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Utah's 23rd Army Band wants you — to see their concerts

WEST JORDAN — They “brought the spirit and joy of America” to the north African country of Morocco. They were invited by the mayor of St. Petersburg, Russia, to participate in a concert following the Cold War. And during World War II, they were deployed to New Guinea. But for all the tours of the 23rd Army Band of the Utah Army National Guard, it is the small, rural town of Wellsville in Cache County that holds a special memory for Unit Commander and Chief Warrant Officer 3 Denny L. Saunders.

“I remember specifically a mother and father coming up afterwards and telling us about their son who was serving in Afghanistan — (with) tears in their eyes — and (saying) how much the concert had uplifted them that night,” said Saunders, who plays the trumpet. “That was a neat experience, just to see what we can do in the communities to really lift the spirits of people, especially those who are sacrificing so much.”

As Utah's only military band, that is the official mission of the 23rd Army Band: to instill in forces the will to fight and win, foster the support of citizens and promote national interests at home and abroad. The Utah National Guard band was organized and federally recognized on Feb. 1, 1924. Also called “The Governors’ Own,” the 23rd Army Band has proudly served the nation’s military and Utahns for 95 years.

For 95 years, the 23rd Army Band of the Utah National Guard has kept the patriotism alive in the Beehive State. They will perform at several locations for summer holidays, including America's Freedom Festival, the Western Stampede in West Jordan, Temple S
For 95 years, the 23rd Army Band of the Utah National Guard has kept the patriotism alive in the Beehive State. They will perform at several locations for summer holidays, including America's Freedom Festival, the Western Stampede in West Jordan, Temple Square and Ogden's Pioneer Days.
23rd Army Band, UTNG

Musical service

Duties of the band include performing at the direction of the governor, participating in town events, doing flag retirement ceremonies, playing at funerals, and, for the past seven years, paying tribute to those veterans participating with Utah Honor Flight — an opportunity that 1st Sgt. Lisa S. Blodgett, who plays trombone, always enjoys.

“A lot of veterans will come up and just thank you and appreciate the music,” Blodgett said of her participation with the Honor Flights. “That’s just another thing that kind of can tug at your heartstrings a little bit and just give you that remembrance for the flag and for the country and for all those who served before us.”

Blodgett is the first female first sergeant in the unit. Along with the brass quintet, she also performs with the concert band, marching band and jazz combo. Other music performance teams within the 23rd Army Band include the ceremonial band, stage band, rock band, brass brand and woodwind quintet.

One of the group's largest performances is the Veterans Day concert, where their 40-member concert band performs. Attended by thousands of people, the Veterans Day concert has been a major production for almost 64 years, according to Saunders.

“The Armed Forces Medley is probably the most moving and most satisfying part of our performance” said Staff Sgt. Quentin J. Hendriksen of the Veteran’s Day concert. “(The medley) is the opportunity to recognize the service of the veterans in attendance.”

“It's an emotional thing that we do and music is an emotional form of communication,” said Sgt. 1st Class Matthew D. Boehme. “That’s what makes all the other stuff we go through worthwhile is being able to experience that emotional response.”

More than a job

Boehme, who plays the euphonium and trombone, still gets emotional when he sees the veterans receive recognition. As the the second longest tenured member of the 23rd Army band — he's been with the organization for 30 years — he also works full time as the Readiness Noncommissioned Officer, where he is responsible for reports, procedures, training and administration and working with those who may be interested in joining the band.

Unit 1st Sgt. Lisa S. Blodgett, second to left, performs with the Brass Quintet at Armed Forces Day concert featuring the 23rd Army Band of the Utah National Guard and the Choral Arts Society of Utah on Saturday, May 18, 2019, at the Gallivan Center.
Unit 1st Sgt. Lisa S. Blodgett, second to left, performs with the Brass Quintet at Armed Forces Day concert featuring the 23rd Army Band of the Utah National Guard and the Choral Arts Society of Utah on Saturday, May 18, 2019, at the Gallivan Center.
RC Randall

There is not much turnover within the band, but vacancies do occur and civilians are invited to try out for paid positions, especially, according to Boehme, for flute, clarinet and saxophone positions. Applicants must first pass the Army music proficiency assessment, which has very stringent requirements. When passed, candidates must then take a 10-week Army Basic Combat Training course followed by 10 weeks of music training at the Army School of music in Virginia. Once in, all band members must pass the Army physical fitness test twice a year and qualify on the M16.

