Two years ago, alto saxophone player Daniel Cohen sat in an assembly at Mt. Lebanon High School, watching two upperclassmen selected to participate in the first U.S. Army All-American Marching Band.
This week, he is in San Antonio along with 96 of the country’s most talented young musicians, preparing to perform in the half-time show of the U.S. Army All-American Bowl this Saturday.
“When I was a sophomore I saw two Mt. Lebanon seniors get into the inaugural band. That was the first time I had ever seen or heard of it,” Cohen said. “Once I heard about it, I was inspired to go for it.”
The U.S. Army All-American Bowl is a high school football game featuring the nation’s top high school senior football players and marching musicians. Band students selected as All-Americans receive a trip to San Antonio to march in the half-time performance at the Alamodome. The Army covers all expenses.
Cohen, one of three drum majors (marching band leaders) in the Mt. Lebanon High School Marching Band, was chosen from a pool of 1,235 nominees around the country. The son of Ilene and Steve Cohen, he is the only All-American hailing from Pittsburgh this year.
Mt. Lebanon band directors Louise Marino and Douglas Reichenfeld nominated him.
“Dan expressed an interest in wanting to throw his hat into the ring for this honor,” said Marino. “He is very conscientious and highly motivated. He’s a top notch kid.”
Although Marino and Reichenfeld announced to all band students back in December 2008 that the deadline for applications for this year was approaching, Marino said, “Dan was the only one that had the gumption to try it.”
As part of the nominating process, Cohen submitted videotapes of himself playing solo pieces on his alto sax, marching, and expressing why he wanted to be an All-American.
“I said that I love marching, and that it is something I want to continue in college,” Cohen said. “I said that it would be an honor to represent my school district, and the city of Pittsburgh.”
Last year, Cohen joined 1,000 other musicians in performing at the Holiday Bowl in San Diego. But he believes playing along with only 96 of the nation’s top band talent in San Antonio will be “one of the most rewarding experiences I’ll ever have.”
For several weeks, Cohen has been practicing, on his own, the two pieces he will be playing in the half-time show. Once in San Antonio, the band will rehearse for the first time as a unit.
“Once you know the music,” he said, “you have to put your feet to it.”
Cohen, who will pursue a career in music education, hopes that the All-American honor will bolster his chances of college scholarships.
“It will definitely get my foot in the door,” he said. “The schools will definitely take a second look.”
Army representatives formally selected Cohen as an All-American at a presentation at Mt. Lebanon High School Dec. 3, said Cory Berger, game representative of the All-American Bowl.
Although this year will mark the 10th anniversary of the All-American Bowl, it is only the third year the game has included band students in addition to football players.
“This marks the second time in the past three years that Mt. Lebanon students have been selected to this prestigious ensemble,” Berger said.
“Even the Army told us we are one of the few schools that have had three students be a part of this,” Marino said.
Cohen’s parents, sister and grandfather accompanied him to San Antonio. Cohen was particularly excited about having his grandfather there.
“For him to watch me play on this scale,” he said, “will really be an honor for him.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com or 412-687-1263.)