Music from the military

Not long ago, Peter Lesser got a call from a representative of the U.S. Army Field Band.

The band was looking for places to play, and it wondered if Lesser, executive director of The Egg in downtown Albany, would be interested in booking it.

We said sure, Lesser said. "It's just a great way to bring some good music into the area."

The band, which will play at the Egg on Saturday, March 7, at 3 p.m., regularly tours the country. It's traveled to all 50 states, performing shows that are always free.

"It's a way for the Army to reach out to communities across the country," said Heather Santos, director of public affairs.

That mission was born near the end of World War II, when soldiers who had served in combat in all theaters of the war joined to form The First Combat Infantry Band. They spent a year and a half traveling the country to encourage support for soldiers, as well as the purchase of war bonds.

In 1946, the band was renamed the Army Ground Forces Band. There was another name change in 1950, when the Army Ground Forces became the Army Field Forces and the band was rechristened The United States Army Field Band.

Some members were already in the military and joined the band when there was a vacancy. Others joined the service as musicians.

Either way, band members have to audition. They must demonstrate a professional performance level, strong sight-reading skills and the ability to play assorted musical styles.

Once they make the band, which pays in the neighborhood of $50,000, they have to enlist in the Army for a minimum of three years, which is largely spent traveling with the band. The band tours for more than 100 days each year, completing a circuit of the entire country every two and a half years. Concerts are free because they are sponsored by local groups or venues like The Egg.

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