Friday, May 6, 2011

A Wolverine Easter

No, this post is not about celebrating the Resurrection at the University of Michigan.

My Brass Quintet took a trip over Easter weekend to Forward Operation Base Wolverine, located in a nearby province of Afghanistan. We left on the evening of Good Friday. In fact we left quite late and arrived sometime around midnight, which was disorienting given that the FOB is very, very dark after the sun goes down. Fortunately, there wasn't much on the schedule Saturday so we had most of the day to recover from the very late evening. We were there by request of the Chaplain for the base, and he and his assistant were very gracious to arrange our lodging and allow us to use the Chapel for rehearsal and instrument storage.

After a quick rehearsal Saturday, we played in the chow hall during dinner time. The chow hall at Wolverine actually has pretty good acoustics, and we felt very comfortable playing in there. I wish we had gotten a recording of it! Dinner music can be an odd experience for the performer; in a matter of minutes we'll go from playing Duke Ellington to Queen to Star Wars music. Some pieces that we're very proud of will go by without any reaction from the diners, and then others will receive raucous applause. And of course, the obligatory shouts of "Free Bird!!!!" from some clever guy who thinks he's the first one to think of that. It was a bit surprising to discover that our arrangements of "Bohemian Rhapsody" and a medley of Metallica songs ("Unforgiven," "Nothing Else Matters," and "Sad But True") were probably our most popular offerings. (Yes...a Brass Quintet playing Metallica. We do what most quintets won't dare.)

We were up before dawn Sunday morning to provide some music for the Easter sunrise service. We found ourselves situated in front of a helicopter hangar, looking towards the mountains as the sun began to creep above the jagged horizon. We had planned three "pre-music" selections, but ended up playing a few more while everyone waited for a couple of noisy Apache helicopters to come in and refuel. (The Chaplain remarked that this was his first Easter service to be delayed by attack choppers.) Once they departed, the service went ahead smoothly, though I had to don my sunglasses to combat the glare once the sun was over the mountains.

We had the rest of the morning off, and then played more music at the dining facility during lunch. Of the many places I've been thus far on this deployment, I should say that Wolverine has had the best food. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the mint chocolate chip ice cream. They also had sweet iced tea, which I very much enjoyed.

That evening we played some more music for the evening "contemporary" service, and a couple of us joined in to play some horn parts with the band. Monday morning, one of the units was changing commanders, and we provided our more traditional ceremonial music for the occasion. Except that after the ceremony, one of the officers requested the Metallica music, so we finished it out with some headbanging. (They say part of the job is knowing what your audience wants....)

Later in the afternoon, we were called into the headquarters building for a presentation with the base's commanding officer. He wanted to present the group with Certificates of Achievement for the morale boost we had provided over the past three days. To his surprise, and ours, what was supposed to be a quick acknowledgement had turned into a presentation in front of most of the base's command staff. It certainly made us feel appreciated, and the commander gave us a nice speech about appreciating the training and education that bandsmen have, and the importance of our role in maintaining the morale and tradition of the military.

That night, we waited for our flight back to Kandahar. Our "fifteen-minute" wait turned into over ninety minutes, but it did give us a chance to appreciate the spectacular starry sky that we don't get to enjoy much at the much more brightly-lit Kandahar Air Field. It was a good trip and I hope I get to return to Wolverine soon...the ice cream is calling me.

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