- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2007


When the thunder of the power generators eases to a rumble, Spc. Brandon Begley heads for an echoing hangar on this U.S. outpost near the Pakistan border and sets up his electric organ.

Like many GIs, he uses music to cope with stress and boredom. Often, even on patrol, they listen to MP3 players or CD boom boxes. Those who sing or play instruments usually mimic the popular music they hear on the radio back home.

But it’s a surprise to find a classical pianist and composer in this environment.

Spc. Begley, a 22-year-old mechanic with the U.S. Army’s 27th Engineer Battalion, has composed a three-movement sonata as a tribute to fallen comrades.

The piece honors Pfc. Kevin Edgin and Cpl. Aaron Griner, both killed in battle in 2006, and “all soldiers who have fallen in the name of freedom,” he says. Its title: “The Sonata of War and Peace.”

Pfc. Edgin, 31, of Dyersburg, Tenn., died July 6 when his convoy came under small-arms fire. Cpl. Griner, 24, of Tampa, Fla., died June 28 when his vehicle struck a mine, according to Pentagon announcements.

“It was very sad and very painful to, you know, see that soldiers had given their lives in defense of their country,” Spc. Begley says in a choked voice. Although he doesn’t leave the base, he has seen the results of fighting. “War is not a pretty sight,” he says.

Spc. Begley, who is from Hamilton, Ohio, and began studying piano at age 6, took four months to write the sonata during breaks between shifts repairing armored vehicles and hulking construction equipment (He also plays the borrowed organ in the base chapel). He says the hangar has the best acoustics.

Orgun-E is 7,500 feet up in the mountains, just a few miles from the dangerous border zone with Pakistan where clashes between Taliban insurgents and coalition forces are common.

Spc. Begley said the deaths of fellow soldiers serving under the 10th Mountain Division shook him deeply during his year in Afghanistan and that’s reflected in the music. It’s fair to describe the composition as “dark,” he says. That reflects the conflicting nature of its inspirations — hopes for peace versus the need to tackle threats to peace such as terrorism.

So far, he has only performed his sonata for a select few of his colleagues, preferring to rehearse the melancholy chords in the empty hangar. But he has higher aspirations. He describes his music as “a combination of Mozart and Beethoven” and hopes one day to perform in public with a live orchestra. He also has composed music to celebrate the birth of his first daughter, Bella, and other family events.

“I want everyone to know my feelings about our soldiers and not only in the United States but every army,” he says. “I hope my music will touch a lot of hearts.”

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