The 287th U.S. Army Band will entertain Independence Day audiences on Legislative Mall

Families looking for some pride-stirring entertainment will find a mix of patriotic favorites, hot show tunes and music from a chilly Disney hit on tap Friday during Dover’s Fourth of July celebrations.

As it has for more than a decade, the 29-member 287th U.S. Army Band of the Delaware National Guard will provide the musical entertainment leading up to the evening’s annual fireworks display.

The band will play beginning at 8 p.m. in front of Legislative Hall, culminating an intensive period of rehearsals and performances for the musicians.

“July 4th is one of our two biggest missions of the year,” said band conductor and commander, Chief Warrant Officer Robert Stike. “We start rehearsing in April or May on our weekends and then in our two-week annual training period leading up to the Fourth.”

Stike, a saxophone player who has commanded the band since 2005, spends his time out of uniform as assistant principal of a Hagerstown, Md., high school. Few members of the band work full time for the National Guard, meaning most put aside their civilian careers at least once a month to rehearse and perform in concerts across the state.

It’s a tough job, tougher than some might think.

Although their primary mission is to entertain both soldiers and civilians like, each band member has a number of military tasks to fulfill including physical training, weapons qualification, inspections and general military training.

They’re also on the scene when natural disasters hit Delaware.

“When you see National Guardsmen out there, you’ll also see band members,” Stike said. “You can’t tell the difference.”

Formed in 1921, the 287th was activated and sent to the Pacific theater during World War II. In addition to its duties in the First State, it has been sent on good-will missions to Germany and Bolivia.

Their summer schedule includes seven concerts in two months, not to mention Dover’s Independence Day celebration and one earlier in the day in Bethany Beach. The schedule makes for some very long hours: a June 29 appearance in Bellevue started with physical training early in the morning and ended at 11:30 p.m.

On Independence Day, concert goers can expect a healthy mix of Sousa marches, a medley of tunes made famous by Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, songs representing each of America’s military services and, of course, the finale to Rossini’s “1812 Overture,” whose soul-stirring finale is punctuated by genuine, teeth-rattling cannon fire.

The younger crowd also will find something new with a selection of songs from Disney’s “Frozen,” including the megahit “Let It Go.”

The patriotic music seems to bring out what it means to be an American, said First Sergeant Kevin Snyder, who has been with the band for more than 30 years.

“Any musician wants to play music for people to enjoy,” he said. “People who see us, they see the uniform, and hopefully that engenders a sense of pride.

“You can see it in their faces,” he said.

The same applies for the band members themselves. The musicians range in age from 17 to 60, and most enlist specifically to serve with the band.

“We’re a very close group of soldiers,” Stike said. “Unlike active duty soldiers, we don’t [move to other units] and so a lot of people spent their entire careers together.”

That closeness provides a real sense of espirit de corps.

 “I get paid to do something I love to do,” said flutist Sgt. Mary Kate Hall. “Our unit is an absolute family. It seems most people only leave when they reach the age limit and have to retire.”

“This is what I do,” said Stike. “It’s what I love doing, it’s why I joined the Army. I grew up in the best country in the world, and the Fourth of July is all about America.

“It’s just a great day.”