News: No language barrier with music
Story by Mark Wyatt
SONSONATE, El Salvador – Music provides many things to many cultures. It is important everywhere. But here in El Salvador music is big. Really big.
So for a soldier from the New Hampshire National Guard, an opportunity to perform with the Salvadoran army band while here on a training mission was a big deal.
“I was invited to rehearse and perform with the Military District Six Band here on base,” said Warrant Officer Sean Pinsonneault, Joint Task Force Jaguar Base Operations officer in charge. “They are putting on a concert here for soldiers participating in Beyond the Horizon-El Salvador and invited me to perform alongside their talented musicians.”
According to his Salvadoran counterpart, Pinsonneault was given an opportunity that has never happened before.
“It was a pleasure because it's the first time someone has joined us, to carry forward the art of music,” said the Salvadoran 1st Lt. Fabricio Hernandez.
Pinsonneault and other U.S. service members are here as part of BTH 2013, humanitarian and civic assistance mission deploying military engineers and medical professionals to El Salvador for training and to provide humanitarian services.
The purpose of BTH is to conduct civil-military operations, including humanitarian civic assistance as well as medical, dental, engineering support by active duty, National Guard and Reserve service members.
Being able to read music is something that’s not restrictive to a person’s language, so for the National Guard band commander, performing was not terribly challenging.
“I speak very little Spanish, and they speak very little English, the beauty of music is that we speak a universal language,” said Pinsonneault. “I didn’t need to understand what the conductor was saying in Spanish, I knew what he meant just by his actions and by what the musicians next to me were playing, so I didn’t actually need to understand Spanish, I could understand his music.”
The Salvadoran conductor was grateful for the opportunity.
“We enjoyed it. We've never had such an experience,” praised Hernandez. “We enjoyed the experience we've had with each other.”
Intimidated at first to play with them, Pinsonneault, a life time musician, appreciated the opportunity to play with his Salvadoran band counterparts here.
“I was honored,” continued Pinsonneault. “I was concerned about not playing my instrument for three months while assigned here, but having a band that I can actually practice with is amazing. So when they asked me to join them, I was honored to sit in with them.”
A trumpeter himself, Pinsonneault was impressed by the talent in their trumpet section.
“Their trumpet players are amazing,” Pinsonneault said. “They are really good. It was a little intimidating sitting next to them because of how good they play.”
Traditional with concert bands, feature performances are a way to recognize talented musicians.
“The conductor of the band wanted me to play a solo on a song I didn’t know very well,” continued Pinsonneault. “I tried to practice it, but I didn’t really know the song and didn’t have much time to practice it, so the conductor graciously chose a song I knew well, ‘In the Mood.’”
Even with the conductor adamant about me playing the solo, Pinsonneault was grateful for the opportunity to play in their band, never mind playing a solo with them.
Later that night, the band performed for more than 150 Salvadoran and U.S. personnel at a local bazaar. The bazaar was an opportunity for the first rotation of BTH soldiers to experience a little Salvadoran culture mixed in with American music.
“While U.S. soldiers were buying souvenirs at the bazaar, the Salvadorans chose American music to make us feel more at home while here building schools and providing medical and dental care to local communities alongside our Salvadoran partners,” said Pinsonneault.
The experience was something the veteran musician hopes grows into more.
“I hope I get the opportunity to come back and perform again with their talented musicians,” Pinsonneault said. “I would really like to bring my (Army) band down here and have a cultural exchange with the bands. I think that it would be beneficial to my band and beneficial to the Salvadorans as well.”