Telling Their Story: The 204th Army Band | Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center

Telling Their Story: The 204th Army Band

June 26, 2019 451st Army Band

The 204th Army Band will present a free concert at the Ives Auditorium Friday, July 19 at 7:00pm. Their theme this year is “Telling Their Story,” so we thought we would share a bit of their story here.

The History of Army Bands

Army bands in the US have been around since soldiers have fought wars. Signal corps drummers and fifes accompanied troops in the Revolutionary War. In 1777, the army added trumpets to manage cavalry maneuvers and by 1830, more brass instruments had taken over a melodic role.

General John J. Pershing, Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe during WWI (and a Mason), believed bands were essential to troop morale. Under his leadership, regimental bands were expanded from 28 to a full 48 pieces. This configuration has remained the standard for army bands.

During WWII, nearly 500 bands served in the Army. Bands also accompanied troop combat units into Korea and Vietnam. These days, bands still support deployed troops, entertain civilians and serve as musical ambassadors for the army.

About the 204th Army Band

photo of 204th Army band marching in front of Mt. Rainier
The 204th Army Band marching in front of Mount Rainier in Washington.

Based both at Fort Snelling in Minnesota and in Vancouver, Washington, the 204th army band is a Reserve Army Band. Its combined 54 members serve in the army part-time while maintaining a civilian career or continuing their education. The 204th musicians work in fields including music, education, medicine, sales, finance, marketing and engineering. All must audition to be in the band.

At Fort Snelling, there’s been a resident Army Band since 1948 after the end of World War II. During its 70+ years, the band has operated under four different designations: the 330th, 103rd, 451st and now 204th. In 2018, the 451st Army Band was inactivated and became instead half of the “split-located” 204th Army Band with members in Minnesota and Washington State. A band’s numeric designation originates with its assigned parent organization, not with its location.

An Army Band’s mission, according to Sergeant First Class Jennifer Eckhoff, Army Reserve Administrator (and flutist), is to “use music to make meaningful healing connections with Soldiers, Veterans and communities at home and abroad. In this way, our music helps foster appreciation and support for our troops and military families.”

Reserve Bands can make special connections with local audiences. “Our Soldier musicians can remind them of our Veterans, the heroes living among us, and represent the son or daughter, husband or wife who’s serving far from home.”

Activities Stateside and Abroad

The 204th Marching Band performs at military and civilian parades. For example, they will be in Eagan’s 4th of July parade. Then there’s a military parade in Lakeville on July 13. Its Brass and Woodwind Quintet performs at senior centers and VA Homes (and at Minnesota Masonic Home), and its concert band performs at civic events such as festivals and Veteran’s Day observances.

In total, the 204th Army Band presents upwards of 100 performances each year. Every performance is free of charge.

The band has also travelled overseas. They had three tours in Germany and accepted an invitation to Normandy, France for the 50th Anniversary of D-Day. They also accepted an invitations to Italy for the 60th anniversary of Rome’s liberation.

Sergeant First Class Eckhoff remembers the Italian concert especially well. After the band played in a centuries old church outside of Rome, the Italian mayor tearfully said, “Your dead are our dead; Our dead are your dead.” Music is, Sergeant Eckhoff asserts, “truly an international language that opens doors to hearts where other means fail.”

Concerts at the Ives

This is the third year in which the Army Band has entertained patrons at the Ives Auditorium. The band learned of the Ives through a past member, Sgt Alex Legeros (a bassoonist). His father Nicholas created the iconic bronze pillars that frame the front door at the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center.

The band played a Christmas concert in December 2017 (as the 451st) and came for a Veteran’s Day concert last November (as the Minnesota half of the 204th). This year the full 204th (from Minnesota and Washington) will perform at the concert July 19th .

Sergeant First Class Eckhoff is looking forward to this concert. “We strive to inspire our audiences to celebrate our wonderful freedom, and give thanks to those who have given so much of themselves in service to our nation.”

We hope you can attend! Follow this link to reserve your seat at the concert.

Telling Their Story: The 204th Army Band

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