From the 2015 Crossed Sabres, Written by WO2 Phil Evans
Col. Milton G. Baker’s Vision of the Cadet Band Circa 1935
Following a short-lived experiment with an employee band, Milton G. Baker’s philosophy, as it pertained to the future of the Regimental Band, was simple and effective. He often explained to friends and acquaintances that any organization, be it a school, a college, or a business, should have one or two unique attributes that could easily convey its excellence to the general public. All successful organizations need something unique for the public to recognize and equate with excellence and Baker decided his elite unit would be the Regimental Band. He was convinced that the Band would become his unique public relations tool to enhance the external image of the Academy and a catalyst for a general upgrading of the units comprising the Corps of Cadets.
The Founder was convinced that to revitalize the Band and to attract proficient cadet musicians, he had to make the Band an extraordinary unit within the Corps of Cadets. He reasoned that an elite unit, by its precision, military bearing, élan, academic achievements and unit pride, would benefit and uplift the entire Corps of Cadets. Milton Baker saw these potential qualities in the Band. Consequently, with the hiring of Ferdinand Lhotak as Bandmaster, he introduced a major program for substantial music scholarships and admission-by-audition for qualified bandsmen. Baker was correct in his assumption. The quality of the newly recruited cadet musicians vastly improved as the enrollment in the band gradually increased. From time to time, Baker would inquire of the Commandant: “How many empty beds do we have?” After a reply of “Four, Sir,” Baker commanded: “Fill them up with bandsmen without delay.” Thus, the foundation was laid for the superior reputation of the Regimental Band in the years to come.
During the 87 years of Valley Forge there has always been a band and at times this band was regarded as one of the finest Military Bands in the land. But a band of this quality does not happen overnight, it has taken dedication from all of the 15 Bandmasters over 87 years to produce the reputation that we have today.
Here is the list of VFMA&C Regimental Bandmasters in chronological order:
Capt. Fred C. Patten, 1928–31
Mr. Thomas Rivel, 1931–33
Lt. Kenneth F. Hill, 1933–34 (Directed an employee band)
Maj. Ferdinand R. Lhotak, 1935–47
Capt. Frank Krivsky, 1947
Capt. John D. Mauk, ’37, ’39C, 1947 (Interim)
Capt. A. Penn Minerd, 1947–49
Col. D. Keith Feltham, ’90H, 1949–1976
Maj. James Derby, 1976–1983
Maj. Dale G. Weller, ’58, ’60C, 1983–85
Lt. Col. Frank M. Schoendorfer, ’51C, (Interim) 1985
Maj. James Derby, 1985–86
Col. Danny Jaynes, 1986–2000
Maj. Scott L. Collins, ’88C, 2000–2004
CWO-4 Paul Clark, 2004–2006
WO-II Philip Evans, 2006-2017
Vincent DeMarro, 2017-present
Over the years the Regimental Band were located in Von Steuben Hall off the Main Area. This building has seen over time the growth and development of many fine cadets.
Some of the stories of past and present members of the VF Band are always great fun to read.
Perhaps the story of the 1968 White House concert is in order. If you wish, the subplot…..Mr. Miele, (MSG Bugler) forgot to take his mouth piece with him when he exited the East Room to play the echo to John Hoffman’s Post Horn solo. Bob ignored the Secret Service orders and bravely ran back to the East Room, (where President and Mrs. Nixon were seated in the front row), then crawled on all fours behind the bleachers to retrieve his mouth piece just in time to run back to the White House main entrance for a perfect Post Horn echo. There is some confusion about who, and how many weapons were drawn during Bob’s two 30 yard dashes. I’m sure there is a classified file on this somewhere. I’m also sure Milton G. Baker and J. Edgar Hoover agreed (over a fine cognac) to keep this file classified forever but I am sure that Jeff Jarvis and Gerry Maynard have a bit more detail – Dan Caughey ’70 C
The Band was asked to perform some Christmas selections and Fanfares at a Baltimore TV station. This was exciting as many both old and new had never been on TV. We arrived, tuned and played a few measures for a sound check. As we started our sound check, we were asked why we had “cards” blocking our faces. These “cards” were the music on lyres attached to the fanfares. The producer of the show asked if we could remove them for the taping. COL Feltham asked us if we had it memorized……some of us did not because of the different fingering and we needed the help of the written fingering.
