The 82nd Airborne Division rock band, Riser Burn, put on a series of concerts in local elementary and middle schools in honor of Music In Our Schools Month. The annual March celebration engages music educators, students and communities to promote the benefits of high quality music education programs in schools.
“We try to get out in the schools and support the community as best we can to let them know that the arts is one of those things that bridges so many gaps,” said Staff Sgt. Tony Buzzella, Riser Burn’s drummer and assistant team leader.
Riser Burn is one of many traveling ensembles of the 82nd Airborne Division band from Fort Bragg.
Outside of MIOSM, this and other outfits travel to combat zones, deployed environments and stay active in the local region to spark influence and share the importance of the power of music.
“All the bombs (local residents) hear blowing up, and people training, and everything else — that’s not all the Army does,” said Buzzella. “We’re right here in the backyard ready to provide music (to) entertain and ... keep the Soldier motivated about what they're doing.”
The band doesn’t just focus on entertaining with their melodies. Many of the band’s members use music as a way to reach a broader audience to show music’s inspirational power, breaking through intellectual and developmental disabilities and spanning across language barriers.
Spc. Rachel Watson, one of the ensemble’s vocalist and French horn player with the brass quintet, studied music therapy in college and has worked with disabled children.
Watson said she has seen the power of music and the improvement it can make over time.
“I did a practicum with a group of kindergarten to first grade students with disabilities,” said Watson. “They may have a hard time with dexterity, but they can get a hold of these drum mallets and beat on a drum like it’s nothing. It’s just so incredible to see the progress they can make over time just through doing those types of things.”
Buzzella said with new developments in veteran care, the military has started to do a type of music therapy in which veterans suffering from severe PTSD are taught an instrument as a coping mechanism for their issues.
“We have many ensembles that go and play at veterans assisted-living homes throughout the year and we’re always doing community outreach stuff to support the local Fort Bragg and Fayetteville area,” Buzzella continued. “We were just talking ... about a case of dementia where a gentleman was considered mute, but when (the musicians) would (play) songs from his time he would start singing and he knew every word — they were amazed by that.”
Buzzella recalled a time when he performed for an audience in Japan with fellow band mate, Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Quinones, Riser Burn guitarist and team leader.
“Even if we couldn't speak Japanese and they could barely speak English, we all spoke ‘music,’” Buzella added.
Though Army musicians are a support element, they are not set apart from traditional combat occupations and are vital to the mission. Even when deployed, musicians provide a service by keeping the down-range Soldier connected to home; a service that shouldn't be taken for granted.
“One of the most rewarding things, at least for me in my career, was when I was deployed and got to play music,” said Buzzella. “You get to see the look of people’s faces change and how it motivates them in a positive way. That’s the power of music, it’s able to change so many things for people.”
In speaking for the whole group, Buzzella said the Army band wants everyone to know that they are a source of inspiration — not only to the Soldiers on and off the battlefield, but to the next generation of young people who listened to their music, saw soldiers in uniform and thought to themselves, “Hey, I could do that.”