Staff Sgt. James Old stuck out his arm at an approximately 45-degree angle to the right.
As he did, the roughly 25 people behind him all shifted, marching as they turned. Marching is not unusual at an Army post, but what set this group of soldiers apart were the drums and the instruments.
Members of the Army Field Band spent the chilly Tuesday morning at Fort George G. Meade practicing formation marching in preparation for the 2021 inaugural parade on Jan. 20. If coffee did not wake them up, the brisk march and steady drums seemed to do the trick.
Only about 25% of the band attended practice, as COVID-19 precautions have prevented the entire group of 99 from joining together.
While the band has been practicing since August, it has not practiced with music yet, besides the drums. So far, the group worked on marching in line but still carry their instruments. The band plans to add music next month, said Master Sgt. Brian Sacawa, a member for approximately 18 years. Sacawa plays the saxophone.
The band will perform two sequences, containing the ruffles and flourishes, the "National Emblem," John Phillips Sousa's "March of Thunder" and "The Army Song." They'll also prepare the Freeze March, a song similar to bugle calls where the performers do not need to use the slides or buttons on their instruments.
The Freeze March is what is used when it is so cold the instruments do not work, Old said. Yes, it has been used, Sacawa said. In the five inaugural parades he has performed in, Sacawa played it once — during President Barack Obama's first inauguration.
Performing at an inaugural parade does not change each time, Sacawa said. It is the same whether it is a new president or an incumbent.
"We approach it with the same professionalism every time we do it," he said.
His favorite song to perform is, naturally, "The Army Song," he said. But the "National Emblem" is a close second as it is played as the band walks by the Presidential Review Stand.
"So it's a very special moment," Sacawa said.
It will be Old's first inaugural parade. He joined the band in August 2019, he said.
"I'm looking forward to that moment when we step off and the drums and music are going," he said.
The Army Field Band is a permanent station, and those who are part of the band audition to join. Once they join, that is their duty while at Fort Meade.
Outside of preparing for the inaugural parade, the band has spent its time since March adapting, as many have, to life under COVID-19 restrictions.
Usually, the band travels with a tour in the fall and one in the spring, Old said. But with the restrictions in place, travel was not possible.
Instead, the band turned to the online medium. On its website — armyfieldband.com — people can find more information about the band's educational side, as well as listen to audio recordings. On its YouTube channel, the band provides videos ranging from performances to music education to instrument repair videos.
The mission of the Army Field Band is to connect with the American people through music, and, with the online methods, the band has been able to do that, with videos garnering thousands of views.
Sacawa said he joined the band because of the ability to share music through the Army. The band members could be the first soldiers with whom a person might interact.
"I've always loved music," Sacawa said. "And what a lot of people don't know is you can do music in the Army."
Old joined for similar reasons. Although it is his second year in the band, it is his eighth in the Army.
"I think it's an incredible opportunity to connect with the American people through music," he said.
This article is written by Heather Mongilio from The Capital, Annapolis, Md. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the Industry Dive publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.