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Public Affairs : West Point Band blends music into message about diversity

West Point Band blends music into message about diversity

Story and photo by Mike Strasser
Assistant Editor

If diversity leadership could be composed in a tune, the West Point Band would have it mastered. During the 13th annual Diversity Leadership Conference, band members demonstrated diversity within its organization and delivered a primer on musical leadership that had attendees whistling and humming on their way out of Eisenhower Theatre Oct. 4.

Sgt. 1st Class Denver Dill, a member of the band’s Hellcats, discussed how an organization as diverse as the West Point Band operates and how leadership, teamwork and communication work within an ensemble.

The U.S. Military Academy has the mission of producing leaders of character to become officers in the U.S. Army, and it is fulfilled not only by professors, staff and tactical officers and noncommissioned officers, but by every organization inside its gates, including the families who live here.

Like any business, West Point and the Army as a whole engage in corporate buy-in practices. Dill explained how cadets become indoctrinated into academy and Army culture from the start. He used examples of class mottos and inspirational songs like the “Alma Mater” and “Army Strong” which develop their identities as cadets and future Army officers.

The band played the academy’s fight song, “On Brave Old Army Team,” to demonstrate the power of an organization’s rallying cry. It can both unite and lift spirits, regardless if everyone knows the words or even buys into West Point culture.

“As diverse a group as we are—we’ve come from all different backgrounds—we have to not make the mistake of assuming everyone shares our culture,” Dill said. “It’s tough. The toughest thing about integrating an organization is that everyone has their own beliefs and their own respect.”

When cadets leave West Point, they have commissioned into a specific branch which they will learn to specialize in.

“The specialization is key. You want the right people in the right place at the right time,” Dill said. “It’s key to put expert leadership in those positions.”

Lt. Col. Jim Keene, West Point Band commander, demonstrated this through music by having different sections of the band first play their parts separately from the same sheet of music and then as a whole. The audience could hear what diversity sounds like when it comes together for one unified message—the West Point March.

“You can hear how complex it is, and how essential it is that they are in tune with each other. They have to be perfectly in synch, and of course, leadership has to come into play,” Keene said. “When it’s done well, they all work seamlessly together to promote an idea. It’s the official West Point March and it’s there to embody all the experiences that these cadets have, and when they return as graduates and hear it, they should have a sense of pride and familiarity.”

It was a unique atmosphere for a lesson on diverse leadership. Band members mingled with attendees in the audience who were encouraged to clap and sing along during performances. Monica Divis was intrigued from the moment she saw in the conference program that the band was involved in a leadership session. She also couldn’t imagine that she would be called upon to lead the band herself.

As a test of how music can demonstrate diversity leadership skills, Divis, a Class of 1983 graduate, was asked to conduct the band. Keene said any new leader coming into a diverse situation, like conducting a band for the first time, should use the expertise of others to help explain the mission and provide guidance.

She later said the leadership lesson really resonated with her as the cymbals crashed and horns blared under her impromptu direction.

“I didn’t know anything about conducting and I got up there and they made me look good,” Divis said. “That just shows you to trust your professionals and listen.”

She was impressed with how everything Dill and Keene discussed actually applied to her own new leadership position as Walmart’s senior manager for the Logistics Integration Team.

“It’s important to take into consideration people’s expertise and I think a lot of leaders fail to do that. I’m guilty, too,” she said. “You have to rely on them and trust them to do the right things. That’s what I’m taking out of this—trusting your associates.”
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Members of the West Point Band mingled with their audience Oct. 4 to deliver a musical message about diversity leadership inside Eisenhower Hall Theater.

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Monica Divis, a U.S. Military Academy Class of 1983 graduate, had a unique opportunity to conduct the West Point Band during the 13th annual West Point Diversity Leadership Conference Oct. 3-4. The senior manager for the Logistics Integration Team at Walmart learned an impromptu lesson on diverse leadership during the performance.

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It was a unique atmosphere for a lesson on diverse leadership. Band members mingled with attendees in the audience who were encouraged to clap and sing along during performances. The West Point Band presented a leadership experience at the 13th annual West Point Diversity Leadership Conference called "Core of the Corps" Oct. 4 at Eisenhower Hall Theater. The band demonstrated how a group of diverse professional musicians operate and the roles that leadership, teamwork and communication play in an ensemble, which mirrors the same roles in any organization.

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