SONSONATE, El Salvador – Music provides many things to many cultures. It is important everywhere. But here in El Salvador, music is big. Really big.
So, for a soldier from the New Hampshire Army National Guard, an opportunity to perform with the Salvadoran army band while here on a training mission was a big deal.
“I was invited to rehearse and perform with the Military District Six Band here on base,” said Army Warrant Officer Sean Pinsonneault, the Joint Task Force Jaguar Base operations officer in charge. “They are putting on a concert here for soldiers participating in Beyond the Horizon-El Salvador, and invited me to perform alongside their talented musicians.”
According to his Salvadoran counterpart, Pinsonneault was given an opportunity that has never happened before.
“It was a pleasure because it's the first time someone has joined us, to carry forward the art of music,” said Salvadoran army 1st Lt. Fabricio Hernandez.
Being able to read music is a universal language, Pinsonneault said.
“I speak very little Spanish, and they speak very little English. The beauty of music is that we speak a universal language,” said Pinsonneault. “I didn’t need to understand what the conductor was saying in Spanish, I knew what he meant just by his actions and by what the musicians next to me were playing, so I didn’t actually need to understand Spanish, I could understand his music.”
The Salvadoran conductor was grateful for the opportunity.
“We enjoyed it. We've never had such an experience,” Hernandez said. “We enjoyed the experience we've had with each other.”
Pinsonneault said he appreciated the opportunity to play with the Salvadoran military musicians.
“I was honored,” Pinsonneault said. “I was concerned about not playing my instrument for three months while assigned here, but having a band that I can actually practice with is amazing. So when they asked me to join them, I was honored to sit in with them.”
Pinsonneault and other U.S. servicemembers are here as part of Beyond the Horizon-El Salvador 2013, an annual humanitarian and civil-assistance exercise. The exercise provides construction and medical assistance to partner nations throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean.
While in El Salvador, active duty, National Guard and Reserve servicemembers will conduct civil-military operations, including humanitarian civic assistance and medical, dental and engineering support, and participate in cultural exchanges.
A trumpeter himself, Pinsonneault said he was impressed by the Salvadoran trumpet players.
“Their trumpet players are amazing,” he said. “They are really good. It was a little intimidating sitting next to them because of how good they play.”
A tradition with concert bands, the feature performance is a way to recognize talented musicians.
“The conductor of the band wanted me to play a solo on a song I didn’t know very well,” Pinsonneault said. “I tried to practice it, but I didn’t really know the song and didn’t have much time to practice it, so the conductor graciously chose a song I knew well, ‘In the Mood.’”
Later that night, the band performed for more than 150 Salvadoran and U.S. personnel at a local bazaar. The bazaar was an opportunity for the first rotation of BTH soldiers to experience some Salvadoran culture mixed in with American music.
“While U.S. soldiers were buying souvenirs at the bazaar, the Salvadorans chose American music to make us feel more at home while here building schools and providing medical and dental care to local communities alongside our Salvadoran partners,” Pinsonneault said.
The American military trumpet player said he would like to play with the Salvadorans again.
“I hope I get the opportunity to come back and perform again with their talented musicians,” Pinsonneault said. “I would really like to bring my [Army] band down here and have a cultural exchange with the bands. I think that it would be beneficial to my band and beneficial to the Salvadorans as well.”