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Residents join Army Field Band for free concert at Sanford Center

Four members of the Bemidji Chorale were discussing what to wear when they appear with the U.S. Army Field Band Soldiers’ Chorus on Thursday at the Sanford Center. From left are Stephen Bomgren, Andrea LaVasseur, Becky Leuben and Sutton Stewart. Patt Rall | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – For three of the invited participants in Thursday night’s U. S. Army Field Band and Soldiers’ Chorus concert at the Sanford Center, it will be a look back at their own stint in the U.S. Army.

Several local singers and musicians will take the stage to join in a performance of the march “El Capitan” by John Philip Sousa.

For Paul Mork and his trombone, it will probably feel like old times when he joins the band.

“It was during the Vietnam War and my draft number was low,” said Paul Mork, “so I joined the Army after my junior year of college in January of 1969.”

Mork, who played trombone in the band at Worthington High School, spoke highly of his band director Glenn Evensen who, Mork says, “produced a lot of decent players.”

“I was in basic training when I auditioned for the First Army Band,” Mork said. “I was accepted and transferred to Fort Meade, Md., where the U.S. Army Field Band was also stationed. “

Mork spoke to those years as a “musical ambassador” for the Army for they played concert tours along with traditional functions like “Pass and Review” ceremonies which mark a change in command or other important event.

“We played to receive troops home from Vietnam,” said Mork, “and for awards ceremonies. There is a historical tradition to music in the services that dates back in this country when Fife and Drum Corps lead the columns of men during the Revolutionary War.”

Mork returned back to the University of Minnesota and graduated with a degree in biological sciences. He was the park manager at Lake Bemidji State Park for 22 years until his retirement in 2009.

Another person who remembers her days in the U.S. Army is Andrea LeVasseur, who will be singing with the chorus for this concert.

“I was a radio traffic analyst and learned Russian in the Army,” said LeVasseur. “I was stationed in Germany by the Czech border and monitored Soviet ground forces (during the Cold War.”

Alto LeVasseur was in the Army from 1973 to 1977 and retired to resume her college career under the GI Bill.

Bass singer Stephen Bomgren served in Germany from 1962 through 1965 in intelligence monitoring the radio networks in East Germany.

Two other members of the Bemidji Chorale, Becky Leuben (soprano) and Sutton Stewart (tenor), also will perform.  

“We just jump at the chance to bring concerts like this to the Bemidji area,” said Dennis Doeden, publisher of the Bemidji Pioneer.

Paul Bunyan Broadcasting, with their affiliate on-air stations, and the Pioneer have been longtime partners in presenting these free concerts to the public. The first concert was in 2001 with the Air Force Band at Bemidji High School. A second was with the Army Jazz Ambassadors on the campus of Bemidji State University. Several other concerts have been staged in the Bemidji High School auditorium and this year the venue is the Sanford Center.

Although the military band concerts do not charge a fee to the presenters, the actual cost of producing these events has increased. This year, two presenting sponsors stepped forward to assume the major financial backing: First National Bank Bemidji and Coca Cola Bottling.

“We were thrilled to find both vocalists and instrumentalists,” said Doeden.

Four members of the Bemidji High School band, under the direction of Derek Wickum, will perform: Issac Flaa on alto sax, Kayla Hewitt on trumpet, Erin Jones on French horn and Mark Switajski on trombone. Bemidji Area Community Band members who will play along with Mork are Glenn Seibel on the euphonium, Steve Konecne on saxophone and Darrel Rodekuhr on bassoon. Senior trumpet student Lexie Kruse will represent the music department at BSU.

The concert begins at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Sanford Center, with Col. Timothy J. Holtan as conductor of the band and chorus. Tickets are free and available now at the Bemidji Pioneer, First National Bank Bemidji, Paul Bunyan Broadcasting offices at Fifth Street and Beltrami Avenue, and at the Sanford Center Ford Pickup Window.

The arena doors will open at 6:10 p.m. with open seating.