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From West Point with Love: Music Alums Nick and Nicole Caluori Wed, Win Jobs in West Point Band

Nick Caluori Interviewed after Dallas Performances

by Chris Calloway (B.M. Performance '12)

Not only did Nick (M.M. Horn Performance ’06) and Nicole (B.M. Horn Performance ’07, M.M. studies ’07-’08) Caluori (de la Cal) both study music at SMU, but the two won highly coveted jobs playing horn with the West Point Band in New York. Recently, the West Point Brass, a standard brass quintet made up of two trumpets, horn, trombone, and tuba, performed at SMU in O’Donnell Hall, with Nick playing on the horn. That evening, the West Point Band gave a joint concert with the Dallas Wind Symphony at the Meyerson Symphony Center, with Nicole and Nick playing in the WPB horn section and current SMU grad student Sheryl Haydeka (M.M. Horn Performance ’10) performing in the Dallas Wind Symphony. Nick sat down with student reporter Chris Calloway to talk in-depth about what it’s like working in one of America’s most famous military bands.

What is a typical day like playing with the West Point Band?
A typical day varies on the season, but the Concert Band, a 49-member wind band, usually rehearses in the mornings on weekdays with a varied performance schedule in the mid-afternoon or evening. Concerts are held at various venues throughout the Hudson Valley and Tri-state area (New Jersey, New York and Connecticut). At West Point, we perform at two venues: Eisenhower Hall, and the scenic Trophy Point Amphitheatre in the summer months, which overlooks the Hudson River.

We have nine active chamber ensembles, and some groups utilize afternoons to rehearse. I am in the West Point Brass, a quintet the five of us formed together. While some chamber ensembles are more active than others, each group fulfills some ceremonial work at West Point and chamber outreach in the Tri-state area. One of the benefits of these groups, however, is the members can make as much or as little out of their chamber music opportunity as they wish. My group, the West Point Brass, is very active and in the last year has presented recitals at colleges such as the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Portland State University, University of Miami, Florida Atlantic University, University of Connecticut, University of North Texas and Southern Methodist University.

A band member’s primary duty is to perform as an instrumentalist. West Point Band personnel must maintain a high level of proficiency on their instrument, and many nurture it through daily practice, continual performance, and professional development such as attendance at music conferences and lessons with respected professionals. Since the band is a self-sustaining organization, however, band personnel have secondary duties in areas such as publicity, building maintenance, administration, music preparation, information technology, operations and others. Some members use afternoons to work in these areas.

How is the seating for each performance handled?
Each section handles seating and part assignments differently. Right now, we only have four horns in the section. Not to diminish the demands of orchestral performance, but in a wind ensemble, we are playing most of the time. Until we get a fifth horn player, we typically get together two weeks before a concert, assess the physical demands of the repertoire, and decide who will play what parts. Our section gets along and is comprised of excellent players, so we usually accommodate requests to perform certain pieces. For example, in Dallas, since Nicole and I are SMU alumni, I wanted to play principal on the Gould Symphony and Nicole on the Firebird.

How many horn players auditioned for the position you now hold?
Audition processes for premier military bands vary from job to job. Each of the approximately 80 instrumental positions in the West Point Band is auditioned. Most band members enlist in the Army specifically to serve in the West Point Band. When a vacancy arises, it is advertised on the band’s website, to other military bands, in trade journals, and to universities and colleges nationwide. Applicants send an audition packet that includes a CD and a resume. A West Point Band committee reviews the packets and selected candidates are invited to West Point for an in-person audition at Army expense. If the winner of the audition is a civilian, he or she signs a contract to serve specifically in the West Point Band and heads to Basic Training. While the number of applicants varies, we typically have between 50 and 60 horn applicants per audition. We had over 80 applicants at our last tuba audition!

