News: US Army bandsman partners with local school
Story by Sgt. Jennifer Spradlin
KUWAIT CITY, Kuwait – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said, “Music is the universal language of mankind.”
In the main auditorium of the American International School Kuwait, there is a lot of conversation going on but not enough listening. Maj. Scott McKenzie, the U.S. Army Central Band liaison and a conductor with the U.S. Army Field Band, silences the students with the wave of his hand.
“Listen to each other,” he instructs them, scanning the rows of instruments and musicians. “Each note has a life. It begins, it lives, and then it dies. Don’t rush.”
McKenzie, deployed to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, is a guest conductor for the International Schools Activities Conference Band and Choir Festival Concert. The students are part of an honor band, assembled from schools in Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. He is working with them on "Mozart’s Sandbox," a piece he composed himself. The idea behind the piece is to explore what kind of music Mozart might make if he lived today, what rules he would break, how would he utilize instruments unavailable during his lifetime.
As McKenzie sees it, the most important mission of the band is to support the troops, but a close second, is the role of musical ambassador.
“One of the great things that Army bands can do for the Army, is present the Army and Americans in a non-threatening way. One of my band commanders once said, ‘Army bands are a weapon of peace.’ We can show off the excellence and professionalism of the military, and we can do it in places where the military might not otherwise be invited,” said McKenzie.
Working with schools, he said, is an inroad into the community as a whole and an opportunity to tell the soldier story.
“I can talk about music and musical concepts, but I also tell them what I do in the Army, and I get to serve as a representative of the Army. Both the teachers and kids are really interested to know about the military. They ask about the music, but they also ask me what it’s like to be a soldier,” said McKenzie.
McKenzie has prior experience teaching children. He worked as a middle school music teacher for four years prior to enlisting. He began his career as an Army bandsman playing the saxophone and later auditioned to become a composer. His work with the military, he said, is the fulfillment of both his civic and musical ambitions.
“A great thing about this job is that I get to do what I love and what I do best – which is music -- but when you do it in the military, you do it for a higher purpose. In my career, I’ve had the great opportunity to make music in places as varied as a German fest tent, in the White House, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court, and in a little theater in Sweden. All over the world, all types of ceremonies or concerts – all while doing it in support of the ‘greater good’ and the ideals that the Army stands for,” said McKenzie.
For the next couple of days, the students will also benefit from those experiences.
“He brings to us a wealth of experience, really rich experience and expertise. It’s amplified because he is a composer as well and we’re actually working on his own music. It gives the kids a unique opportunity to work with someone whose name is on the upper right-hand corner of the music, and there he is right in front of them,” said Dan Massoth, AIS Kuwait high school band director.
“It’s really important for students to be able to see how as an adult they can be involved in music in different ways and to understand how that can be their experience as they get older.”
McKenzie said the event would be the highlight of his deployment to Kuwait. A challenge and a gift for him to be a part of, as the students advance in their skill set and continue their musical journeys. Although McKenzie will soon redeploy, Massoth said the relationship between the military here and the school would be something he would maintain going forward.
“For the students to see the bigger picture and have more of a worldview and a long-term view, that lifelong learning aspect of education, and music education in particular, those partnerships are essential,” said Massoth.