Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C. --
Originally from Hutchinson, Kansas, Master Sgt. Luke Wedge has been in the Air Force for over 15 years. As Strolling Strings music director, Wedge serves as “front man” for most Air Force Strings performances. This role demands clear communication with the band’s customers and audiences, as well as with fellow band musicians. I had the opportunity to chat with Wedge about his journey as a musician in the Air Force and what it’s like to serve in a demanding and highly visible leadership role.
Hurd: At what age did you begin violin lessons? What inspired you to start playing the violin? What memories do you have of your early learning experiences?
Wedge: I was five years old. I was inspired by watching my older brother and his viola -- he's also a professional musician. I remember my first teacher, Mr. Entwicht, an older German violinist living in Salina, Kansas. I would try not to let him see me smile when he would demonstrate fast or flashy playing. I thought, for some reason, I should only be serious in my lessons. Unfortunately, I remember being pretty bratty about practicing during those early years.
Hurd: How did your parents support your musical journey?
Wedge: Luckily, my parents were pretty faithful in their encouragement and taking me to lessons, youth orchestra, etc. Ultimately, I started truly enjoying practice and am really grateful to them for being so supportive.
Hurd: At what point did you know you wanted to become a professional musician?
Wedge: Even though playing music was my main thing, even through college, I resisted the idea of being a professional just because I didn't know if it was a career path available to me. Do I play well enough? Can a person even make a living doing it? It was my brother, again, who encouraged me to give it a try and really helped me as I started off with serious study of the violin in grad school and also with an introduction to a freelance performance career.
Hurd: What inspired you to join the Air Force Band?
Wedge: I had a few friends with knowledge of the military bands in Washington, D.C., and having a position in any one of them sounded pretty great to me. I was lucky that the Air Force Band had a vacancy at the same time I was looking for a position. It's been a great career so far.
Hurd: What is your favorite memory of your time in the band?
Wedge: I've enjoyed all the things we get to see here that most people don't get the opportunity to see like the White House and the Vice President's residence, and the close proximity to military and world leaders. I think those things are really memorable. Another example was on my first plane trip with the Air Force Strings. I got to sit in the cockpit while our C-17 took off. That was a surreal and exhilarating moment.
Hurd: You have been the Strolling Strings director for over five years. What are your responsibilities in this role?
Wedge: I've been the Strolling Strings leader for about six years now. I choose the music that we play, rehearse the group, and lead the performances. Occasionally, I'll arrange some music for the group to play, or emcee our shows. Leading the group in performance is somewhat like conducting, only with a violin under my chin. I rely mostly on the excellent musicianship of my colleagues as we play together.
Hurd: What is your favorite part about being Strolling Strings director? Do you have a particularly memorable/meaningful experience you’d like to share?
Wedge: I really like seeing the audience reactions at our strolling shows. A lot of times, with classical music, the mood can be serious and artistic -- which I like, don't get me wrong. But, with our strolling show, we play music with a high entertainment value -- like pop tunes, fiddle music, tangos, etc -- in a variety of venues, so it's fun to see people enjoying the show by clapping along and cheering. It's kind of a novel experience for me, still, as a classically trained musician. We perform at retirement homes from time to time, and we usually end our shows by playing the Armed Service Songs. We ask the members of the audience, if they have served in the military, to stand when they hear their service's song. By the end of the medley, nearly the whole room is standing. I think that is really inspiring!
Hurd: Lastly, what advice would you give to an advancing music student who would like to enter a career in music? For example, a student who is in high school and considering a career in music?
Wedge: I would advise that person to cast aside all self-doubt and just go for it with abandon. If he or she ends up making music for a living, then congrats. Otherwise, the discipline and pursuit of excellence one needs in mastering a musical instrument translates pretty well to whatever else might be in store for them. I've yet to run across a person who regrets playing too much music.
Wedge’s multifaceted leadership role in the Air Force Band combines musical and technical ability with professional Air Force customer service and public affairs communication skills. Each and every member of the band performs a unique and critical role which similarly combines musical talent with Air Force needs and objectives. If you’d like to continue the conversation and learn more about what the Air Force Band does for our Air Force, please come to one of our upcoming public performances. A schedule of concerts is available on our website, https://www.music.af.mil/Bands/The-United-States-Air-Force-Band/Events/. We look forward to seeing you soon!