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Serving as a Citizen Soldier Chief Warrant Officer Four

Kathy Schiafone • America's MusiciansNovember 2022 • November 13, 2022

I planned to be an accountant. Although I don’t remember why accounting, or who influenced me, it was an easy profession to imagine as a high school student; a clear path to a stable and life-sustaining wage.

As a young child growing up in Johnsonburg, PA, I listened to my Italian father, Cosmo, play accordion, and my German mother, Mary Ann, play piano. So, when a nun at Holy Rosary Catholic School offered piano lessons when I was in the third grade, the family expectation was to sign up. It was the beginning of 16 years of lessons. Sister Angela Maria was a strict, brilliant piano teacher who never had any formal training. 

In high school I didn’t join band or chorus in school until I was a sophomore. The band director discovered I could read music, he put a French horn in my hand and told the choir teacher he had found an accompanist for the choir. 

My first experience with miliary-related music performance came from Nick Coumos, a Pennsylvania National Guard tuba player, who brought brass quintets, Dixieland bands, and other ensembles to our small town of Johnsonburg, PA. I credit him with also inspiring me to major in music, and I enrolled at Clarion University, a school with a solid reputation and history of producing good teachers.

The more I reflect on my time in the music education department at Clarion University of PA, the more I realize I didn’t know how good I had it. Director of bands Dr. Stanley Michalski brought soloists from the military bands to perform with our symphonic band. Colonel Eugene Allen, The US Army Band Commander, conducted our band on several occasions. At 80+ years old “Doc” is now a world-renowned college band director who still conducts in Europe and the US.

While student teaching during my final year at Clarion, I met another military musician. The elementary band director was an Army percussionist. Six months later my professional plans changed again, from music teacher to soldier, and I had raised my right hand to play piano for the Army.

It wasn’t an easy decision. Both of my parents lost siblings in the military. Biagio Schiafone died in Italy in WW2 and PVT Jerome Sain met his death in the Vietnam War in 1970. Not much was known about either’s time in the military. My Uncle Jerry was a college basketball player. He failed a class and decided he would rather go to Vietnam than take the class again with the same teacher (a comment which changed the direction of my teaching). Unfortunately, Uncle Jerry was killed in action while serving in Vietnam. 

The Army Music Program offered me numerous opportunities to travel and perform music. Virginia Beach, Texas, Alabama, Japan, Germany, and Egypt were just a few destinations. My original plan of “three years and out” quickly faded. While attending the Army School of Music and graduating as distinguished honor graduate, I was offered the opportunity to become the conductor and commander of an Army band. The six-month band commander course trained us in swing rhythms, composing marches and fanfares, arranging jazz charts, and conducting professional musicians. I continue to use the military music books I used then as a music teacher now. Once again, I didn’t know how good I had it.

After ten years of active duty, the opportunity to conduct the 80th Army Reserve Band in Richmond, VA became available. Once a month I would have Reserve duty, which allowed me to live in one place, raise a family, and start teaching high school music. My Reserve colleagues come from a variety of professions, from teachers and police officers to chemists and contractors. We performed for the opening of Washington Nationals baseball games, ceremonies for U.S. Presidents, solo piano performances for ambassadors, Memorial Day parades, and 4th of July concerts. The soldiers at the 80th became my best friends and family.

After 19 years at the 80th, I was offered a staff bands officer and a command chief warrant officer job with the 99th Readiness Division at Fort Dix, New Jersey. My duties were overseeing and evaluating reserve bands and warrant officers.

The musical training in the military helped me launch piano classes at Kempsville HS. My students are learning chord progressions, salsa, jazz, and swing rhythms as if they were a private at the Army School of Music, but without pushups. After 25 years of teaching I will soon retire, offering Piano 1 and Piano 2 classes throughout the city.

My music and military journeys continue with 38 years as an army musician. I started as a private first class and will finish as a command chief warrant officer and adjunct music instructor at the Army School of Music.

Music and military have intertwined throughout my entire life. I just never expected to take either path professionally, let alone together!  

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