Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
Dec. 8, the 312th Army Band played its annual winter concert at the Lewis and Clark Center for hundreds of attendees. The concert featured classic Christmas carols such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “White Christmas” and other well-known tunes, including the “Star Wars Saga.”
“With this concert we try to just have fun, plays some holiday music that will lift spirits and create a warm spot to get you ready for the season,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Sharon Toulouse, 312th band director. “Not all of the families on Fort Leavenworth have their soldiers with them right now, and to support them as they go through the holiday without their loved ones is a huge honor.”
The 312th Army Band was activated on Oct. 1, 1973, in Lawrence, Kan., as part of the 89th Army Reserve Command, which is headquartered in Wichita, Kan. The band features 37 members playing various instruments. Each member has his or her own career and interests, but when they come together to play they have two things in common — a love of serving their country and a love of music.
“Music is such a powerful tool. It can bring people together in ways no other activity can,” Toulouse said. “It is not a ‘you-against-me’ kind of thing. It evokes feelings, emotions and touches memories like no other activity. It brings families and strangers alike together.”
Toulouse first joined the 312th in 2002 as a trumpet player. In 2005, she left the band to conduct active-duty Army bands, which she did until her son was born. She continued her service with the Washington, D.C., National Guard before rejoining the 312th as the executive officer in 2012 when she was offered a position as the assistant director of bands at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.
In 2016, she left the 312th again when she was asked to command the 451st Army Band in Minneapolis, Minn. After the 451st was deactivated in September 2018, she became the 88th Readiness Division staff band officer. Finally, in October 2019, when then-band director Chief Warrant Officer 2 Nick Proctor accepted a voluntary deployment, Toulouse stepped in as commander of the 312th. Additionally, she resumed her previous position at KU.
“Initially, I wanted something to challenge me, get me in shape and give me an opportunity to play my trumpet. Little did I know I would find a lifelong career that I cherish,” Toulouse said of her initial reasons for joining the 312th in 2002. “Now, the entire band is my instrument. I get to make music with wonderful musicians whose mission is to serve our country with their talents and support the American soldier and American way of life.”
Apart from the full-band performances throughout the year, smaller portions of the band also perform at various places. One example is the brass quintet who performed at the Fort Leavenworth holiday tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 6 at Zais Park.
The quintet is led by operations noncommissioned officer-in-charge and trumpeter Staff Sgt. Tobias Wood.
Wood has been with the 312th for 16 years. He said military service and music were big parts of his upbringing.
“My father was in the 101st Airborne (Division) in Vietnam and was combat wounded. He’s still a big part of my life, and all of my grandfathers were in the military,” Wood said. “This was just an opportunity that came up, and I felt that it was a really interesting and unique way to serve my country.
“My parents were bluegrass players, and I’ve always been around music,” he said. “My dad had a rock band when I was a kid, and it was something that I always wanted to do, and I found a way to make it my career. This way I’ve got a way that I can serve my country and play an instrument.”
When he joined the 312th, Wood said he was a music teacher and band director for a school in Marysville, Kan. Now he resides in Auburn, Kan., and works in higher education for the state government.
First Sgt. Daniel Bryan, who plays the tuba, also lives in Auburn, where he is a small business owner. He joined the Army Reserve 23 years ago as a legal specialist, then switched too band.
Bryan said he started playing piano when he was 5 years old and played trumpet, baritone horn and tuba through school.
“I did all the state competitions in high school and did a high school tour through Europe in seven countries and just learned to play over my childhood,” Bryan said. “(The band) is a lot more fun than doing legal work. I found a great home. It is a great career, and I love it.”
Like Toulouse, Sgt. 1st Class Brad Harzman, who plays the French horn, has been involved with other Army bands. When he first started his service 33 years ago, he played with the Kansas Army National Guard’s 35th Infantry Division Band for 21 years. Then, he spent a year in Afghanistan as the U.S. Army band mentor to the national Afghanistan Army band and another year at Fort Riley, Kan., training troops to go overseas.
He has a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in music education, and currently is a music teacher for kindergarten through 12th grade in Lebo, Kan.
“I grew up singing … and just loved music and wanted to pass that love of music on to other people,” Harzman said.
“It is great to be in the band because everywhere we go people are happy to see us. You never show up with an Army band and people are cranky. They know there is going to be a party of some kind.”
Sgt. 1st Class Rachel Braga, who plays the trumpet, works as a special education teacher for an elementary school in Baldwin City, Kan. She has been a member of the 312th for the last 14 of her 20 years in the Army Reserve. She has a bachelor’s degree in music education.
“My ultimate favorite thing to do is play for all the veterans’ homes,” Braga said. “It was a generation that this was the music they listened to, so it brings that little bit of youth to them.”
Staff Sgt. Scott Rogers, who plays the euphonium, has the least amount of time with the 312th at six years. His service began on active duty in the Marine Corps. He joined the Army Reserve so he could pursue a master’s and doctorate in music performance.
“I grew up around family musicians and along the way, it just became mine and I got good at it,” Rogers said. “I won some national-level competitions for playing euphonium while I was doing college.
“I enjoy performing for people,” he said. “I enjoy connecting with people, and … am just glad to put a lot of smiles on the little kiddos faces.”
For more information about the 312th Army Band, visit the official Facebook page.