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Army honors All-American band members

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SAN ANTONIO - The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is an event that touches many lives around the country and it's not just those on the football field that have an opportunity to display their talents in the national spotlight. For the second year in a row, the U.S. Army All-American Band will be back and better than ever.
Last year was the first time this concept was given a try. Operations Manager for the U.S. Army All-American Band Brian Prato had the difficult task of going into unfamiliar territory.
"Last year, there was probably nobody more nervous about the show than me," Prato said. "It goes through your mind if it's going to be the only shot you get at this."
It's the reaction that Prato received afterwards that made all of his efforts worth it.
"I turned around and I saw some of the band parents crying because they couldn't believe what we did in 16 hours. It wasn't a perfect show and they didn't march it flawlessly, but what we did in the amount of time we were given was nothing short of incredible," Prato said.
It's no surprise this group is capable of pulling off a task that would seem impossible for any average high school band in the country. At second glance, it's evident that this year's group of 97 musicians from 38 states is much more than average.
"These kids have to submit a video on marching and playing," continued Prato. "They also have to complete a three-page application online that includes community involvement, GPA and other things they do in school."
The different qualifications present a very diverse group of talented musicians.
"We've got kids that come from championship quality and extremely competitive high school bands from across the country. Then we also have a lot of kids that are not in competitive bands and they made this band on their own merit," Prato said. "They're just as good of a marcher and player but because of their local environment, their not out in the open as much. It's really neat to see these kids exposed around the highly competitive kids."
Like the football players, the band members get treated like superstars as well. It all starts in the fall when the U.S. Army travels around the country and honors each member at their respective high school with a special ceremony. Perhaps the most unique aspect of all this is that the band members don't have to drop a dime on expenses.
"This is the only organization of its type that the kids apply for and when they make it they don't have to pay to be in it," Prato said. "It's 100 percent all-expense paid opportunity which is unheard of in our activity."
It's also unheard of to be able to put together an entire full-length halftime show with only 22 hours to rehearse. That's exactly what Prado and U.S. Army Band Directory Bob Buckner did last year. Going into the 2009 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Prado knew exactly what he wanted changed.
"The biggest thing was getting an extra day. The Army was extremely supportive to committing the finances to bring in the kids one day before," Prato said. "Everything we do now has some breathing room. We took a tour of the Alamo last year in one hour and then gave them bag lunches on the bus. Everything this year has an extra 15 to 20 minute buffer in it that's going to allow the kids to have a more enjoyable experience."
It's a strict schedule throughout the entire week that begins on Tuesday. The band members are kept busy from 5:45 a.m. to 11 p.m. Of course, they're graciously allowed to sleep in on New Year's Day until 7 a.m. In between, there is only 22 hours of rehearsing time available. It's important that everything works out and comes together properly in order to make it all work and that includes Mother Nature.
"The good news is that I just looked at the forecast and it's not going to rain next week," Prato said. "If it rained, we were going to be in trouble. We learn the music, learn the drill, and assemble it together. We compress all of that very quickly."
On Saturday, remember to stay seated during halftime to get a glimpse of the show this year's band will be putting together. After all, like the football teams, this band is constructed with the best of the best.
Note: On Friday night, the band will have its one and only dress rehearsal. This year it will be available for all to watch. By going to www.banddirector.com, fans will be able to witness the two hour rehearsal from 6 to 8 p.m. CST.