I heard there were special circumstances for Nicole’s West Point Band audition since you two were married at the time and you already held a seat in the WPB. Could you describe what that was about?
As soon as the vacancy was announced, I removed myself from the entire audition process. At that time, the other three members of the section reviewed the recordings and resumes and selected Nicole as one of the candidates they wanted to invite to the live audition. Repertoire and sight-reading were privately selected by the other three members of the horn section. They did an outstandingly professional job of making sure the playing field was fair for all of the candidates. The audition panel consisted of the three members of the horn section, the principal oboe, trombone section leader, and our deputy and commanding officers. The entire panel unanimously agreed that Nicole won her position on her own merit and ability. I stayed home that day and was a nervous wreck!

What are the dynamics of the job field like? Do people stay for their career, or do they tend to transition to ensembles/orchestras after a few years’ experience?
Our job is unique in that as long as you abide by the playing and professional standards of the Army and the West Point Band, you have “tenure.” Given that full-time playing positions are at a premium, this is comforting in such a competitive job market. I read in a past edition of the Horn Call that there are only 18 full-time professional orchestras left in the United States, which means only 108 of our horn-playing colleagues have full-time gigs.

The quality of musicians coming into the premier military bands is higher than it has ever been. Thirty years ago many used the military bands as a stepping stone, or in some cases, to fulfill their military duty, such as John Kitzman, who played in the West Point Band during part of the Vietnam War. Some other West Point Band alumni who play or played in the Dallas Symphony Orchestra also include Paul Garner, Associate Principal Clarinet, and Steve Girko, former Principal Clarinet of the DSO.

The Army requires enlisted personnel to leave the West Point Band at age 55. As I mentioned earlier, the quality of the West Point Band has skyrocketed over the last ten years as new personnel come into the ensemble. The mandatory retirement age coincided with a large number of baby-boomers leaving the West Point Band. Currently, I estimate that about 85 percent of the Concert Band has been at West Point for less than ten years. Given the job outlook for musicians, I also estimate that many of my colleagues will make a career in the West Point Band.

One other thing I would like to add is the education level of the West Point Band. As is the case with any of the premier military bands, the West Point Band is comprised of musicians from the nation’s finest music schools.

Some 93% of band members hold college degrees, mostly in music. Many renowned institutions are represented in the degrees band members hold: Curtis Institute of Music, Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, New England Conservatory of Music, Southern Methodist University, and the University of North Texas, among others. A breakdown of college degrees: 48 hold master’s degrees, 35 hold bachelor’s degrees, five have begun or completed course work on doctoral degrees, one holds a doctoral degree, and one holds an associate’s degree

How long do you and Nicole plan to stay at West Point?
Nicole and I are in a unique situation: we independently won jobs at the same gig. This was always a dream of ours and we knew if we worked diligently enough, it would come true. To play in the same section the same way we did in the Meadows Symphony Orchestra and horn studio class with Greg Hustis is rewarding and special. We cherish the day-to-day opportunity to grow together musically and build on a foundation we established during our time together at festivals and SMU. For right now, we are very comfortable, but we work regularly on refining our craft, performing with orchestras in the Tri-state area, taking periodic lessons with members of the MET and NY Philharmonic, and preparing for some orchestral auditions to keep us honest with our playing.

We enjoy taking advantage of what nearby New York City has to offer. We often hear performances by visiting orchestras at Carnegie Hall and the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall, and we occasionally see musicals on Broadway.

I remember you saying an SMU alumnus who played viola is either going to be conducting or be in some sort of leadership position at WPB. Could you tell me who that person is and what they will be doing?
Major Jim Keene will take over as our conductor and commander in July 2010. He is an SMU alumnus who earned a Master of Music degree with highest honors in orchestral conducting. He also served as assistant conductor of the Meadows Symphony Orchestra and was on the staff of the SMU International Conservatory Summer Festival in Taos, New Mexico. As commander, he will make all executive decisions as first in charge of the West Point Band, but more importantly, he will guide the ensemble on musical and artistic levels.

Major Keene is also well-connected with Dr. Carol Reynolds, the program annotator of the Dallas Wind Symphony. Dr. Reynolds served as associate professor of music history at SMU for over twenty years and recently developed a home-school course titled Discovering Music: 300 Years of Interaction in Western Music, Arts, History, and Culture. Major Keene assisted Dr. Reynolds with some sections of this in-depth music history project.

