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The members of the Army Brass Band serve their country through song. 

The Top Brass

Master Sgt. Henry Sgrecci has performed "Taps" live on television as President Clinton laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a triumphal moment in the life of any trumpet player. A member of the U.S. Army Band since 1974, Sgrecci has had opportunities to play at the Kennedy Center, to perform with world-renowned soloists, and to record. He is enjoying a full and rich career as a brass player at the same time as serving his country.

"It offers you as a young musician, who has worked his or her tail off in music school ... a chance to put the icing on the cake, a chance to taste success," he says. String players have greater opportunities to win seats in major symphony orchestras. For wind players, says Sgrecci, "The military bands are it — they are the pinnacle of music success in our country."

Sgrecci now serves as the Enlisted Director of U.S. Army Brass Band, which will be performing at the University of Richmond's Modlin Center on April 10.

All four branches of the military have bands incorporating some of the best musicians in the country. The bands perform at a wide range of ceremonial functions, including the laying of wreaths for national days of mourning, receptions for visiting heads of state, parades and presidential inaugurations.

The U.S. Army Brass band formed in 1981. Sgrecci traces this particular grouping of instruments back to sociological circumstances in Britain circa the mid-1800s. "The temperance movement caused people to look for something to do for recreation," he explains. Factories and coal mines created diversion for their workers, perhaps explicitly to build esprit de corps. The bands that resulted, such as the familiar Salvation Army bands, started to compete against one another, and a tradition of this kind of playing blossomed.

The brass band is, according to Sgrecci, "a unique genre." The group has 29 players, most performing on brass instruments — no woodwinds, not even a saxophone. Although the instrumentation includes cornets, tenor horns, euphoniums, flugel horns, tubas and trombones, there are, surprisingly, no trumpets. Sgrecci explains that this is because the defining sound of the brass band is a "dark, conical bore sound," referring to the shape of the instruments' interior chamber. Another reason for this instrumentation is that it allows all the players to read in the same clef. This allows players the flexibility to switch instruments in order to fill in for an absent members. Not to be forgotten however, are the three, sometimes four percussionists who have to demonstrate a mastery of a panoply of drums, xylophones and rhythm devices.

As any soldier must be, Sgrecci is conscious of cutbacks in the U.S. military, particularly as it affects the musical arm of the service. These cutbacks are occurring at the same time as funding and support for the arts is generally diminishing — the military bands are getting crunched from both sides. Sgrecci underscores the continuing importance of the military bands. These bands commission scores, functioning as a catalyst for the production of new music. Band members often teach in their communities, bolstering the cultural life of a community. By performing on the road, the U.S. Army Brass Band exposes audiences to music that is performed at the highest level, often for free. "I see what we do as a way of giving back to the taxpayer. This is a way to take first-class music to their communities and their
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