The article in The Gazette about the West Point Band turning 200 years old this summer brought back an avalanche of memories.
When we were senior music majors in college, my husband was drafted, so he sent an audition tape to the West Point Band director, Col. William H. Schempf, asking if he needed a horn player.
As it happened, he did, so after basic training, we packed our belongings in a trunk and took the train across the country from Oregon to New York.
In 1961 this was an enormous adventure, and our next three years in upstate New York were amazing experiences, years that altered our lives completely.
The countryside and history were unlike any I knew, and I fell in love with it.
This military draft was new, and Col. Schempf took full advantage of it for the USMA Band.
He recruited from the best of American conservatories and music schools, filling his Band and Field Music (the drum and bugle corps) with string and double reed players that aren’t usually in a marching band.
When the Hellcats (as the Field Music was called) weren’t marching, they played classical music, accompanied the Cadet Choir and in general produced some of the most remarkable concerts ever at West Point.
The horn players were borrowed one year by Vassar Colllege, who needed French horns to perform a Brahms piece for Women’s Choir.
We saw General Douglas MacArthur’s final Review of the Cadets and heard, live, his “The Corps, the Corps, the Corps” speech.
It was a magical musical time.
The band rehearsed every morning, but some afternoons were more or less open, so the guys (and they were all men)…
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