MITCHELL, S.D. (KELO) – This past year has been one without a lot of live music performances that includes silencing a band that’s been playing in South Dakota for 136 years — the 147th Army Band of South Dakota.
Army bands are meant to boost morale for soldiers, veterans and civilians alike. The 147th Army Band’s history of making music dates all the way back to 1885. But, much of the music they play now wasn’t around back then.
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Outside of their full concert band, there are five groups that play different styles of music.
“Our group splits into a rock band, a country band, more of a newer pop group with some hip-hop and we’ve got a brass group and then a small, I call it coffeehouse pop,” Commander Terry Beckler, a percussionist, said.
Beckler says the band has at least 30 performances in a year, sometimes 70 or more if they go on school tours. But due to COVID-19 they only publicly performed once between March of 2020 and the beginning of this month.
“We’ve had a lot of rehearsal time and time to get some new music into our repertoire, but it’s been weird,” Beckler said.
Last year, the whole band got to perform during the Fourth of July celebration at Mount Rushmore with former President Donald Trump. That was one of the largest audiences they’ve ever had.
“It was an experience,” Staff Sergeant Daniel Heier, a percussionist, said. “It was a lot of people, it was a lot of fun and it was cool to see some of the behind-the-scenes and be a part of that and all the production. It was unlike anything else I’ve ever played at before.”
“The crowd was amazing,” Sergeant Kimberly Meyer, a vocalist, guitarist and clarinetist said. “They were so appreciative of what we did and just being able to be on the stage while the president’s plane flew over, it was a great feeling.”
They are now looking forward to performing again.
“My favorite part about performing is, like I said, the impact we have on people, the community, the soldiers, their families especially because it is a really hard thing, you know, being a family member and having a soldier gone or deployed or anything like that,” Meyer said. “So, just using music as a way to communicate. It really is the universal language.”
“I think everyone is hungry to see live music again and it will be great to get back in front of the unit, as well as all of our communities throughout here in South Dakota,” Heier said.
A staple for the band is playing each service song when performing for veterans.
“It’s always fun because we like to recognize veterans within the community and so we get to recognize them and get to meet them,” Staff Sergeant Dan Iverson, a trombonist, said. “We love chatting with people afterwards and I just like, you know, the sense of comradery that we can build through a performance.”
“I mean, I still get choked up a little bit when I talk about it, but we played for a very small group of veterans and when we got to the service songs, we played all of the service songs, and I watched a nurse walk over to one gentleman and sort of grab him by the belt loop in the back and help him stand up for his service song,” Beckler said. “And, you know, he was obviously very frail and in a wheelchair. It kinda struck me that that might be the last time he ever stands for his service song.”
They are serving their country through music.
“You know, the typical Army National Guard unit, you don’t really see what they do in the public and so, in large part, I mean, we’re out representing the National Guard to a lot of different people,” Beckler said.
“I get to join the National Guard and serve my country but I also get to make music for my job and that’s, for me, the greatest way to serve my country,” Iverson said.