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Naples (Italy) High School band director Gary Marvel conducts the performance of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” Thursday night.
Naples (Italy) High School band director Gary Marvel conducts the performance of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” Thursday night. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Naples (Italy) High School band director Gary Marvel conducts the performance of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” Thursday night.
Naples (Italy) High School band director Gary Marvel conducts the performance of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” Thursday night. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
A couple in the Naples High School gymnasium enjoys Air Force Staff Sgt. Kenneth Drefke's saxophone solo during a rendition of “A Gershwin Fantasy,” arranged by Pat Martino.
A couple in the Naples High School gymnasium enjoys Air Force Staff Sgt. Kenneth Drefke's saxophone solo during a rendition of “A Gershwin Fantasy,” arranged by Pat Martino. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)
Petty Officer 3rd Class Katy Bridgers sings “God Bless America” during the concert Thursday night at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Katy Bridgers sings “God Bless America” during the concert Thursday night at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy. (Sandra Jontz / S&S)

NAPLES, Italy — Ordinarily, Kristen O’Callaghan doesn’t need much practice for her high-school band playing.

“I’ve got a lot of experience already,” the sophomore said.

But for the past month, the piccolo performer practiced and practiced for a much-anticipated concert where she would share the spotlight with three more experienced performers during a rendition of John Philip Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

“I was really nervous,” said the Naples High School advanced band student after her performance. “I was the only student. They are professionals. But playing with military band members was very exciting, and I think I did pretty well. I do well under pressure.”

On Thursday night, the Naples community was treated to a nearly two-hour concert featuring members of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet Band, the Allied Forces Band Naples, and students from the high school’s advanced band.

The “awesome opportunity” of performing with the ‘big guys’ was not lost on the students, said high school band director Gary Marvel — adding that he was quick to remind his performers not to be intimidated: “There are older musicians and younger musicians, but in the end, we’re all musicians.”

That viewpoint didn’t escape Petty Officer 2nd Class Chris Sams, a saxophonist with the 6th Fleet Band. “I think we enjoyed the experience as much as they did,” he said. “They’ve got an awesome band director and you can see he’s instilling a passion for the music in them.”

And the students were eager to learn tips of the trade, said Marine Corps Sgt. Stacie Crowther, a flutist and piccolo player with the Allied Forces Band.

“They were quick to learn and appreciated when you told them hold a note a little or ‘You’re a little flat,’” Crowther said. “We’re happy to give them little tips that help with the big picture.”

For all the talk of learning from those more experienced, however, Thursday evening’s performance boiled down to one word for students Blair Ross and Zarah Younossi, both 17-year-old seniors: fun.

“It was fun to play with people who sound better than you,” said Blair, a baritone saxophonist.

“It was a real fun experience,” Zarah said. “It was amazing to watch how professionals do it. It was fun and exciting.”

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