Gateway Brass spreads AF message to Navajo Nation |
by A1C Laura Hall
11/9/2011 - Lackland AFB, TX -- USAF Band of the West brass ensemble Gateway Brass recently returned from a community relations tour to the Navajo Nation. The Navajo Nation is a 27,000 square mile area that spreads across parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. The Navajo Nation played an important role for the military during World War II. Many Navajo men were trained in the Marine Corps as Navajo code talkers who used the Navajo language as a security classified code which the Japanese were unable to break. Due to the high security of the code, it was not until 17 September 1992 that the Navajo code talkers from WWII were rightfully honored at the Pentagon in Washington DC.
This was the USAF Band of the West's first tour to the Navajo Nation. Gateway Brass worked with the music students and performed concerts for the communities of Montezuma Creek, UT and Chinle, AZ. The concert program featured a variety of music including two classical orchestra transcriptions which featured percussionist Master Sergeant Jim Bartelt, military marches, a few jazz tunes, patriotic tributes, a medley of West Side Story, and the premiere of "Gateway to Freedom" which is an original composition by the group's newest member, Airman First Class Dan Thrower.
Communicating the Air Force message to the public is a vital part of our mission as Airman Musicians. This is the primary reason why our command staff decided to send Gateway Brass to the Navajo Nation. Chief Master Sergeant Bill Castleman, band manager, explained that it has become an important priority to get the Air Force message out to communities that we have not reached before.
Gateway Brass' first stop in the Navajo Nation was at Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek, Utah. The group performed a Sunday matinee for the community, followed by a performance for the entire junior high and high school student body the next day. After the school performance, the members of Gateway Brass worked individually with the junior high and high school music students. The group received a very enthusiastic reaction from the music students at Whitehorse High School. Whitehorse High School Band Director Kim Schaefer commented, "The visit of the Gateway Brass to our small, remote area impacted young music students who are striving to learn and to improve. The professionalism and teaching styles of the Gateway Brass musicians meshed well with our Navajo youth and inspired further development and practice!"
The second stop in the Navajo Nation was Chinle High School in Chinle, Arizona. The group performed for and worked with the students at Chinle High School during the day, followed by an evening concert for the community. Considering the low population of Chinle, the concert had an excellent audience of 175 people from Chinle and the surrounding communities. It is always a special treat to have so many thankful and patriotic veterans in an audience, and the performance in Chinle was no exception. Members of the Gateway Brass took time during the intermission and after the performance to speak with the veterans in the audience, who expressed great pride in the military history of the Navajo Nation. Chinle High School band director Eric Swanson remarked after the concert, "I am still being complimented by members of our community about your concert. It was fun for me to realize that so many have served our country and how much it means to them to hear 'their' song at your event. I have heard multiple stories about the memories of their time in the service and the memories brought back from hearing the songs of the military. I am hearing daily how much it meant to them for you have made the time to come to such a distant place as the heart of the Navajo Nation."
There is a certain comfort in returning to communities that have had, and always will have large and enthusiastic audiences for our concerts. However, we've learned from this trip to the Navajo Nation that there are many small communities who just as eagerly want the opportunity to let their patriotism shine. As Airman Musicians, we experience great pride and fulfillment by inspiring America's veterans, patriots and citizens through the gift of music. Communicating the Air Force message to audiences throughout our area of responsibility is a top priority and anytime we bring that message to a new audience, and can directly observe the impact it has, we know we have served well.