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STEAM Lesson with the U.S. Army
Posted 04/11/2017 10:48AM

STEAM Lesson with the U.S. Army Band "Pershing's Own"

Learning About Relativity Between Wave Lengths and Musical Sounds

By Chris Mulligan

In the world of professional band players, none exceed the skilled levels of our military musicians in my experience. They are the best of the best, and conductors around the nation call upon military band members to fill their musical needs as large works like symphonies or special ceremonies and events require. When I see our military trumpeters out in force, I know it's going to be an impressive performance that will produce chills and goosebumps, and it will make me sit up straight long after the beat comes to a halt.

This was the case on Wednesday, April 5th, when Wakefield's Lower School welcomed four players, SSG Adrienne Doctor, SFC Adam Lessard, SFC Jennifer Lissak, and SFC Megan Lomonof, from the U.S. Army "Pershing's Own" Band to our Lower Gym for our April Assembly. We were dazzled by their demonstrations of skilled musicianship on a flute, a piccolo, a trumpet, a trombone, and a euphonium-- a smaller version of a tuba. From fingers flying on the piccolo to the long-arm clowning on the trombone, we knew they were having a blast playing their instruments for us. Some of us imagined what it would be like to be able to play so masterfully, that we could join them as they play for affairs of state at the White House, at state funerals in Arlington National Cemetery, or even at the Inauguration of a President as they did in January!

This was a STEAM lesson, though, and their demonstrations of rudimentary elements of the science of sound helped us understand how each instrument's design distinguishes its place in the world of music. It also gave us a close-up view of basic scientific principles of size and shape and their effect on the sound waves produced. The digital production we could see on a TV monitor helped us understand how sound waves look and move, and it was interesting to hear the band members explain how valuable sound wave production and analysis is in the world of engineering and science. In some simple math models we could see how the spectrum of sound develops by factors of 2 in its simplest form, and we could predict the pitch of a sound by doing some easy measurements or multiplication.

Our favorite demonstration was the creation of sound wave shapes and divisions by the movement of a 30-foot long, tight-coiled spring that was manipulated by two of the band members. It was fascinating to see sound come alive for us to actually "see", whether by a spring demo or by a video projection from an electronic device. What's more amazing is how fantastic it all sounds when played by such skilled musicians.

And no one could have made this fantastic interdisciplinary assembly happen except our own Mrs. Karen Conlin, mother of Maclain (Grade 4) and Caleigh (Grade 1). As the Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army, she regularly organizes opportunities for the public to witness some of the many skills our men and women of the U.S. Army provide for our nation. We thank her for bringing these band members to Wakefield for a fascinating STEAM demonstration. It was magical!

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