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A final bow

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, salutes the crowd during a performance at the V. Sue Cleveland High Concert Hall in Rio Rancho, N.M., Oct. 17, 2018. After 29 years of service, Lang is scheduled to retire in January. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, salutes the crowd during a performance at the V. Sue Cleveland High Concert Hall in Rio Rancho, N.M., Oct. 17, 2018. After 29 years of service, Lang is scheduled to retire in January. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, invites the crowd to sing along with the band and Baylor University choir students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Oct. 24, 2018. On Lang’s final trip before retirement, the band toured 12 locations in New Mexico and Texas, including Lang’s hometown of El Paso, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, invites the crowd to sing along with the band and Baylor University choir students at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, Oct. 24, 2018. On Lang’s final trip before retirement, the band toured 12 locations in New Mexico and Texas, including Lang’s hometown of El Paso, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, speaks with an audience member before the band’s concert at the V. Sue Cleveland High Concert Hall in Rio Rancho, N.M., Oct. 17, 2018. For the last tour of Lang’s career, he led the band through 12 concerts at locations across New Mexico and Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, speaks with an audience member before the band’s concert at the V. Sue Cleveland High Concert Hall in Rio Rancho, N.M., Oct. 17, 2018. For the last tour of Lang’s career, he led the band through 12 concerts at locations across New Mexico and Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, leads the band during a performance at the V. Sue Cleveland High Concert Hall in Rio Rancho, N.M., Oct. 17, 2018. The band’s 12-day tour of New Mexico and Texas marked the last tour of Lang’s 29-year career. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, leads the band during a performance at the V. Sue Cleveland High Concert Hall in Rio Rancho, N.M., Oct. 17, 2018. The band’s 12-day tour of New Mexico and Texas marked the last tour of Lang’s 29-year career. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, leads the band during a performance at the V. Sue Cleveland High Concert Hall in Rio Rancho, N.M., Oct. 17, 2018. On Lang’s final trip before retirement, the band toured 12 locations in New Mexico and Texas, including Lang’s hometown of El Paso, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

Col. Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander and conductor, leads the band during a performance at the V. Sue Cleveland High Concert Hall in Rio Rancho, N.M., Oct. 17, 2018. On Lang’s final trip before retirement, the band toured 12 locations in New Mexico and Texas, including Lang’s hometown of El Paso, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Abby L. Richardson)

JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --

The lights dimmed in the Allen Independent School District’s Performing Arts Center in Allen, Texas, and a hush fell over the audience, their eyes drawn to figures on the brightly lit stage.

The U.S. Air Force Band sat tall in their blue and white dress uniforms and shiny black shoes, poised and ready for their conductor to start the first song of the night. The performance was the last in the concert band’s 12-day tour, and the ensemble looked just as sharp as when they began in New Mexico two weeks before.

The tall, white-haired conductor raised his hands, gently gripped his baton and signaled for the musicians to prepare to play. Then, in one fluid motion, his hands went up -- the musicians all breathed in -- then back down, prompting the first note of the final concert.

For the conductor, band commander Col. Larry H. Lang, the tour of the Southwest marked the final trip of his 29-year military career before he retires in January.

Originally from El Paso, Texas — also one of the 12 tour stops — Lang said he discovered a love of music as an elementary school student. He first had an opportunity to be in a band starting in fifth grade. No one else in his family was involved in music, but he said he had a love for it and found successes early on.

Primarily a trombonist, he was involved in music throughout his early years, playing in everything from the school concert band to a rock band in high school.

Lang said his love of music drove his life choices — earning bachelor’s degrees in both music performance and music education from New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, N.M. The degrees solidified his love for music and piqued his interest in conducting.

After earning a master’s degree in music education from the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., he began a career teaching collegiate-level musicians in Louisiana.

“I ended up at McNeese State University in Louisiana teaching college,” Lang said. “I thought that was going to be my life and I was going to stick with it for the rest of my career.”

That was until a chance meeting one summer with an Air Force Band officer changed the trajectory of his life.

“She recommended that I audition for the Air Force Band program,” Lang said. “I said ‘no thank you.’”

The officer was persistent, however, and eventually the proposal intrigued him enough to dig deeper. The more he researched the opportunity, the more appealing it became.

“I auditioned, and here I am, all these years later,” Lang explained.

Initially, he was drawn to the Air Force to work with high-caliber professional musicians, but the longer he was in, the more he came to love the service component.

“[After] you get in, the service bug kind of bites you and you realize how valuable and important [your work] is,” he added.

In the Air Force, his career quickly progressed as a new officer. He was picked to command as a first lieutenant.

The opportunity took him to Alaska, where he commanded the Air Force Band of the Pacific.

After Alaska, he went on to command the Air Force Heritage of America Band in Virginia, the Air Force Band of Liberty in Massachusetts and the Air Force Academy Band in Colorado, before he was selected for his current position in 2012.

Now, after six years of leading the Air Force Band, Lang’s final tour brought him close to home.

The 12 concerts through New Mexico and Texas were just some of the activities organized by the band for the trip. The tour aimed at building relationships with the public, promoting patriotism, inspiring a new generation to serve and honoring those who have served.

While on his final trip, Lang was able to pass on his knowledge to the next generation of the band, not only by working with the musicians, but also a lieutenant on her first tour as associate conductor, 1st Lt. Christina Muncey, U.S. Air Force Band flight commander.

After working with the Band of the West, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, four months ago Muncey was given the opportunity to come to Washington, D.C. and work under Lang.

“Having been in the Air Force for almost 30 years, he has so much experience not only as a music director, but also as a leader,” she said. “Watching him work with the band both musically and through his leadership is an education.”

Although it has only been a short time, she said it has benefitted her greatly.

“He pushes me to continue to be better every single day,” she said. “He has given me the skills that I need to be a better officer and musician. My only regret is that I only have a few more months to work with him before he retires, because there’s so much more to learn from him.”

For Lang, the end of his career is bittersweet.

“It’s fun to be returning to my home part of the country [for my last trip],” he said. “It’s a little sad too, because I don’t want to leave. I’d rather stay a little bit longer, but I’ve had such a great experience. I’m really happy and blessed to have done what I’ve done.”