Norwich's Regimental Band heeds
last-minute call to Stand Up For Heroes © Dec. 12, 2008, Norwich University Office of Communications

Norwich’s Regimental Band performs at the Stand Up For Heroes benefit in New York City on Nov. 5, 2008.

photo courtesy of Stefan Radtke/Woodruff Family FoundationNorwich’s Regimental Band performs at the Stand Up For Heroes benefit in New York City on Nov. 5, 2008.

Lots of people were awake at 4 a.m. on Nov. 5, 2008. After all, Sen. Barack Obama had just won the presidential election and crowds everywhere were still celebrating. But on a bus from Northfield, Vt., to Manhattan, it felt awfully early for cadets in the Norwich Regimental Band.

Everybody, according to fourth-year student and trumpet player Jessica Carroll, just wanted to sleep. “The ride down was pretty quiet,” she said. “Everybody was excited, but once we got on the bus, everybody was sleeping.”

Carroll, along with 29 other students from Norwich University, the country’s first private military college, had racked up little shut-eye during the previous week. Just a few days earlier, a scheduling conflict caused the U.S. Marine Band to cancel its appearance in the second-annual Stand Up For Heroes event—a benefit organized by the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation.

The nonprofit, which helps physically and psychologically wounded soldiers, was founded after news anchor and reporter Woodruff suffered a traumatic brain injury from a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. When the gap opened in the Stand Up For Heroes schedule, one of its board members reached out to Gen. Gordon Sullivan, former U.S. Army chief of staff. As a Norwich alumnus and chairman of the college's Board of Directors, Sullivan had an idea: Why not invite the Regimental Band?

“I immediately agreed. It was a very exciting opportunity,” said Band Director Maj. Tim Smith.

Preparation demanded three- and four-hour practice sessions, however.

“We didnít even have a week of notice, but we practiced a lot,” said Alison Lanz, a junior snare-drum player. “We all took it really seriously, so we got a lot done.”

Founded in 1823, the Regimental Band is the oldest collegiate band in the country and knows the spotlight well, having performed for the inaugurations of presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Still, the pressure was on. During intense rehearsals, they had to choose 30 of the band’s 55 members to attend. “Our band doesn’t get very many chances to travel,” said Carroll. Despite the allure of the Stand Up For Heroes concert, some members’ class obligations and level of experience made the whittling relatively easy, she said.

After a sleepy bus ride, band members dropped off luggage at their hotel, brought instruments to New York City’s Town Hall—where they would play at 8 p.m.—and walked around Times Square before fueling up at a nearby pizzeria. Then it was show time, with a repertoire that included “Olympic Fanfare” and “Amazing Grace” with bagpipes.

“Looking around, I got a lot of mixed feelings,” said Andrew Prochnow, a third-year student who serves as drum major and also plays the saxophone and bagpipes. “Excitement, nervousness and pride in the fact we were there.”

Also performing were Regis Philbin, Whoopi Goldberg and Ricky Gervais. Bruce Springsteen introduced himself to about half of the Regimental Band, and happily posed for photos and shook hands just before the show.

But Norwich students were equally starstruck by service members of all ranks in the audience of 1,500. Along with top military brass such as Adm. Edmund Giambastiani and Gen. George Casey, were wounded soldiers who had gathered for the event.

“When the full realization hit as to who they would be performing for—the first three rows of audience were all returned purple-heart recipients—their focus and effort stepped up to the task,” said Smith. “I was very proud of and for them.”

“It was kind of emotional for me,” said Lanz, on looking out at the soldiers from the stage. As the band played a medley of service hymns at the end of their 10-minute performance, many stood and cheered.

According to staff from the Bob Woodruff Family Foundation, the band wowed everyone. They even wowed themselves. “We’ve never sounded better as a band,” said Prochnow. “The change in scenery and the added pressure of the event as well as the excitement of performing on stage just made everything click.”

“The night was truly spectacular,” said Lee Woodruff, wife of Bob. “The Norwich University band set the tone for an evening to honor our brave service members and the sacrifices they have made.”

After the show, band members would return to their hotel and try to get some coveted sleep before the morning departure for Vermont. But first, band members allowed themselves a little euphoria. “My favorite memory will be walking back into our dressing room and everyone releasing all the emotions that had been bottled up since we got there,” said Prochnow. “I will never forget that feeling.”