Brass Act

By Jason Schock

“Danny Boy,” a century-old folk song generally associated with the Irish, but recorded literally hundreds of times with nearly as many variations, was the second-to-last song played, and the US Air Force Heartland of America Band on this night dedicated its rendition to Vietnam War veterans.

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me,

And all my grave shall warmer, sweeter be,

For you shall bend and tell me that you love me

Tenor vocalist Sgt. Kenneth Maxwell, who has performed for both Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and performed alongside entertainers such as Roy Clark and Jose Feliciano, sprinkled the harrowing lyrics over a Prichard Auditorium crowd of about 230 Saturday night. A spirited medley of armed service songs triumphantly ended the set, for many, it was tears, not necessarily the Army, that kept rolling along. 

“It’s never too late to pay tribute,” Maxwell had said, in prelude to “Danny Boy.”

“Next month marks the 40thanniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. More than nine million Americans served on active duty during that conflict. They fought bravely, with honor in the service of our nation. But as most of you already know, they did not come home to a Hero’s Welcome,” Maxwell said. “And we would like to do that with this musical number.” 

“Danny Boy” was one of 12 songs performed by the Heartland of America Band’s Offutt Brass section, whose concert was sponsored exclusively by The Falls City Journal. The concert was free and open to the public.

Offutt Brass, comprised of Maxwell, Sgt. Alex Serwatowski on tuba, Sgt. Ben Kadow on trombone, percussionist Sgt. Marshall Gentry, Staff Sgt. Carl Eitzen on trumpet, and Senior Airman Alena Zidlicky on horn, presented a diverse repertoire featuring classical music, patriotic favorites and jazz standards as well as new compositions and arrangements. The members bring many years of professional experience with symphony orchestras, chamber ensembles, jazz ensembles and touring shows. They played Marysville, KS, Friday, Beatrice on Sunday afternoon, play Seward tonight and Peru at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, April 30 in the PSC Theatre, located at the south end of Hoyt Science Hall. That show, as well, is free and open to the public. It is the eighth and final show on the current regional leg of the tour. 

The nearly hour and a half show at Prichard Auditorium drew a strong standing ovation and rave reviews from concert-goers, as well as from the musicians themselves.

“The excitement and enthusiasm in everyone last night doesn’t lie,” Sgt. Kadow said. “Thank you so much Falls City for the amazing night and we hope you had as much fun as we did!”

Sgt. Serwatowski, a native of Detroit and graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music (side note: Falls City native David von Behren is currently a sophomore at the school, studying organ) serves as the unit’s Resource Advisor and is the Noncommissioned Officer in Charge of Offutt Brass. Prior to his Air Force service, he was an active freelance musician performing with the St. Louis Symphony, the St. Louis Brass Quintet. He has been principal tubist of the St. Louis Philharmonic, the Mighty Mississippi Concert Band, the Gateway Festival Orchestra, and the Fox Theater Orchestra. As a music educator, Sgt. Serwatowski has held faculty appointments at the University of Texas at San Antonio and Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, and is currently instructor of tuba at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. 

Sgt. Eitzen is a member of the Commander Support Staff and serves as the Musical Director for Offutt Brass. A native of San Diego, he received his formal music education from the University of Arizona and UCLA. Sgt. Eitzen has been a member of the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra since 2010 and is the former Principal Trumpet of the Las Colinas, Garland and Arlington Symphonies in Dallas. He has performed with other noted ensembles such as the Omaha Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Opera Orchestra, Pacific Symphony Orchestra, and Kansas City Symphony, to name a few. 

Alena Zidlicky performs on French horn with Offutt Brass and serves in the Operations and Supply sections. A native of Oswego, IL, Airman Zidlicky holds a bachelor of music degree, music education and French horn performance from The University of Illinois, and a master of music degree in French horn performance from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston, TX. While at the University of Illinois she was a recipient of the Verna Townsend Music Award and the Smith Memorial Scholarship. She also attended many internationally recognized music festivals during her collegiate years, including the National Orchestral Institute, Banff Music Festival, Madeline Island Chamber Music Festival, and the Mendez Institute. Through her career she has performed with the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra, Peoria Symphony Orchestra and the Champaign-Urbana Symphony along with a few others in central Illinois and Texas.

Percussionist Sgt. Gentry, a native of Fresno, CA, who delighted the crowd with a sensational solo during “Malaguena,” has performed with several ensembles including the Travis Band of the Golden West’s Concert Band, Ceremonial/Marching Band, The Commanders Jazz Ensemble, and Travis Brass. Sgt. Gentry was stationed with the USAF Band of the Pacific-Asia, located at Yokota Air Base, Japan, where he toured through several Southwest Asian countries including Japan, Korea, Thailand, Guam, and Australia. His focus on jazz studies has contributed greatly to his work in the Air Force Band as drummer for various jazz and rock ensembles.

Sgt. Kadow, in addition to his musical duties on the trombone, was the conduit between the squadron and The Journal. 

“I work with getting sponsors materials they need from us to do the appropriate advertising to get people to the venue. We will contact a venue to make sure it’s available then we contact the local paper to see if they are able to provide us with free advertising, ticketing, and doing the legwork to get people out to the show,” Sgt. Kadow said. 

This is his second assignment to the Heartland of America Band. After five years at Offutt, he completed a three-year assignment at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, and returned to Offutt last fall.

“The best part of being in Offutt Brass is not only working and performing with world-class musicians, but also performing for the general public and veterans. Most people can not simply drive on Offutt Air Force Base and see what a fantastic job our airmen do each day. The precision you see on stage at our performances throughout the Midwest is intended to represent the excellence of more than 300,000 Air Force professionals stationed around the globe.

Offutt Brass generally tours one week out of every month and also supports many base ceremonies, veterans events, educational programs, and rotationally perform for the troops in forward deployed locations.

“The biggest reaction we get from veterans is at the end of our concert when we perform the service songs from each branch of the military. When veterans hear their service song being played, they stand and everyone in the audience can take note of who in their community served in the military,” Sgt. Kadow said. 

“We have often heard from veterans that no one has ever acknowledged their service like that before. When I was growing up in northern Minnesota, the only people I ever saw in uniform were at military band concerts.For the general public, I believe a free concert put on by active-duty musicians in uniform is part of the draw. 

“When people leave the concert, we want them to feel pride and confidence in the United States Air Force and the United States of America.”

Mission accomplished here in Falls City, Sargeant!PANO SHOT ON PG 18.

Leave a Reply