Musician 3rd Class Cliff Murray and the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band perform with Cambodian musicians during a concert at city square in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, June 21. (U.S. Navy/MCC Greg Badger)

SIHANOUKVILLE, Cambodia - With a song on their lips and instruments in their hands, U.S. Pacific Fleet Band musicians made their first appearances for Pacific Partnership 2014 in Cambodia, performing twice in one day June 21 for the children and people of Sihanoukville.

In the morning, more than 300 children and teachers gathered at the M’Lop Tapang organization educational center to sing and dance with members of the band, who performed American top 40 hits.

“It’s really fun for the children,” said Sok Chann, a teacher at M’Lop Tapang. “This is new for most Cambodians. People rarely see a live performance like this one. They maybe see one on TV, but not directly. Today created a special feeling for the children.”

Joined on stage by singers from the M’Lop Tapang student musical group, the band surprised the children with the performance of the Cambodian song “Arapiya,” a song traditionally sung at happy gatherings of families and friends. Throughout the show, many of the children joined in with percussion instruments and vocals, while others danced with their new American friends. In a mutual exchange of talent, the M’Lop Tapang children’s musical group performed its own musical set for the audience.

“We would never think our children could join with an American band because America is very far away,” said Chann. “This was very special for our children.”

PP14 Mission Commander U.S. Navy Capt. Brian Shipman kicked off the show, greeting the children and introducing the band. The morning finished with the band presenting a musical workshop to the students, asking them to identify various musical instruments as members of the band played them.

Later in the evening, the U.S. Pacific Fleet band performed in the Sihanoukville City Center, to a crowd of more than 1,000 people. The concert ran for three hours, with performances by the Navy band’s brass band section and the complete rock band, local Cambodian dance and musical performances, and an acting troupe presenting a vignette that delivered the message to the community to keep their city clean. Local Cambodian celebrity DJ and singer, Pou Khlaing, joined the band in singing and playing two Cambodian songs.

Like all aspects of PP14, the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band performances are coordinated in a true sense of partnership, with the band as interested in the musical interests of their audience as well as what is current in American music.

“Before coming to a country, we research the top 10 karaoke songs and the top 10 songs playing on the radio in an area,” said MU1 Stephen Hux, leading petty officer for the Pacific Fleet Band. “We want the audience to be as engaged in our performances as we are.”

With the crowd growing as the evening went along, and the audience moving to the music, the band appears to have chosen wisely.

“The band chose some of the best songs,” said Chann. “It’s like they know the feeling of the Cambodian people. For me, it’s like I feel every song.”

The U.S. Pacific Fleet Band will perform at several functions throughout southern Cambodia as part of Pacific Partnership 2014. They will continue on to the Republic of the Philippines embarked in the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s JS Kunisaki (LST 4003).

Pacific Partnership is in its ninth iteration and is the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster relief preparedness mission conducted in the Asia-Pacific region.

Children attending M'Lop Tapang school gather around Chief Musician Gresh Laing of the U.S. Pacific Fleet Band during a Pacific Partnership community outreach event. (U.S. Navy/MCC Greg Badger)