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Army Reserve band mentors youth at Valley Forge Military Academy

By Sgt. Salvatore Ottaviano | 99th Readiness Division | Dec. 16, 2019

WAYNE, Pa. —

The 99th Readiness Division’s 78th Army Band and the Valley Forge Military Academy and College Band teamed up for a joint holiday concert performance Dec. 6 at the academy here.

The event offered students in the VFMAC Band a one-of-a-kind learning and mentoring experience – after playing some song selections, students watched the 78th Army Band perform before members of both bands combined to play together for the grand finale.

“It’s always nice to see when the students sit with us; they were with professional musicians, so they kind of share the performance,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Luis J. Santiago, commander of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 78th Army Band. “They had a chance to see how we rehearse and prepare for a concert; we were able to connect with them and give back.”

“That professional musician sitting next to a studying musician is priceless. No book can give that experience,” said Vincent DeMarro, VFMAC bandmaster and director of music.

The event also served as a recruiting opportunity for the 78th Army Band. Santiago explained that instead of using a direct approach with the Army Reserve’s typical recruiting messages, the 78th chose the music itself as the main tool to reach the audience.

“People get to connect in a different way with the band. The kids might have apprehension when it comes to a recruiting situation, and music helps to break that wall,” said Santiago. “I think when you do it with music, their defenses go down and the wall goes down. They don’t know we have musicians in the military.”

DeMarro explained how he sees young students in the VFMAC Band are influenced by the experience of the joint concert.

“The students are saying, ‘This is real-life experience. This [playing music in the military] is a career, a job; this is really important,’” said DeMarro, who noted that VFMAC offers an Early Commissioning Program to its students.

“It’s somewhere in the range of 40 to 80 lieutenants who go into the Guard and Reserve each year, and some go into active military,” said DeMarro.

“I’m putting about 10 percent of my students into military music positions every year, and they’re mostly Army. I’ve encouraged them to go into military Reserve or Guard bands,” said DeMarro. “I am not only prepping them to utilize their skills, but encouraging them to go finish college and to do it through music.”

DeMarro added that the 78th Army Band is about to audition a flute player from his band.

“There is a flute player we spoke to at the concert who is going to apply; we will get the process going,” said Santiago. “Community engagements like this are helpful for recruiting potential; this is really good to get the message out of what we do.”

“At the simplest level, I appreciate everything the Army did to support our concert. My students are still talking about it,” said DeMarro. “The impact from the 78th Army Band concert is still continuing; that was really exciting. It struck home to a lot of young students and we’re hoping it becomes an annual tradition.”

Music skills, knowledge and education learned from America’s Army Reserve provide jobs which are available across many civilian career fields.

“We [military musicians] are the ones who will go out and play anywhere. I used to do it as a field musician in the Marines,” said DeMarro. “I graduated in three years as a music education major, and it prepared me for a career of performance.”

“Personally, the reason I got my full-time civilian position [as operations director for GRAMMY Music Education Coalition] was because of the military. That’s why I’m doing what I do,” said Santiago.

The mission of the 78th Army Band is to provide music throughout the spectrum of military operations, to include fostering the support of the nation’s citizens.

The mission of Valley Forge Military Academy and College is to develop individuals to be fully prepared for the responsibilities and challenges of being citizen leaders. Its philosophy is to develop the whole person within an integrated academic and military environment.