JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING --
When Master Sgt. Joshua Kowalsky pulled out his cell phone to video record his colleagues in The U.S. Air Force Band during a recent rehearsal, he had no idea that the video would quickly capture the attention of millions around the world.
The video, featuring members of The U.S. Air Force Singing Sergeants practicing the Polish song "Sciernisko," was shared with the Golec uOrkiestra, the Polish band who wrote the song. They loved it and posted it onto their Facebook page. As of October 18th, that post has been seen by 2.2 million viewers, and it was shared over 30,000 times.
"This video is a shining example of our unique mission and how music brings cultures together," explains Chief Master Sgt. Kevin Burns, chief of marketing and outreach for The U.S. Air Force Band. "For a moment, we engaged millions of Polish citizens on behalf of the U.S. Air Force through a song they love and through the respect that we gave in reproducing it."
In the video, Technical Sgt. Matt Hill sings "Sciernisko" along with the Singing Sergeants, who just a few hours later performed for the Polish Air Force Inspector, Brigadier General pilot Jacek Pszczoła, at an event hosted by the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. David L. Goldfein. After the performance, Brig. Gen. Pszczoła and his wife were beaming with joy.
Now Master Sgt. Kowalsky is beaming with joy as well. Kowalsky, who also speaks Polish, simply wanted to share a recording of this song with his family and friends. He had no idea it would generate so many positive reactions.
"I am still a little shocked by it all," says Sgt. Kowalsky. "I figured my wife and the musicians who wrote the song would enjoy it, but I never imagined that it would go viral. It's especially nice to see so many positive comments on the video."
Kowalsky was a key player from the very start. When he heard that the Singing Sergeants were looking for a Polish song to perform, he was instrumental in finding the right song for them to sing. Kowalsky's wife, Aga, is from Poland, so he enlisted her help.
"My wife Aga went to school with members of the Golec uOrkiestra," Kowalsky explains. "I asked her if she knew a good song my colleagues could perform for this special visit and she recommended her friends' song 'Sciernisko.'"
It seems like they picked the right song. In addition to the viral post on Golec uOrkiestra's Facebook page, several Polish media outlets have run stories about the success of the video and the main vocalist featured in the video, Technical Sgt. Matt Hill.
For Sgt. Hill, learning how to properly pronounce the Polish words of the song wasn't easy, especially considering the short deadline he was given.
"I was given about two weeks to learn the song," Hill recalls. "Thankfully, Sgt. Kowalsky's wife Aga helped me with the diction. I wanted to sound as authentic as possible, and she helped me learn exactly how to properly pronounce each of the Polish words, many with sounds you don't encounter in the English language."
Sgt. Kowalsky, who is a cellist in the Air Force Strings, also manages the band's graphics and photography team. He is often seen with his camera in hand taking pictures at concerts and other events. He even takes official portrait photos for members of the band. He isn't known for shooting video.
But for this video, Sgt. Kowalsky grabbed his cell phone, started recording and helped the Air Force Band positively connect with a massive international audience.
"Sometimes that's all it takes: a cell phone," shares Senior Master Sgt. Matthew Irish, superintendent of outreach for The U.S. Air Force Band. "We generally want the highest quality pictures and video for our social media posts, but footage from someone's cell phone often gets more traction than our more highly produced products. I think people feel like these videos give a more personal view of things and help them really connect with who they are watching perform."