Celebration of 50 years of military bands in town will start with Army Field Band concert in Wilton

A concert by the Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus will kick off a yearlong celebration of Ridgefield’s 50-year tradition of hosting military bands. Students will get to perform, and the public can attend — for free, as always with the U.S. military bands. The concert will be at Wilton High School’s Clune Auditorium, Saturday, Nov. 5, at 7 p.m. The students joining in the performance will be Wilton High School students.

Concert organizers at the American Legion were unable to book Ridgefield High School’s auditorium, the only venue in town they say is large enough for the 80-plus member Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus.

“They always have something planned,” Jack Herr said of Ridgefield High School, where Legion organizers complain they’ve had difficulty scheduling concerts in recent years.

The military band concerts are a tradition in town, and fans don’t understand the move to Wilton.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook — people saying, What the hell’s going on, why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that?” Herr said of the fuss that’s generated publicity about the Nov. 5 concert in WIlton.

Herr has been involved in organizing the military band concerts in town — usually a few each year — since it started as a Kiwanis program in 1967-68.

Although the Navy Sea Chanters were at Ridgefield High School earlier this year, he said American Legion organizers have been frustrated trying to book the RHS auditorium and coordinate it with the military bands’ schedules.

“We don’t get any cooperation from the high school,” Herr told The Press after stopping by Friday, Oct. 21, to take out ads publicizing the Nov. 5 concert in Wilton.

“The Sea Chanters in April was at the high school,” he said. “That’s when school was out, That’s when spring break was.”

In addition to the Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus on Nov. 5, a March 18 concert by the West Point Band is scheduled for Wilton High School.

A July 3 concert by the United States Air Force Concert Band will be outdoors at Veterans Park field — it will feature the 1812 Overture, which calls for accompanying cannon fire.

The final concert in the 50 years celebration is the Marine band, the President’s Own, scheduled to come Oct. 25, 2017.

“The President’s Own, we have no idea where that will be — it will have to be someplace other than Ridgefield,” Herr said. “That’s the finale of the 50th anniversary.”

Ridgefield High School’s administration said the school tries to cooperate, but student uses of the auditorium are given priority and they have a lot of things planned, so it’s tough to fit other events in.

“RHS has been extremely cooperative with the American Legion, as we are with all community groups and agencies,” Principal Stacey Gross said. “As you know, RHS truly values its role in the community as a whole. However, we are a large, comprehensive high school with many programs (i.e., band, jazz band, symphony, and choir concerts on various nights, as well two fall plays) that must be scheduled first. I’m sure you can understand that it is essential to support our students’ needs and provide school-based opportunities for them. While we always work to accommodate outside rentals, it is most successful when they can approach the process with some flexibility.”

American Legion Post 78 Commander George Besse issued a statement on the situation, starting with a question:

“Why is the United States Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus playing in Wilton High School and not in Ridgefield?” he said.

“For the past 49 years through the efforts of American Legionnaire Jack Herr and his relationships with the different military bands, residents of Ridgefield have enjoyed listening to patriotic music played by bands from all branches of the service,” Besse wrote.

“Bands notify us where they are going on tour in our area and give us a date that is best for their travel schedule. The Army Field Band gave us an available date of Nov. 5th. Because this band is from Washington, D.C., and is the Army’s best, we could not let this opportunity for Ridgefielders and surrounding patrons to pass us by,” Besse said.

“This band and chorus requires a large stage such as the stage we have at our high school, as they are comprised of 80 members. Unfortunately, the Drama Department at RHS has the stage booked for November and no alternative arrangement could be made there.

“We approached Wilton High School and they welcomed the opportunity to accommodate us,” Besse said. “This will be an exciting and wonderful concert.

“I hope the people of Ridgefield will understand and excuse us for having to move it a little further down the road,” he said. “We encourage carpooling for those who don’t like to drive at night and look forward to seeing everyone there.”

Herr said the Nov. 5 concert at Wilton High school was scheduled back in February.

“This concert has been planned for about a year and half,” he said.

Herr said other venues in town, such as East Ridge Middle School or the Playhouse, aren’t big enough for the Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus.

“The junior high [East Ridge Middle School] can’t hold the scope of the bands we’ve got coming,” Herr said.

“There’ll be over 85 performers on the stage at one time.”

The Ridgefield Playhouse? It doesn’t seat a big enough audience.

“They won’t play there— that only holds 600 or 700,” Herr said.

Like Besse, Herr was excited about the Nov. 5 program with the Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus at Wilton High School, which is being co-sponsored by Ridgefield’s American Legion Post 78 and Wilton’s American Legion Post 86.

“They’ve prepared a special concert to kick off Ridgefield’s 50th anniversary of military band concerts,” he said.

“We encourage all Ridgefield band fans to come to Wilton to hear — really, I’d say it’s a concert of a lifetime. It’s really in the American spirit. They’re going to have students from the Wilton High School perform. They’re going to do an armed forces salute — Stars and Stripes Forever  and several vocal pieces performed by the world-famous Soldiers’ Chorus.”