Keeping time

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Madeline Herzog
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Master Sgt. Matthew Erickson, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band drum major, was selected as the lead drum major to guide a three nation band during the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s Independence Day.

Erickson was given five days to help the 120 multinational band perform and march with little-to-no errors during one of Ukraine’s largest events with over one million people watching.

“Leading the 120-member multinational band is truly an honor and unique experience,” Erickson said. “The military musicians in the three bands represent some of our respective nations’ finest men and women. Honoring Ukraine’s 30th anniversary of independence by standing shoulder to shoulder with our partners and friends sends a clear message of commitment and partnership to the people of Ukraine and those watching from around the world.”

Drum majors are responsible for the training, bearing, discipline and execution of the ceremonial performance, and the selection of the role dates back to the birth of the United States of America which is one of great responsibility and heritage.

Erickson was responsible for helping the USAFE band, the British Army Band Colchester (BABC) and the National Presidential Orchestra of Ukraine (NPO) learn and adjust to uniform marching movements and styles, while simultaneously adapting and working around the clear language barriers during their five rehearsal days.

“Training the formation for five days and leading the march on Khreschatyk Street to the Maidan was an immense gesture of trust and partnership between Ukraine, the United States, and Great Britain,” said Erickson. “I can think of no greater honor than to lead a multinational force of our collective nations’ best sons and daughters.”

Everything from the general carry of an instrument when marching, to how one brings each instrument up into the playing position, had to be coordinated during rehearsals. Each country’s culture and performance style is different, and Erickson said he considered every approach for the final formation.

“We could not just choose one way and impose it upon the other countries,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Cristina M. Moore Urrutia, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band commander. “It had to be a style that considered the approach of each. This was the most challenging aspect of blending the three units together. In the end, Master Sgt. Erickson took aspects of each and helped lead us to a composite style that worked extremely well.”

Erickson and Cpl. Jonathan Cook, the British Army Band Colchester drum major, were invited by the NPO director, Lt. Col. Maksym Husak, to train and lead the band. Cook led the band during the beginning turn of the parade, and then Erickson took the lead for the rest of the march past the Maidan.

Moore Urrutia said that Erickson’s leadership qualities are the most important aspect to lead the three-nation formation.

“He is the epitome of military bearing and leads by example every day, whether it’s in his fitness routine or the pride he takes in wearing the uniform,” said Moore Urrutia. “He has excellent attention to detail, which is necessary in training a unit to march as one and he works extremely hard and has the respect of all under his care. That makes him someone the members want to follow.”

The entire event gave all three nations and Erickson the opportunity to continue to build partnerships and gain harmony throughout the Euro-Atlantic region.

“Music is one form of communication that can bridge cultures where words fail,” said Erickson. “Harmony is achieved by working together and capitalizing on each other’s strengths and successes. The performance for the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence is a perfect example of why we must continue to communicate to connect our nations; without this collective effort we cannot achieve our goals together.”