III MEF and JGSDF 15th Brigade band come together for a night of harmony, friendship

by Lance Cpl. Danielle R. Prentice
U.S. Marine Corps

GINOWAN CITY, OKINAWA, Japan -- The III Marine Expeditionary Force and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force 15th Brigade Bands quietly make their way on stage as the audience welcomes them with an applause, Sept. 9 at the Ginowan Civic Hall during the 22nd Annual Combined Band Concert.

“This is my second time participating in the combined concert,” said Chief Warrant Officer Andres G. Navarro, the band officer of the III MEF Band. “It is an honor to perform with the JGSDF 15th Brigade Band. Not only are also we the only forward deployed band in the Marine Corps, but we are the only band that gets to work consistently, year after year, with another band.”

During the concert, III MEF performed five songs and the JGSDF performed four featuring “Island Sun,” a traditional folk tune of Okinawa. For the finale the two bands played side-by-side for a series of three collaborative pieces including: Alfred Reed’s “El Camino Real,” Richard Wagner’s “Elsa’s Procession to the Cathedral,” and Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” from the hit movie, “Sing.”

“It feels incredible to be able be a part of this,” said Sgt. Nathan R. Gambreska, a musician in the III MEF Band. “It’s a combined concert that builds friendships through music. Both bands speak different languages, but we can all read and play the same music. It’s amazing that though we don’t speak the same language, we can create such beautiful music together. ”

According to Navarro, the two bands practice on their own for months, but there were only two combined rehearsals; with that, to him, the collaboration and harmony of the two bands was impressive.

“I’ve done a lot of combined concerts with several military bands from around the world, and this one is especially meaningful,” said Master Sgt. Michael Stanley, the enlisted conductor with the III MEF Band. “What it truly represents after more than 70 years, since the ending of World War II, is that the United States and Japan are great allies. What you’re hearing is fantastic music, but what we’re doing is building friendships and relationships that last a lifetime.”

Between performances, the backstage area was filled with laughter as the III MEF and JGSDF band musicians joked around and caught up with old friends.

“I’m always looking forward to this concert,” said Sgt. 1st Class Iha Shuichi, a percussionist in the JGSDF 15th Brigade Band. “I have so many friends in the III MEF Band; I have a lot of fun performing in this concert.”

The combined concert is a prime example of how universal music is, according to Gambreska.

“I’ve made many friends with members of the 15th Brigade Band,” said Gambreska. “I’ve worked with them for the past three years, which is awesome. I’m going to miss our friendships when I leave island next week. I love performing so much and knowing that my last concert in the Marine Corps will be with all of my great friends, not only in the III MEF band, but also the JGSDF 15th Brigade band, is amazing.”

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