Those who entered Fusco Hall the night of Nov. 9 were met with the sounds of triumphant and patriotic marching music. The monsoon outside failed to prevent a crowd comprised of both young and old faces from gathering to hear Art Himmelberger share his knowledge of music’s role in the setting of World War I.
Himmelberger serves as the Director of the Marist College Music Department and Director of Bands. He has been a member of the Marist faculty since 1986.
Since becoming director in 2001, Himmelberger has expanded the Marist College Band from its original two trumpet players to the approximately 150-person group it is today.
Himmelberger’s story extends well beyond his time at Marist. He is also a veteran of the United States Army and, throughout his service, found ways to marry his passions of music and the military.
During the Vietnam War, Himmelberger was an undergraduate student attending the University of Michigan. He received a student deferment that allowed him to continue his studies, but afterwards he was to be entered into a lottery to determine whether he would be drafted.
“A lot of my classmates at Michigan became draft dodgers because Ann Arbor was very close to Windsor, Canada,” said Himmelberger. “The night the draft lottery [aired] on TV, I saw them pack up their rooms and they went over to Windsor, stayed there during the war.”
These peers were among the as many as 60,000 American men to cross into Canada to avoid being drafted for the war.
Rather than gambling his fate, he auditioned for three of the Armed Force’s special bands and eventually enrolled to play in the United States Army Field Band in Washington D.C.
“I call it the Cadillac of the service,” said Himmelberger.
Himmelberger was among the more than eight and a half million Americans to serve in the Armed Forces during the Vietnam War, as stated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He was not among the more than three million to see combat.
At 21 years old, Himmelberger travelled with the band around the country, going as far as Alaska, Hawaii, and the Virgin Islands. Their purpose was to rouse the spirits of the American people at a time when citizens participated in demonstrations and burned the nation’s flag.
“I was on the road 200 days a year,” he said. “Get up, throw me on a bus, play a concert, get back on the bus, go play another concert. [But] it was a wonderful experience.”
Himmelberger dedicated three and a half years to the service, and afterwards became a public school teacher in his home state of Pennsylvania.
However, he found his life as a teacher in public schools to be underwhelming. Underpaid and struggling to make ends meet, especially upon the birth of his daughter, he additionally played in 3 small city symphony orchestras to help pay his bills. In 1983, the time he stopped teaching in Pennsylvania, teacher’s salaries were $21,935 in current dollars.
Himmelberger went on to become a full-time member of the band at the United States Military Academy at West Point. While at West Point, he designed halftime shows and special events, including celebration activities in Germany upon the deconstruction of the Berlin Wall.
He recounted performing for military heroes, former Presidents, and kings and queens of European principalities.
During his 26 years at West Point, Himmelberger rose to the rank of Sergeant Major.
“My military experience was certainly much nicer than those soldiers who had to serve in combat,” said Himmelberger. “I had dear friends that were not so lucky as I. I had talents and I figured out how to use them to my benefit.”
In addition to his role at West Point, he taught at Marist as an adjunct professor in the evenings.
“[Himmelberger] just loves this country,” said senior band member Caroline Carrano. “The Army regiment definitely comes across in rehearsals sometimes.”
Himmelberger was first introduced to music when he was two years old. He often accompanied his father, a percussionist aspiring to be a professional musician, to community band rehearsals, sitting on a bench his father created for him.
As a boy, Himmelberger always dreamed of attending West Point, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who served in both World Wars. His daughter also went on to serve in the Army.
Himmelberger has coordinated numerous events on campus concerning the wartime history of America, including the upcoming “Echoes of World War I” concert on Dec. 2. The proceeds from past concerts were donated to veteran organizations.
“Art calls us his ‘children’ and never fails to remind us that he loves each of us,” said Carrano. “Even through long rehearsals we know we are appreciated for our hard work.”