Naval Academy's Electric Brigade delivers a jolt to stodgy expectations

Contemporary band to perform tomorrow

February 21, 2002|By Robin Hammond | Robin Hammond,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

An article Thursday in the Anne Arundel County edition incorrectly described whether the Naval Academy Band's Electric Brigade performs at weddings. Some members of the Electric Brigade perform on their own at weddings, but the Electric Brigade does not, according to a band spokesman.

It's a Tuesday afternoon inside the granite walls of the Naval Academy's Mitscher Hall, and nine musicians are rehearsing. Frank Dominguez, a clean-cut Navy enlisted man, steps to the microphone and closes his eyes.

"You may throw me down, but I'll rise again," he roars, launching into the Offspring's "Defy You." "The more you say, the more I defy you, so get out of my face."

This is the Electric Brigade, an offshoot of the 64-member Naval Academy Band.

While the larger band is known for its rendition of "Anchors Aweigh" and other patriotic songs and marches, the Electric Brigade, which will perform tomorrow night at Mitscher Hall, plays today's chart-toppers, including the soft rhythm and blues of Usher, P. Diddy's rap, hard rock from groups such as Linkin Park and the modern punk of the Offspring.

"We come out in our nice uniforms and start playing some romping P.O.D. heavy metal tune," says guitarist Randy Morser, referring to the hard rap-metal band. "A lot of eyebrows hit the ceiling."

Dominguez says, "The Navy doesn't have wooden ships anymore. You've got to move with the times. We need to appeal to the youth of today."

The Electric Brigade, formed in 1979 to entertain midshipmen, is one of several specialized units of the larger band. Others include two jazz ensembles, and woodwind and brass groups.

Enlisted personnel from the larger Navy Band - and, sometimes, civilians who are willing to endure boot camp - compete for slots in the smaller rock group. Candidates must submit resumes, audition tapes and letters of recommendation before they are considered for an audition.

Many have extensive musical backgrounds. One member, trombonist Mike Bravin, played with jazz legend Maynard Ferguson and singer-songwriter Paul Anka.

The Electric Brigade plays about half a dozen balls for midshipmen and other shows for the public. It also plays occasional weddings or charity events.

These days, the band is also a recruiting tool for the Navy. It spends most of its time from February to May touring high schools in the mid-Atlantic region, where local recruiters join them.

The music opens the lines of communication between the service and the students, Dominguez says, adding, "It's the best way to get our foot in the door."

Not every show is a recruiting effort. Last week, the band made its annual stop at Ruth Parker Eason School in Millersville, performing for children with special needs.

There, the band - of two vocalists, three horn players, a keyboardist, a drummer, a bassist and a guitarist - performed songs such as "Hero," by Enrique Iglesias, and a medley of Ja Rule's "Always on Time," Jay-Z's "Girls, Girls, Girls" and P. Diddy's "Bad Boys for Life."

Kids and teachers danced in the aisle.

"We really enjoy them," said teacher assistant Serena Birdsell. "The kids really get into it. It raises their energy level."

The energy level at the Electric Brigade rehearsal a few days later is just as high. The musicians, who range in age from their mid-20s to their late 30s, bounce around the stage, head-banging in a way that would put Kid Rock to shame.

"When we enter the stage, kids often look at us as if they're thinking, `Who are these middle-aged men?'" says Michael Jarjoura, who as chief musician is the band leader. "When we start to play, they look shocked, and after a minute they start jamming."

As the rehearsal winds down, Dominguez says his band relishes the way it defies expectations.

"What we do is unexpected," he says. "Whenever you hear `military band,' you think marches. We're definitely not your average band."

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