And then there are the rehearsals. For every hour onstage, members can spend 40-60 hours in rehearsals leading up to a performance. That includes around 26 rehearsals a year, according to Hendriksen. While the members gather nearly 60 times a year as a whole unit, the smaller ensembles gather even more often.

It’s a job, said Hendriksen, but he loves getting paid to do something he is passionate about. In addition to playing bassoon with the concert band, he works full time at the armory as the unit’s public affairs representative. Boehme and Hendriksen are full-time national guardsmen. For the rest of the unit, the band is a part-time job.

Saunders works as a music educator and is the only officer in the unit. Blodgett works other part-time jobs in addition to playing for the band. Accountants, attorneys, engineers and people in the medical field are just some of the careers represented in the diverse group. Saunders is quick to point out that it is the camaraderie in the unit and the love of the job that keeps members together.

“We perform a vital role in connecting the citizens with their military,” Hendriksen said. “Often, the general public doesn't see what the military does, the training we go through, the missions that they undergo to maintain our freedoms. We are able to serve as a face of the military to keep the patriotism alive.”

As the 23rd Army Band works to provide music through various military operations and within the community, they urge all to experience the sense of patriotism in their performances.

Music director Sterling Poulson leads the 23rd Army Band of the Utah National Guard and the Choral Arts Society of Utah at the Armed Forces Day concert on Saturday, May 18, 2019, at the Gallivan Center.
Music director Sterling Poulson leads the 23rd Army Band of the Utah National Guard and the Choral Arts Society of Utah at the Armed Forces Day concert on Saturday, May 18, 2019, at the Gallivan Center.
RC Randall

“A Civil War general once remarked that he doesn’t think there could even be an Army without the band because music is such a strong moving force within our lives,” Boehme said. “When there's live music happening, the world can only be so bad. If live music is still going on, things are still pretty good.”

If you go …

What: 23rd Army Band, Concert Band

What: 23rd Army Band, Rock Band

Where: Syracuse Heritage Days, Founders Park, 1904 W. 1700 South, Syracuse

When: June 29, 8:30 p.m.

Web: syracuseut.gov

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Concert Band

Where: Freedom Festival, Utah Valley University, UCCU Center, Orem

When: June 30, 7 p.m.

Web: freedomfestival.org/event/patriotic-service

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Jazz Band

Where: Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main, Salt Lake City

When: July 2, 7 p.m.

Web: excellenceconcerts.org

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Marching Band

Where: Western Stampede grand parade, 8000 S. Redwood Road, West Jordan

When: July 4, 10:30 a.m.

Web: westernstampede.com

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Concert Band

Where: Midvale City Park, 455 W. 7500 South, Midvale

When: July 5, 7:30 p.m.

Web: midvalearts.com/summer-concert-series

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Concert Band

Where: Tabernacle, Temple Square, Salt Lake City

When: July 6, 7:30 p.m.

Web: churchofjesuschrist.org/events

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Brass Band

Where: Weber State University, 4100 S. Taylor Ave., Ogden

When: July 10, 6:30 p.m.

Web: ascendperformingarts.org/events/corpsencore

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Brass Quintet

Where: Spanish Fork Fiesta Days, Fairgrounds, 475 S. Main, Spanish Fork

When: July 16, 7:30 p.m.

Web: spanishfork.org/calendar

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Concert Band

Where: Price City Culture Connection, Peace Gardens, 185 E. Main, Price

When: July 18, 7 p.m.

Web: pricecityutah.com/events

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Concert Band

Where: Swanny City Park, 400 N. 100 West, Moab

When: July 19, 5 p.m.

Web: moabfreeconcerts.com

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Marching Band

Where: Monticello Pioneer Days parade

When: July 20, 10:30 a.m.

Web: monticelloutah.org/2019-24th-celebration

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Brass Band

Where: Drums Along the Wasatch, Alta High School, 11055 S. 1000 East, Sandy

When: July 22, 7 p.m.

Web: facebook.com/battalioncorps

Also …

What: 23rd Army Band, Marching Band

Where: Ogden Pioneer Days parade, Washington Boulevard, Ogden

When: July 24, 10 a.m.

Web: ogdenpioneerdays.com