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Wason is right at home for Army band concert

FHS German teacher2 / 2

Being in front of a room full of people at Farmington High School is nothing new to German teacher Cheryl Wason. And that is where she will be Saturday. Sort of.

Saturday, Wason will appear before a room full of as many as 800 people. She won't be teaching German, though. She'll be playing a baritone saxophone.

A member of the 451st Army Band out of Fort Snelling for the past 32 years, Wason credits her decision to learn and ultimately teach German to her role in the band.

Out of high school in the early 1970s, Wason decided to go into the Army. For the first few years of her Army career, she was in the Army's women's corps. There, she auditioned for an all-women's Army band

In 1976, the Army merged the women's and men's corps and Wason found herself playing in the Army band stationed in Berlin. That's where she met her husband, too -- another band member by the name of Jeff Gottwig.

"Our mission was to be the communication tool for the U.S. military," she said.

Back in those days, Wason was somewhat of a curiosity, a woman playing in a predominantly male band. Often after concerts, German audience members would approach her, wanting to speak with her, learn something about this woman in the band. The only problem was, she didn't understand what they were saying. That's when she decided to learn German.

The 451st Army Band

Wason joined the 451st Army Band in 1978. As an Army Reservist, Wason's main job is to be a musician. Everyone who enlists is ultimately assigned a job, she said. Hers just happens to be to play saxophone.

Early in their Army careers, cadets are invited to find areas where they may excel. For some, that means music. Interested personnel have to take a few tests, perform a few music skills tasks, and then audition. If they make it through the auditions, they are sent to Norfolk, Va., to attend a school of music.

Military bands have three purposes -- to inspire, educate and entertain. Concerts, such as the one planned Saturday at FHS, are considered missions, because the men and women in the band are carrying out the tasks they were assigned. This weekend's concert is planned specifically to honor the veterans of Farmington and the surrounding communities. It was planned to coincide with next week's Veteran's Day.

"There's always a 'what's in it for me?' mentality out there," Wason said. "We try to choose music that inspires people to have a sense of pride in our country."

Besides performing concerts, military bands are often deployed to different parts of the globe. They play for the troops and for the public. They play private affairs, and for high ranking officials. The 451st has played in Wisconsin, and they've played in Rome, France and at the White House.

"People think we march in parades all the time," Wason said. "That's the least of what we do. Our goal is to play in as many communities as possible."

Because they are still reservists in the U.S. Army, the band members are required to complete two weeks of active duty training annually, plus meet 48 times over the course of the year. They are also required to keep up to date on their battle drills and warrior task training --which is usually done at Fort McCoy. They may also be activated at any time.

Love of music

Wason is a First Sergeant in the band, which places her second in command behind the conductor, or commander, Chief Warrant Officer Daniel Eckhoff. In that role, she oversees things like discipline and training.

Members of the 451st Army Band come from around the Fort Snelling area, but also branch out to greater Minnesota, as well as several neighboring states. Some, like Wason, have been in the Army reserves for years. Others, like 2009 FHS graduate Bri Preblich, are new to the band this year.

"It's a love of music, of course. What's a way I can serve my country? I can serve through music," Wason said.

An alto saxophone player, Preblich is one of two FHS graduates who will appear on stage this weekend. Leah Stotzle, who plans to officially audition for the Army band later this year, will play her trumpet. Additionally, Gottwig, whom many know as the band director at FHS, will make a guest appearance with the 451st Army Band.