Oct. 11 - With bassoons, violins and oboes for weapons, with three buses for transportation and most of Western Europe as their battlefield, U.S. Army soldiers are winning an impressive victory in the cold war.
The Seventh Army Symphony Orchestra - four of whose members are from Brooklyn - is one of the most unusual musical organizations in the world.
Composed entirely of draftees - the average age is 23 - the orchestra was created by the army in 1952 to bring fine music to troops and civilians in Europe. It is the only known military orchestra whose repertoire consists exclusively of classical music and its musicians all have a solid musical background.
Before entering the Army, they were either in their last year of study or already performing as professionals for such distinguished orchestras as the Boston Pops, the New Orleans Philharmonic and the Minneapolis Symphony.
The orchestra's escort officer and only non-musician in the travelling group is also a Brooklynite, 1st Lt. Frank J. Maguire of 155 Garfield Pl. As escort officer, it's his job to see that the men are housed, fed and that they arrive at the concert hall on schedule. "Our biggest headache," he says, "is rotation. All our men are draftees and it's quite a problem to find replacements and then get them to learn the scores for the next performance.
"Our turnover is tremendous.
The orchestra seldom has a man more than a year
and a half. This is one situation no other
symphony orchestra faces."
Despite this problem, the Symphony has more than held its own on a continent where good music is commonplace. It plays some 170 concerts per year throughout Germany and in major European cities.
Bookings are arranged through the Symphony's office in nearby Vaihingen where the musicians live. They occupy the attic floor of an old German Army caserne where they also practice in a specially built rehearsal hall.
Most Performances are free and sponsored by a local Army unit or the U. S. State Department to improve community relations. Where there is a charge the proceeds go to a local charity or to support a German orphanage sponsored by members of the symphony. There is seldom an empty seat in the house.
Brooklyn has the highest representation of any U.S. community among the musicians.
Borough members of the orchestra include PFC Joseph Paladino of 9009 Bay View Pl. 'cellist; Pvt. Robert Sharon 2134 E. 36th St., string viola; and Pvt. Jules M. Hirsh of 2336 62nd St., string bass. Pvt. Myron Rosenblum, who plays the string viola, lives in the Bronx, but considers Brooklyn his second home because he attended Brooklyn Technical HS.
The Symphony rehearses for several
months a year then takes to the road in three Army
buses and a truck which holds the baggage and instruments.
On tour, the musicians are house at Army posts or in hotels. Because the absence of one man could lower seriously the performing standard of a concert, no leaves are granted during rehearsals or while on tour. The entire orchestra takes a month's leave in the summer.
Like most Army units, however, the men are constantly reminded that they are soldiers first. Each man is equipped with a carbine, which however, remains locked in an arms room with a full-time armor man to clean the weapons.
The musicians train for four hours each week; when they travel they carry their equipment in a duffel bag, and they are subject to transfers to the infantry if they misbehave, which is rare. According to Lt. Maguire, there has never been an AWOL.
As for audience reaction, members of the orchestra say it has been outstanding. They say the best illustration of this was a German official's statement after a recent performance: "Everyone knows Americans can produce cars, but this . . ." then he gestured toward the orchestra, "is hard to believe."
* * * * *