Aluminaries: Leader of the Bands

The U.S. Air Force honors Colonel Arnald Gabriel ’50, M.S. ’60, H.D.M. ’89.    by Alex Meril ’07

Raised in humble circumstances during the Great Depression, Arnald Gabriel ’50 discovered his love of music listening to the Metropolitan Opera on the radio. He honed his own musical talent playing flute in his junior high and high school bands. But he never imagined that his childhood passion would bring him to the position of commander and conductor of the United States Air Force Band, Symphony Orchestra, and Singing Sergeants, positions he held from 1964 to 1985. Now retired with the rank of colonel, in January he was honored at Bolling Air Force Base in a ceremony naming the band’s “virtual room” in Hanger 2 Arnald D. Gabriel Hall.

“It’s the capstone of all of the awards [I’ve received],” says Arnald, who was given an Ithaca College honorary doctor of music degree and the Ithaca College Alumni Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award (1997). In 1990 he was named conductor emeritus of the United States Air Force Band, and in 1992 he was inducted into the National Band Association’s Hall of Fame of Distinguished Band Conductors. Arnald also holds three Legion of Merit awards for his service to the United States Air Force Band and his efforts on behalf of music education both in the United States and abroad. These efforts include a goodwill tour in Latin America and his work to strengthen international relations through music in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. He was named professor emeritus of music upon retiring in 1995 after 11 years on the faculty of George Mason University, where he was conductor of the GMU Symphony Orchestra. And, for his service as a combat machine gunner with the 29th Infantry Division in Europe during World War II, he received two Bronze Star Medals, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, and the French Croix de Guerre.

All these accomplishments might never have taken place without a mentor who believed in Arnald — and without a lot of hard work on Arnald’s part. After his horrific experiences on the front lines during the war, Arnald had a terrible time trying to establish a “normal” lifestyle when he returned home. He had trouble fitting in with friends and family and couldn’t concentrate on anything for long. Eating and drinking to excess, Arnald found a mindless job working in a factory for 87 cents a day, which was about as far an occupation from his childhood passion for music as imaginable.

He was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, long before it was identified as such.

In August 1945, Arnald’s former high school band director, Burton Stanley ’35, M.S. ’52, who had once given Arnald flute lessons for free, visited him in the factory. Burton urged him to attend his own alma mater, even arranging for the audition to be waived and paying his matriculation fee. “I had not played an instrument in three years,” remembers Arnald. “I would not have gone to college if it had not been for Burton Stanley.”

Arnald worked diligently at Ithaca College to make up for time lost. He was determined to impress not only Stanley, but also his IC conductors and professors, who included the legendary Walter Beeler ’28, M.S. ’45, and Craig McHenry ’30, M.S. ’46. Years later, in tribute to his former band conductor, Arnald established the Burton Stanley Endowed Scholarship at Ithaca, passing on to future IC students the goodwill that was once bestowed upon him.

Arnald has deeply fond memories of his time at Ithaca, and he remains actively involved with the IC music community. In 1973 he hired Karen Dembow Erler ’70, making her the first female instrumentalist in any of America’s premier military bands (until Karen’s hire, women had participated only as vocalists). Since then, Arnald has worked with numerous IC alumni in the USAF bands, including Senior Master Sergeant Robert Mesite, M.M. ’81, a trombonist in the ceremonial brass ensemble, and Master Sergeant Kelly J. Egan ’83, manager of the Singing Sergeants.

When Arnald visits South Hill now, he notes improvements since his college days. “The music program is maybe better than ever,” he says. And while he thinks the facilities are beautiful, he notes that “the great faculty is more important.”

With his countless achievements as an educator, conductor, and clinician, Arnald holds his education at IC as one of his most valued accomplishments, and his IC teachers as his greatest influences. “They were responsible for my entire career,” he says. “I will never forget.”