This has been a summer of endless delights, and I thank the readers who inquired as to my whereabouts while I enjoyed an extraordinary July visit with some of my family in beautiful Australia. There, the “winter” weather was the equal of a perfect Indian summer day in New England. Such gorgeous weather has been unavailable to me since my return to steamy New York and broiling Texas. But the record heat in the Lone Star State could not diminish the success of this week’s Pavilion performance from the U.S. Air Force Band of the West.
Sponsored by Houston Community Newspapers, The Courier, and The Villager, the free event was a showcase of musical excellence, and the patriotic crowd was sporting plenty of red, white, and blue. The concert had perfect timing for me, as just last week I had missed an opportunity to see the United States Military Academy Band at West Point, due to the miserable weather in the Empire State. The Air Force would more than make up for my loss.
The program opened with a crisp presentation of the colors by the Junior Air Force ROTC from Oakridge High School. Then it was on to magnificent music under the fine direction of conductor, Major Dean L. Zarmbinski, and Associate Conductor, 1st Lt. Matthew J. Seifert. The band led off with the lovelyOverture to Offenbach’s “La Belle Helene.” It combined an airy lightness with thrilling brass and surprising tempo changes. Then came a sprightly and regal Sousa march titled “Daughter of Texas,” that has special meaning for the college girls in Denton for whom it was written. Von Reznicek’s smooth, and rapid paced “Donna Diana” was highlighted by its melodic and re-emerging theme. Arban’s “Carnival of Venice” featured a performance of remarkable virtuosity on tuba by SSgt. Alex Serwatowski. A woman seated near me was overheard to say, “Amazing! He’s playing it like a trumpet!”
There was music of Leonard Bernstein with the piece, “Slava.” To my ear, it was a bit harsh in composition, with an almost screaming quality at times. But it took amusing twists and turns, and certainly featured many of the musical techniques we associate with such Bernstein compositions as “West Side Story.” Then there was a special arrangement, by Michael Davis, appropriately titled, “Showtime.” It featured first-rate vocal solos and duets from SSgt. Richard Vasquez and A1C Christina Saalborn. If you missed it, then you missed a masterful medley including, “No Business Like Show Business,” “Tonight,” “Give My Regards to Broadway,” “Everything’s Comin’ Up Roses,” “Who Could Ask for Anything More,” “If I Were a Rich Man,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Begin the Beguine,” “The Song is You,” “With a Song in My Heart,” “The Sound of Music,” “Hello Dolly,” “Hooray for Hollywood,” “When You Wish Upon a Star,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “Singin’ In the Rain,” “As Time Goes By,” and a thrilling finale with “That’s Entertainment!”
Intermission was spiced up nicely with a performance from the unit’s Dixieland Band, the Lone Star Ramblers, as they provided wonderful solos during such numbers as “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “When You’re Smilin’.” Then the full band returned with a tour de force for three trumpets in Herbert Clarke’s “Three Aces.” Next, with the genuine feel of a circus parade, came Karl King’s delightful, “Melody Shop.”
The evening’s poignant conclusion featured the truly thrilling voice of SSgt. Vasquez as he performed another Michael Davis arrangement with “The Last Full Measure of Devotion,” a work that honors those who made the ultimate sacrifice defending the nation. Saalborn brought the crowd to its feet with a “God Bless America” that started tenderly and evolved into an almost pop diva performance. There was a Service Medley to highlight the veterans in the audience, and a handclapping encore with “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
The printed program had declared this band consisted of “…highly trained professionals who have dedicated themselves to serving their country through music.” Certainly, on this night, they had served the audience at Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion very well indeed. It was one more reason to admire the skill and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform around the globe.
(The Courier 8.10.03)