International band member finds friends

Photo courtesy of Frida Bengtsson
The Royal Swedish Navy marches on a boat.Photo courtesy of Frida Bengtsson The Royal Swedish Navy marches on a boat.

Story by Blake Bernier, Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Frida Bengtsson The Royal Swedish Navy marches on a boat.

Photo courtesy of Frida Bengtsson
The Royal Swedish Navy marches on a boat.

Frida Bengtsson left her home in Helsingborg, Sweden, eager to join the American marching band culture with her destination 4,547 miles away. Bengtsson did not know the person picking her up from the airport would be her best friend.

Samantha McMullen, junior from Washington, Illinois, and Bengtsson became fast friends through their shared love of music. Bengtsson said music is a universal language.

Bengtsson has always had an interest in music, which is something she said comes from her mother. At the age of 10, she joined the Helsingborg drumcorps, the same band that her mother participated in as a child. She said it’s different in Sweden because people who want to play in a band have to pursue it on their own.

“We don’t have school bands,” Bengtsson said. “If you want to be in band you have to do it outside of school.”

She started out as a drum set player and over the years she has learned how to play many percussion instruments, from the xylophone to snare drum. After a few years in the drumcorps, Bengtsson applied to join the National Youth Wind Orchestra. The next step up from there was receiving an invitation to join the Royal Swedish Navy Cadet Band.

The Royal Swedish Navy Cadet Band was created in 2002 and consists of 70 of the best young musicians in Sweden. In order to be a part of this prestigious band an invitation must be received according to their website, muk.se.

After reaching one of the highest levels of musicianship in Sweden, Bengtsson thought about the possibility of traveling to America for her first year of college.

“I wanted to combine my studies with being a part of the marching band culture,” Bengtsson said. “Because the American marching band culture is famous. I got a list of different universities in mid-America and then I started to check the marching bands and I found Racer Band.”

Racer Band Director John Fannin believes the tipping point for Bengtsson was a YouTube video produced by Digital Media Services covering the 2013 Festival of Champions.

“It’s a stunning video and there are some great shots,” Fannin said. “You can really see the students enjoying it, you can see the drummers and you can see the formations. It’s really a professional quality video.”

After making the decision to pursue Racer Band, Bengtsson sent an email to Fannin and they began to work together sorting out the logistics of making it a reality.

The first step was finding someone to pick Bengtsson up from the airport – McMullen made the trip and met her with a sign and a smile.

“Sam picked me up in Nashville with this beautiful sign in Swedish that said welcome,” Bengtsson said. “At first I thought it would be kind of awkward because I didn’t know her but she was so great and now she’s one of my best friends.”

Next, Fannin had to find a place for her in the band.

“We have 54 percussionists and trying to find a spot for everyone is a challenging thing and that was the toughest part to figure out,” Fannin said.

After a spot was found for her playing the cymbals, she began learning the performance pieces with the rest of the band, but a new challenge arose.

Formations are performed on a football field and Bengtsson had never stepped foot on one. So she spent a few days learning the names of certain lines and getting her bearings straight so that she could follow her coordinates and help create the formations.

With all of the tough stuff out of the way Bengtsson has been able to focus on enjoying herself and the experience.

As football season draws to a close and basketball season gets closer, a new opportunity presents itself to Bengtsson. Pep band performs at every home basketball game and she said she plans to be a part of it and complete her American band experience.

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