COL Feltham asked what the problem was of which I responded the last few measures. I was given ten minutes to study and commit to memory the last set of measures. After 5 minutes I realized this was not going to happen and the producer was getting anxious to start the actual taping. We were aligned in two rows, the trumpets in the first and the trombones in the second row but a half pace off the trumpets so we all could be seen and especially the horns themselves. It was at this point I had an idea!
As we aligned ourselves, I was asked how it was coming on my immediate memorization. I answered COL Feltham with a question…….could I have my part taped to the back of the one trumpet players as an “idiot card” and ask the cameras not to take a back shot of us as a dramatic picture. Of course I was doubted I could read the handwritten manuscript from that distance. I proved to that I had very good eyes and set up a trial for both COL Feltham and Major Lockwood to see.
The next thing that was being done was the producer yelling for any type of tape to place my music on the back of the trumpet player and to get on with the taping. We started the performance, sounded great and thrilled everyone in the studio – John Rapp ‘74C
My favorite memory of being in the Regimental Band has definitely been the annual Military School Band Festival. Competing with other companies for the title of Best Company within Valley Forge’s Corps of Cadets is one thing; competing with other military academies and colleges from around the nation for Best Military High School Band and Best Military College Band is another matter entirely. Without a doubt, the months leading up to MSBF are laborious and tiring: cadets involved wake up on cold mornings before dawn to practice musical pieces and prepare for auditions. However, the payoff is felt while at MSBF, whether through the entertaining road trip, the friends made from other schools, the camaraderie and pride felt for one’s own school, or the culmination of hours of hard work and amazing music at the concluding concert.
MSBF truly represents the experience that being in the Band offers. It’s one among many opportunities for cadets to leave campus and gain a glimpse at other military schools, new places, and the society around them. My years participating in MSBF have taken me from Virginia to Indiana; my years in the Band have taken me from New York City to halfway around the world in London. That’s why Band has been the most powerful experience of my time at Valley Forge – Young Sheng ‘15
Here’s another note about that concert in Baltimore that John Rapp describes.
I remember it well. The week before that particular television appearance, nearly the whole band was sidelined with a particularly nasty flu bug. I remember this because I was patient zero — I was sick with it and from me it spread through the Band over the course of a number of days.
When the time came to go, Duke said we’d not be able to go if we weren’t all well. Of course, we reported that we were all good to go. (I really was — I had recovered well over a week before the performance.)
Someone, presumably Col. Feltham, told us that if any of us had to vomit to get up from the stage and go do it.
So we get to the station and get set up and a couple people are feeling pretty awful, particularly Maurice Zimmerman, our tenor sax first chair. As a redhead, he was already pale, but he was REALLY pale that day.
We are well into the program and Maurice is feeling pretty bad. So he gets up, leaves the stage where we were taping and presumably barfs his guts out. Poor guy! We all felt bad for him because most of us had been there in the days prior.
Anyway, after the performance, we were gathered in a conference room to see the playback of the tape. We get to a particular point in the program and Maurice is there. Next time the camera pans the Band, he’s gone. No one on the stage — except for Maurice — even flinched and if one hadn’t known in advance that he got up in the middle of a number and left the stage, you’d never have noticed it.
Everyone performed magnificently that day in spite of a number of queasy stomachs! But it was a real mark of professionalism in the way that Maurice, the rest of the cadets and Col. Feltham handled it. No one was the wiser because of it.
That’s my memory of the event. And Maurice Zimmerman, a great guy to begin with, always has my undying respect for soldiering though a tough time.