VIENNA, VA — Two alumni of the “Pride of Vienna” James Madison High School marching band program are taking their musicianship to new levels as they join military bands.
Jonathan Farrington, a 2019 James Madison High School graduate and son of Trace the Zero Waste shop owner Mala Persaud, will join a band within the Royal Corps of Army Music. A native of the United Kingdom, Farrington will be attending bootcamp in late August, then the Royal Military School of Music, and will later be placed into one of over a dozen band options within the corps.
Another Madison graduate from 2020, Christina Alegre, is joining the Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, part of the U.S. Army Old Guard. Alegre is in the midst of bootcamp and will return to the DC area afterward.
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Farrington told Patch he has been interested in music since fifth or sixth grade, but he didn’t know he wanted to pursue it as a career until 12th grade. Born in the United Kingdom, Farrington came to the U.S. as a kid and attended Louise Archer Elementary School, Thoreau Middle School and James Madison High School in Vienna.
A tuba player, Farrington also has interest in a career as a conductor. He said his grandfather in England is one of his inspirations, as he was an Army veteran, conductor and pianist.
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His grandfather also gave him advice on a career direction.
“He said you’re going to have to find a way to make it a [paying] job, so he said to join the Royal Corps of Army Music,” said Farrington.
The Royal Corps of Army Music is a group of bands that support ceremonial events and military interests. Farrington told Patch he hasn’t been placed in a band yet, but he was able to indicate top three preferences. After training and music school, placement could happen when a spot becomes available in a band. There’s a chance members could perform in front of the King and Queen Consort.
“It depends where you end up but you just have to be ready to be on call to do anything,” said Farrington.
Meanwhile, Alegre is currently at basic combat training before joining the Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps at Fort Myer outside DC, according to her mother Mary Kay Alegre.
“It’s an incredible honor and an amazing start to a professional music career,” Mary Kay Alegre told Patch. “The Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps is a specialty platoon of the Army Old Guard, an official ceremonial unit and so called ‘Escort to the President.’ We are very proud of her for this great accomplishment.”
Alegre started playing trumpet in fourth grade and has “practiced every single day” since middle school, Mary Kay Alegre said. After high school, she studied trumpet performance at Indiana University and got audition coaching from ceremonial military band members.
Then she got a chance to audition for the Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps during her finals week. To win a competitive spot in the band, Alegre had to complete a “blind” audition, interview, sight reading, marching, and standing still for 30 minutes. Alegre also had to qualify physically and mentally as a member of the military.
Once she won her place as a bugle player, Alegre went off to 10-week basic combat training along with other solders.
“Bootcamp is very demanding physically and mentally,” said Mary Kay Alegre. “She’ll need to complete combat training, obstacle courses, marksmanship and advanced weaponry training and will need to complete a timed 2-mile run and a 10-mile foot march in full combat gear.”
Farrington will soon head to boot camp, then 14 weeks of the Royal Military School of Music in preparation for the Royal Corps of Army Music.
“There’s so much to look forward to,” said Farrington. “Basic training teaches you how to be the best version of [yourself].”
On his future band assignment, he says, “I’m looking forward to performing on the national stage.”
Looking back, both musicians have fond memories of Madison High School’s band program.
Alegre was part of a band that won multiple state competitions and was a semifinalist in the grand nationals competition. She and other band members were named to the All Virginia Band for the state’s top high school musicians.
“The band director, Michael Hackbarth, inspired in band members an incredible amount of discipline and set very high expectations,” said Mary Kay Alegre.
Farrington recalled that Hackbarth knows how to run an ensemble well but wasn’t hesitant to bring in other experts to help with instruction.
But one of the top moments for Farrington was when the band took the national championship in 2018. Madison had previously beat its opponent, Bassett High School. But when Bassett High School came back with an improved band, Madison still managed to secure a win.
“That feeling I’ll never get over,” said Farrington. “It taught you that you can work very hard at something and it will pay off.”
Alegre’s other inspirations in Vienna were Madison’s drill writer, Kent Baker, and her private instructor, Dave Detwiler. Baker, a master sergeant with the Ceremonial Brass of the US Air Force Band, Baker brought a military band approach to Madison’s band for competitions. Detwiler, a retired member of the U.S. Army Blues, also inspired Alegre to have a music career in the military.
After Madison, Alegre went on to Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music and placed second in the National Trumpet Competition. She also studied law and public policy and interned last summer for Rep. Gerry Connolly on Capitol Hill.
Along with Madison’s band, Farrington was part of the Vienna Community Band for several years. It was there he met a fellow tuba player who was also British and went on to support Farrington at other performances.
At the Vienna Community Band, Farrington appreciated the mix of professional musicians and those who played simply because they enjoyed it.
“I think that’s a really beautiful thing, and it was really great to be part of it for a while,” said Farrington.
The next step of Farrington’s journey comes after he graduated from George Mason University with a bachelor’s degree of music in performance. He leaves the university prepared thanks to professors like Dr. David Porter, a retired military member of the U.S. Air Force Band; Dr. William Lake, director of concert bands, and Professor Anthony Maiello, who teaches conducting. He was part of numerous musical groups at George Mason University, including a wind symphony, symphonic band, symphonic orchestra, his own quartet and a Civil War re-enactment band called the 8th Green Machine Regiment Band.
While he is a private music instructor, he’d someday like to get a doctorate and teacher new generations of aspiring musicians.
“There’s always this duty to give back as it was given to us,” said Farrington.
Alegre has a four-year commitment with the Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, but she’s hoping to continue playing in premier military bands as a career, according to her mother. She also aspires to be like her private instructor Detwiler and play in the orchestra pit on Broadway and at the Kennedy Center as well as play with a symphony orchestra.
Alegre also has a passion for photography, running her own business during college and hopes to use these skills in the Old Guard’s public affairs office.
Like Farrington, she would like to continue teaching private students. She already has plans to help with Madison High School’s marching band when she’s back from basic combat training.
Both musicians have benefited from Madison High School’s robust band program. Farrington highlighted the importance of funding for the arts to ensure all children have the option to learn music. He also encourages those who have a passion for music to pusue it.
“For those who want a career in music, I say absolutely go for it and don’t let anyone tell you it’s too much work or it doesn’t make enough money,” said Farrington.
After all, Farrington and Alegre are two examples of young people making music into their life’s work.
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