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‘I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS MY JOB’

March 12, 2019

 

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT

Rutherford County Schools

 

The first time Bryce Edwards ever sat in with the Navy Band, he could not stop smiling.

 

Then he got a case of the giggles.

 

A 1996 graduate of Oakland High School, Edwards sat among the 174-piece band with his euphonium in his lap. He just smiled, looked around and listened to the world class musicians he had been selected to play alongside of.

 

Eventually the lead euphonium player looked over and asked, “Are you going to pick up your horn and start working?”

 

Still smiling, Edwards nodded, and his fellow band mate continued, “That’s what we hired you for.”

 

The long-awaited moment sounded too good.

 

It almost proved to be too much for the Murfreesboro native. In fact, he initially replied, “I can’t. This is too much, it’s great.”

 

Edward never did close his eyes and think about the past. His only thoughts were only about an opportunity he had worked so hard to achieve — he auditioned three times before finally being accepted — that he just needed some time to enjoy the moment.

 

Twelve years later, Edwards is the lead euphonium player for the Navy Concert Band and will be performing March 16 at Blackman High School beginning at 7 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

 

The performance is free and open to the public, but attendees need to secure a ticket beforehand. Tickets are available by logging onto rcsfinearts.ticketleap.com.

 

This is the first time Edwards will be performing in Middle Tennessee since enlisting in the Navy and joining the band.

 

One student from each high school band in Rutherford County has been selected to perform “The Washington Post March” with the Navy Band.

 

“Every concert we try to pull local kids in to come and play with us,” Edwards said, “and it’s great.”

 

Currently an E6, Edwards qualifies to remain enlisted for 22 years, but is due for a promotion to E7, which would give him another two years prior to mandatory retirement. However, he’s hoping in those 12 years he will receive other promotions and ultimately earn the right to stay enlisted for a total of 30 years.

 

After graduation from Oakland, he attended Tennessee Tech University. After earning his undergraduate degree in 2001, Edwards then earned a master’s degree in music performance from Indiana University in 2003.

 

Over the next years, there was not a single opening for his instrument — euphonium — among any of the military bands. None.

 

Instead, he returned to the Cookeville area and worked as lumberjack, a substitute teacher. He taught private music lessons, but when a local factory closed, he lost most of his 40 students, so he took a job at Lowe’s.

 

Edwards was 30 when he auditioned for the third time.

 

He knew he was good enough to play with the band and was only nervous about approaching 34, which is the cutoff age for new Navy enlistees.

 

“By the third time I felt like I just knew that it was my job,” Edwards said, “and they just haven’t figured it out yet. And that’s what we call brass-players’ confidence. It’s a little bit of cockiness and a whole lot of just believing in yourself.”

 

Edwards had been the only player to audition and make it to the final round all three times.

 

After interviewing with the senior enlisted and officers in the band, he returned home to await their final decision. An ice storm crippled Washington, D.C., and shut the city down for four days.

 

“I was driving a forklift when they called and told me,” Edwards recalled. “I freaked out. It was pretty awesome and everybody — Lowe’s knew what I was doing — all the employees got real excited.”

 

There are 11 Navy bands, which includes ensembles — ceremonial band, sea chanters chorus, Commodores jazz, country current country/bluegrass, the cruisers popular music group and convert band.

 

The concert band is widely regarded as the premiere wind ensemble.

 

They spend 12 to 15 weeks touring nationally every year and have performed public concerts and participated in high-profile events for more than 90 years.

 

Last year, Edwards was part of a select group of brass players who performed on national television during Sen. John McCain’s funeral at the National Cathedral.

 

“We were playing and I’m looking at George Bush,” Edwards said. “There were a couple of times where there was like some really nice euphonium solos I got to play. I’m looking at my conductor and then I looked past him and then you can see the Obamas staring at me.”

 

He added, “I’m just giggling. I can’t believe this is my job.”

 

Although the McCain funeral will always be a moment that stands out, returning to Rutherford County and performing in front of family and friends is a moment that is already close to his heart.

 

And he, as much as any other member of the Navy concert band, understands how the students will feel when they take stage alongside world-class musicians.

 

“It’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. You can see them just explode,” explained Edwards, who now giggles when he sees one of the students unable to play because they’re smiling just as he did a decade ago.

 

“They get all excited and they want to talk after the show, and I love that. I love stoking the fire within them. It’s great.”

 

The following is a list of all nine student players who have been selected to perform Saturday night with the U.S. Navy Concert Band:

 

Bernard Ekwwuazi, Blackman, trombone

Stephanie Henlsey, Central, euphonium

Devin Archibald, Eagleville, trumpet

CJ Walker, LaVergne, percussion

Melody Kinney, Oakland, flute

Josef Viramontes, Riverdale, saxophone

Savannah Shaver, Siegel, clarinet

Emily Sholar, Smyrna, horn

Chandler Currier, Stewarts Creek, tuba

 

PHOTOS PROVIDED