Tour Ohio 2015
American Crooner

By SPC Brandon Christie, 122nd Army Band
18 September 2015

2015 marked what would have been the 100th birthday of the man known as The Voice, Ole' Blue Eyes, and The Chairman of Board: Frank Sinatra. To celebrate his indelible impact on American music and culture the 122nd Army Band built its 2015 summer tour around his music, with only one name that best encapsulated his contribution: American Crooner.

Our annual training began in earnest: we had just a day-and-a-half to finish preparations for the American Crooner tour before the first concert. But the hard work and professionalism of our Soldiers working as a team pulled everything together into a tour like none other. Musical selections spanned Sinatra’s career and patriotic American music, featuring classics like Witchcraft, Come Fly with Me, Fly Me to the Moon, That's Life, and I've Got You Under My Skin. We featured many notable soloists, including SPC Anthony Colella on trombone, SGT William Thomas on piccolo, and SFC Vernon Harris on trumpet. The spirit of America was represented with marches by none other than the venerable John Philip Sousa, including Solid Men to the Front, Washington Post, and, of course, Stars and Stripes Forever. The culmination of our musical precision was presented in Esprit de Corps, a piece by Robert Jager that embodies the spirit of America's military.

Our tour began in Springfield at the beautiful Turner Pavilion in Veteran's Park. The steep rock face and wonderful stage provided the perfect setting for us to begin our concert series. The next stop took us to the Fraze Pavilion in Kettering. The stage commonly features some of the biggest names in music, and we were thrilled to be able to return and perform for a large and enthusiastic crowd. We then returned to the welcoming and picturesque Troy Public Square. This intimate setting, within the backdrop of downtown Troy, allowed for an emotional concert and gave a sense of pride in a town that can be said to personify the American dream.

On the eve of Independence Day the band returned to Columbus for the annual Red, White, and Boom Parade. This parade marches through the heart of downtown Columbus, this year nearly 100,000 people lined the route to cheer and celebrate the more than 70 different organizations and groups participating. The 122nd was proud to the lead the parade down Front Street, followed by units and Soldiers and Airmen of the Ohio National Guard. On July 4th we traveled to Sunbury for a Fourth of July Celebration and Parade honoring Veterans of the Vietnam War.

Our final outdoor concert of the tour was at Riverside Amphitheater in Findlay. Findlay has become a regular venue for the 122nd and we were thrilled to return once again to a large and passionate audience. This was our first concert following the untimely passing of retired University of Akron bands director Robert Jorgensen, a mentor and educator to many of the 122nd’s Soldier-Musicians over the years. SSG Andrew Sundman, conducting the band, delivered a moving eulogy to Jorgensen, followed by the performance of the all-too-apt Solid Men to the Front.

The next day the we traveled to Camp Perry on the shore of Lake Erie to play at the opening “First Shot” ceremony at the National Matches marksmanship competition. The American Crooner tour concluded at Kenston High School in Chagrin Falls, playing to a full house in a beautiful amphitheater. Jeff Link, former 122nd Band Euphonium player and director at Kenston High School, took to the podium to lead the band in the performance of Washington Post.

Chief Master Sergeant Phillip Smith leads the 122nd Army Band in the performance of Washington Post in Worthington, Ohio, in August, 2015A month later on August 15th we returned to the Village Green in downtown Worthington for our annual 122nd Army Band Alumni concert. This concert has become tradition for the unit, allowing former members of the 122nd Army Band, its precursor the 37th Infantry Division Band, and the deactivated 555th Air Force Band to reminisce on their military service, gather with old friends, and perform once again with comrades in arms and music. Prior to the concert the 122nd hosted a cook-out at the American Legion Leasure-Blackston Post 239 with support from the USO of Central and Southern Ohio. Nearly two dozen alumni returned for the event, joining the band for the performance of our final two patriotic pieces: Armed Forces Salute and The Stars and Stripes Forever. Air Force Chief Master Sergeant Phillip Smith, a former tuba player in the 555th Air Force Band, conducted the band for the playing of Washington Post.

With Tour Ohio 2015 in the books, we’re already looking forward to our 2016 performances. We appreciate the support of our hosts, audiences, and the citizens of Ohio in making these concerts possible, and we hope we’ll see you all again next year.

The 2015 tour marked milestones for several Soldiers in the 122nd. This was the last tour for long-time band clarinetist SSG Hilary Williams, who is retiring after 20 years in the National Guard. Rob Kessler, former commander of the 122nd, received a promotion to the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 5, one of only a few such Army musicians in the nation. And Derek Kessler, a clarinetist in the 122nd, was promoted to Staff Sergeant and awarded the Army Commendation Medal. This was also the first tour for several new 122nd Army Band members, including SPC Anthony Colella on trombone, PFC Arleigh Wiler-Martin on clarinet, percussionist SPC Benjamin Tiller, SPC Brandon Christie on tuba, and SPC Mason Rorapaugh on trumpet.

The 122nd Army Band performs The Stars and Stripes Forever at Kenston High School in July 2015

Photos by SGT Nicholas Steyer, 122nd Army Band, and SSG George Davis, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs Office.