron.
Boron pointed out a career in music as a civilian can be a struggle, constantly looking for work and trying to reach the big leagues.
“The Army is not going to make you a rock star,” said Boron. But in the sense of steady work and health benefits, being a member of an Army band is “fantastic.”
But there is more to it than that.
“This is our mission,” said Boron. “We take it seriously.”
Looking back, Boron isn’t sure if he would have studied science and contemplated medical school if he had known this career existed.
“This is what I want to do. I’m so happy doing this,” said Boron.
Krasulski explained there are various levels of Army bands. The Volunteers is a permanent placement; the band is based out of Fort Meade in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore, Md. area, and they tour the country three times a year with a minimum of 100 traveling days a year.
“I get to play with world-class musicians,” said Krasulski. “And this band is permanent.”
Krasulski pointed out regular Army field bands operate like a typical military assignment. The musicians will be stationed with a particular band for three or four years, and then move to a different one. That is not the case for The Volunteers.
“You stay put. All the great musicians come to you,” said Krasulski.
The Volunteers tour the continental United States, performing at festivals, nursing homes, schools and a variety of other venues. Once in a while, the band will travel overseas. Krasulski toured Iraq in 2010 and Kuwait in 2011 with The Volunteers, performing at bases as well as at clinics; he remembers playing acoustically at the bedside of wounded soldiers.
The Volunteers set list has a little bit of something for everyone, including country, pop, rock and even a little rap.
“Within the construct of being a rock band, we still try to tailor to who our audience is going to like. We still play what we enjoy, but what they will enjoy too,” said Boron.
The band plays songs from artists such as Bruno Mars, Pink Floyd, The Doobie Brothers and The Beatles.
“Our three goals are always to inspire, educate and entertain,” said Krasulski, adding the band will try and give some background about the song or original performer to help the students learn a type of music they may not have heard before.
But the popular music is always on the set list for schools. This tour, the song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams has been the most popular.
“It’s the hit of the tour,” said Krasulski.
During their clinic, after hearing the students play, the band provided feedback and advice to improve the performance. They also helped to teach the students a simple blues tune, encouraging them to use it in their free time to practice rhythms and solos. Some of the professionals even sat in with their junior high counterparts to give specific advice about techniques on the instrument.
Robertson commented that he was impressed with the level of skill the students had at such a young age.
“That’s one of the best things for us,” said Krasulski about having the opportunity to work with students during clinics. He has been able to meet some impressive young talents and enjoys letting them know about musical careers in the military. “This is a side of the Army they don’t know about.”
Boron sees the clinics as a chance to look back.
“It takes me back to when I was that age and how excited I was about playing,” he said.
Lamirande encouraged the students to keep playing with the blues tune they taught, and to keep the desire they have to play.
“It should be fun,” added Lamirande.