Sounds of Freedom military concert band seeks help getting to Washington, D.C. to play Memorial Day concert

Hollon O. Kinney, 96, sat out practice with the Sounds of Freedom military concert band Feb. 18, chooising instead to sit back and listen to his fellow band members play. They sounded that good.

Kinney,, who plays trumpet is one of two World War II veterans still playing with the band. He also helped Tony Lallo start up the band in 1986.

“I don’t know why,” says Kinney, smiling. “I guess Tony talked me into it.”

Sounds of Freedom is an all-volunteer, 55-piece band that practices Wednesday nights at Clovis Veterans Memorial District and performs 40 to 50 concerts a year throughout the state. The band is part of the Central California chapter of the Association of the United States Army, which has chapters throughout the nation. It is the only U.S. Army organization that doesn’t require all members to be veterans.

Sounds of Freedom has been invited by the mayor of Washington, D.C., to play there on Memorial Day, which is May 25. The band will play at the World War II Memorial and other venues.

The band is trying to raise money to get there, but it has been a hard task. Many members are seniors on fixed incomes. The goal is $65,000. So far, the band has raised about $7,000. The next payment date is March 1.

The band is planning a concert fundraiser March 22 at Clovis Veterans Memorial District.

“It’ll take a miracle,” says Monte Gmur, band conductor. “I’ve seen this community rally around causes before. Although we travel all over the state, very few in our community know who we are. We are a patriotic group of volunteer musicians and willing to play anytime someone raises a flag.”

Harry Paul, president of the Central California chapter of AUSA and a flutist, says the band is a labor of love for musicians throughout the central San Joaquin Valley. Members live in Tranquillity, Kingsburg, Selma, Madera, Solvang and other towns.

“Music is a great thing,” he says. “I consider music my second language. It takes your mind off problems. There’s camaraderie. I enjoy playing. I can come here frustrated after a day at work and when I leave, I’m happy again.”

Mel Stratton, the Sounds of Freedom assistant associate band director and lead percussionist, says he also enjoys the camaraderie.

“I primarily enjoy playing with people who are too old to be in high school and play extremely well,” he says. “One of the things that bothers me is, we’re all getting old.”

At the practice Feb. 18, the band warmed up by playing a doxology. Then, it rehearsed songs for its concert fundraiser. The songs included “God’s Country” and “Volunteers of the Union,” which Gmur wants the band to play in Washington, D.C. This year is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War.

Thomas Cook, who is in the seventh grade at Glacier Point Middle School in Central Unified School District, is the youngest band member at age 12. He plays percussion.

“I enjoy playing here,” he says. “I like to play music on Wednesdays.”