What other members of the West Point Band are SMU alumni?
We have four SMU alumni in the West Point Band: Nick and Nicole Caluori, horn, Shawn Herndon, clarinet, and Curt Starr, trombone.

What kind of work do you do with outreach to the community?
The West Point Band is closely knit with the immediate community and the Tri-state area. We present community concerts at West Point and in the surrounding areas, usually within a two-hour driving radius. Thousands of visitors come to our West Point and community concerts to hear the finest in new and traditional concert band literature. While our “mission” is to fulfill musical requirements of West Point in support of the U.S. Corps of Cadets, our concerts also aim to invigorate patriotic pride in the general public.

Band members organize and host outreach educational events. These events bring together students, teachers, and top industry professionals in a stimulating atmosphere of performance and instruction. In the past few years some events have included the West Point Jazz Festival, West Point Trumpet Conference, West Point Clarinet Summit, Conductor’s Workshop, Young People’s Concert, Instrument Repair Workshop, and Audio Workshop.

Our chamber ensembles also perform at local schools in the Tri-state area multiple weeks a year as part of our education outreach program. We also host a solo and chamber recital series that features members of the West Point Band at various venues on post.

Do you ever tour internationally?
As a full ensemble, the West Point Band has never traveled internationally since our “mission” keeps us closely tied to the West Point community and the Corps of Cadets. Members of the West Point Band, however, on individual and collective levels, have performed internationally in China and Norway. Most international touring at the premier band level, however, involves the U.S. Army Field Band; they are based out of Fort Meade, MD.

What venues have you played in?
During the three years I have been in the band we have performed at Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic a few times and at the Meyerson Symphony Center. Over its 193-year history, however, the West Point Band has played at other famous venues including Carnegie Hall and Tanglewood Music Center. 

Do you have an opportunity to travel often with the ensemble or brass quintet, or is most of your time spent at West Point?
Traveling is often left up to individuals and chamber groups. Multiple weeks are designated each calendar year so chamber groups can perform around the country. These tours are often initiated and coordinated by the chamber groups themselves. The group contacts potential sponsors and venues, coordinates dates, submits an official request for funding and awaits approval from our command staff. For example, my brass quintet, the West Point Brass, coordinated our tours of south Florida and Oregon last spring. We also sought out the performance opportunities at SMU and UNT during our Dallas trip in February 2010.

Since we have a high quality of motivated performers in the West Point Band, many individuals pursue opportunities to perform at workshops, conferences, and symposiums. For example, in March of last year I performed on a recital at the 2009 IHS Southeast Horn Workshop at Western Carolina University. This week, two of our saxophone players are performing at the University of Georgia.

Since New York City is only a 45-minute drive from West Point, we have reestablished our connection with the New York Philharmonic. Our first performance with them was in 1964 (William Steinberg, conductor) with our most recent performances in July 2008 and December 2009, and another series is scheduled for July 2010. Many members of the Band have also developed a relationship with musicians in the Philharmonic during their musical studies.

We also have had Joe Alessi, Principal Trombone of the NY Philharmonic, and Phil Smith, Principal Trumpet of the NY Philharmonic, solo with the West Point Band a number of times. We are premiering and recording John Mackey’s Harvest: Concerto for Trombone with Joe Alessi as our soloist.

Does WPB still play at inaugurations of U.S. Presidents?
The last inauguration we performed at was for George W. Bush. As the senior premier musical representative of the United States Army, however, the band has appeared at many historical events. We performed at the dedication of the Erie Canal; at the Chicago and New York World’s Fairs; and for the funerals of Ulysses S. Grant and Franklin D. Roosevelt as well as the inaugurations of numerous other presidents.

As far as my experience, the West Point Band led the 2009 Veterans Day Ceremony and Parade in New York City. We also performed for a number of New York Yankees home games during the 2009 season, including the home opener and Game 1 of the American League Championship Series. The home opener was a unique experience; we continued the tradition of John Philip Sousa and his band, which played for the opening of the original Yankee Stadium in 1923!

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