Symphonic Band Performs at D-Day Ceremony in Normandy

Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Symphonic Band took a history lesson like no other they’ve taken.

"This will undoubtedly be an experience that our students will never forget," said NWU band director Sam Zitek.

On the 68th anniversary of D-Day, the band traveled to Normandy to commemorate the 1944 Allied Invasion and liberation of France.

The band has known for the past couple of years that it would travel internationally this summer, said NWU band director Sam Zitek. They learned last fall that they would provide music for the June 6 D-Day ceremony at American Cemetery.

“Bands typically do their own service when they are there but since we were planning to be there on the actual anniversary, we were asked to be a part of the official ceremony,” said Zitek.

The morning ceremony overlooked Omaha Beach and other landing sites. The Symphonic Band performed both the American National Anthem and the French National Anthem; senior Lauren Fletcher played taps while junior Kaitlin Zardetto-Smith laid the wreath. The ceremony concluded with a 30-minute concert of music including “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “French Military March,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Ave Maria.” The band even experienced national media attention with CSB Sunday Morning filming the event.

“Normandy will be a tear jerker,” said recent NWU graduate and trombonist Matthew Anderson of Clarks, before boarding a plane to Normandy, France.

Anderson — who has had a long-time interest in World War II — said the trip enticed him to research D-Day more thoroughly.

“But this will be the best place to learn,” he said of Normandy. “It will be good to see the world from a different perspective. An opportunity to play at this location happens only once.”

The Symphonic Band prepared for months, said Zitek. In addition to learning the music, students were asked to dig deep into their family histories and explore possible personal connections to D-Day.

For tuba player Kaitlin Zardetto-Smith, a junior vocal performance and history major from Omaha, the anticipation led to numerous conversations and stories with her family about a grandfather who was a radio operator in the U.S. Air Force and was on the first plane to land on Normandy.

“I have a bundle of his pictures,” she said. “This trip has a real personal connection for me.”

The Symphonic Band spent 10 days in France. In addition to numerous tourist stops, they performed a concert at La Madeleine and another on Champs Elysees.

“It’s a good opportunity to learn outside the classroom,” said trumpet player Jameson Bellairs, a junior from Clarinda, Iowa. “It’s going to bring forth lots of emotion and give us all a good reminder as to why we should care about history.”

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