June 2, 2019
Yesterday was a half day of sight-seeing, and then we met up with our D-Day 75th Anniversary Wind Band Tour. A few of us spent the morning at the Pantheon, which houses an amazing pendulum and a very large crypt, which rests some of the most famous Parisians (Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Pierre & Marie Curie, to name a few).
The evening was spent reuniting with some friends from the American Band College, which is where I completed my master’s degree last summer in Ashland, Oregon. Many of the musicians were in Paris for the first time, so we decided to take a boat cruise on the Seine. We hopped in a couple of taxis and got on the Bateaux Mouche, near the Eiffel Tower. It was a perfect way to spend our first night together here, seeing the sights along the river! The other musicians from Chelmsford on our tour are Mr. Matt Sexauer (CHS Band Director), and his father, Mr. Pete Sexauer (retired Chelmsford music teacher). Enjoy some photos of our time on board!
June 3, 2019
Today was our big rehearsal day with Colonel Arnald Gabriel. He is a U.S. Army Veteran of WWII, and later spent decades in the U.S. Air Force, rising to conductor in many USAF musical ensembles. His story is absolutely incredible. He landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944, and survived the deadly “D-Day” battle (that lasted for 45 days!). In May of 1945, he went to work in a factory, canning beans and peas. His high school band director came to the factory and questioned why he didn’t go to college. Col. Gabriel said that he wasn’t going to college because he couldn’t compete with graduating high school students. His director came back a week later, told him that his tuition was waived and he paid Col. Gabriel’s matriculation fee at Ithaca College. That moment started a storied music career, and he became an American treasure as a veteran and as an influential conductor. He turned 94 years old on Friday, May 31st, hopped a plane to France, and here is with us, putting on concerts in Paris and Normandy with a band of 220 people.
Today’s two rehearsals lasted for 3 hours each. Colonel Gabriel has memorized every score that we are playing, down to the measure markings, notes, harmonies, dynamics, articulations (you name it- he knows it). It is astounding to experience.
I have the VERY lucky opportunity to perform on a Haynes flute that landed on the beaches of Normandy on the back of a soldier named Dale Shaffner. Mr. Shaffner’s student, William Fisher, currently owns the flute. Mr. Fisher is a friend of Tracy Wright, who is a friend of mine from ABC. Mr. (Tracy) Wright posted the story of Mr. Shaffner’s flute on Facebook earlier this year, and I immediately contacted him to see if we could get the instrument to France to reunite it with the Normandy beaches 75 years later. Mr. Fisher allowed us to bring the instrument. Imagine…a flute that was in the pack of a soldier, who jumped off his Higgins boat on D-Day on June 6, 1944, survived. Not only did it survive with its owner, it is now coming back to the very spot to perform a concert, memorializing the event that killed 9,000 allied soldiers 75 years ago. To be able to play the instrument in this concert is simply profound- I felt it the most when we rehearsed The Star-Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and the Stars and Stripes Forever. This instrument is a symbol of strength, bravery, beauty, culture, and peace. I am forever honored.