- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 16, 2002

The Virginia Grand Military Band is helping to keep the patriotic spirit of America alive with "March Madness." Lt. Col. Kurt Ringelmann, director of Germany's military bands, will be one of the guest conductors when the band performs at 8 tonight in the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria.

The show will open with "The Star-Spangled Banner" and close with John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever." In between, the group plans to showcase marches from around the world, overtures and show tunes.

Loras J. Schissel, conductor of the Virginia Grand Military Band, says he hopes the concert will encourage its listeners.

"People can relate to band music immediately because so many people played in bands in school," Mr. Schissel says. "We try to play music people like to listen to."

As part of the evening, Mr. Schissel plans to conduct Sousa's "The Invincible Eagle" march. He says Sousa believed the piece would become more popular than "The Stars and Stripes Forever," which is the national march. Although that did not happen, Mr. Schissel still enjoys performing the composition, which will be played in the manner Sousa intended for indoor music.

"Sousa had special tricks for performing indoor concerts rather than outdoor parade music," Mr. Schissel says. "When a section of the march repeats, the first time the brass section doesn't play. The woodwinds play their part, but down an octave. It makes a very mellow sound."

Mr. Schissel says that the music that the group will perform in this concert was supposed to be played in a fall show but that the September 11 terrorist attacks disrupted the schedule.

Lt. Col. Gilbert Mitchell, retired associate conductor of the U.S. Army Band, and Col. Ringelmann were supposed to participate in the performance in the fall. Both have returned for tonight's show as guest conductors. Col. Mitchell plans to conduct pieces such as "Faust" by Charles Gounod. Col. Ringelmann will conduct a program of German ceremonial music, including Richard Strauss' "King's March."

"I promised our guest conductors that they could come back in the spring when they could do a real concert," Mr. Schissel says. "I'm looking forward to it because I can sit and listen to the acoustics of the hall. I don't come in until the end."

Mr. Schissel is an archivist with the Library of Congress who specializes in band music and is an authority on the music of Sousa.

Tom Spain, 68, of Skillman, N.J., who plays tuba in the band, says he enjoys performing under Mr. Schissel's direction.

"It's like heaven playing in this band," Mr. Spain says. "When I sat down in this band for the first time and heard everyone playing with precision and passion, it was really exciting."

The band has about 85 members, who are asked through invitations to perform with the group. The musicians originate from 10 states.

"If one player makes a mistake, it can be a problem," Mr. Spain says. "The idea of 85 people performing in concert is really an incredible social experience, to perform in harmony, having it all work with one man's leadership."

Ken Stegeman, general manager of the Virginia Grand Military Band, says he takes pride in the skill level of the musicians. All of them volunteer their talents. Most have retired from playing in one of the military service bands.

"It's going to be entertaining," Mr. Stegeman says, referring to tonight's performance. "It's going to be patriotic. You're going to feel good."

WHAT: Virginia Grand Military Band

WHERE: Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center at Northern Virginia Community College, 3001 N. Beauregard St., Alexandria

WHEN: 8 tonight

TICKETS: $10, $5 for students, available at the door

PHONE: 703/281-3331

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