Army band plans holiday evening to remember

Concert leads up to band commander's military retirement



As an Army band director, Chief Warrant Officer Gary Dorrell has many fond memories of community Christmas concerts; so it is fitting that his last major event before retiring is directing the U.S. Army Signal Corps Band for its annual holiday concert on Dec. 15 at First Baptist Church of Augusta.

“Some of the best memories I have are of Christmas concerts,” said Dorrell, whose retirement date is Feb. 29, 2012. “I always try to make them really interesting.”

The concert’s theme is based on the first song in the program, An Evening in December, which is about a family gathering during the holidays.

Many of the numbers in the holiday concert are secular songs of the season; however, there is a rendition of O Holy Night as well as Silent Night. For Silent Night, many of the musicians put away their instruments and become vocalists.

Vocals are heavy in this concert, said Dorrell, and singers from the community will be featured as well as the band’s resident vocalist, Spc. Jamison Walker.

“Only five pieces are nonvocal; there is a lot of singing,” he said.

His wife, Paula, has written a narration to bring the concert together. Dorrell said her involvement has been an integral part of his career.

The band’s Christmas concert is a favorite in the community, said Dorrell, with between 700 and 800 people attending each year. Admission is free.

Dorrell retires after almost 26 years of service. He started his Army career later than most soldiers do. He graduated from college with a music degree and spent 10 years teaching music and working as a high school band director near Buffalo, N.Y., when an Army rock band played at his school. He spoke with a member of the band about a career in the Army.

“I loved playing my instrument,” he said.

As a band director, there wasn’t as much opportunity for him to play the clarinet and saxophone, he said. He signed up and never looked back. After seven years in the military, he went to warrant officer school and then to bandmaster school.

With the Signal Corps Band, Dorrell doesn’t get to play his instrument; however, he said he’s been extremely fortunate to play with community-based bands such as the Augusta Concert Band and Savannah River Winds.

After he retires, Dorrell said he plans to move to Florida, where he hopes to continue playing music.