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AF bands inspire, captivate worldwide audience

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nick Wilson
  • Air Combat Command Public Affairs
Stevie Wonder once said, “Music is a world within itself, with a language we all understand,” in a song he produced in 1977, called “Sir Duke.” 

In countries across the globe, the Air Force has used the language of music to boost morale among military members, foster worldwide trust and gain public support through mass appeal. This month marks the 75th anniversary of the United States Air Force Heritage of America Band.

“Since the foundation of our nation, music has been vital in the military,” said Col. Larry Lang, U.S. Air Force Band commander, Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington, D.C. “Even president Washington understood this with the First Continental Army Band in terms of how important it was for the morale of the troops.”

Along with the feeling of pride and fellowship music can provide, it also puts a face to be remembered on service members when they host live concerts.

“Many Americans never meet a military member in person unless it's a member of the band,” Lang said. “That connection is so essential because less than 1% of our population serves in the military.”

When Airmen and other service members are seen in uniform by the American public, they are not only representing themselves and the units they work for, but they’re also acting as the ambassadors of the U.S. military as a whole.

“Every so often, we might address a population that might be skeptical about what we do in the Air Force,” said Capt. Rafael Toro-Quinones, commander and conductor of the United States Air Force Band of the Golden West, Travis Air Force Base, California. “We're able to bring barriers down through music and throughout our concerts.”

Band conductors use the time between songs to talk to crowds about how service members are people with families who, like their civilian counterparts, also happen to be mothers and fathers who sacrifice time in their life to serve their country, Toro-Quinones added. 

“That connection we have with our audience is so crucial [because] there are those who don't understand what we do,” Lang said. “The [Air Force’s] budget is so tight that it seems like we can't afford music. But I would say, ‘How can you not afford us?’”

Bands are a bargain for their level of expertise, training and unique impact they can have on the public through their music, Lang said.

“There's no one else that brings the American people together like we do and links them in large amounts to the military like we do,” Lang said. 

In Washington D.C., for example, the Air Force Band plays a part in the process when foreign dignitaries and leaders come into the city to negotiate or work on diplomatic solutions to solve problems across the globe, Lang said.

“Music is always a part of those events; it is vital,” Lang explained. “I will keep fighting until the day I die for that.”

When it comes to the role music plays in the mission, the three core pillars of Air Force bands are to honor, connect and inspire.  

“Honor is important to not only in honor of the people who are we are currently serving with but also those who have served before us,” said Lt. Col. (Ret.) Richard A Shelton, who previously served as a conductor for the 564th Air Force Band from 1981 to 1984, before it was renamed to the USAF HOAB in 1995. “Our mission is to connect with the public and our fellow Airmen.”

The inspire pillar comes into play by the level of professionalism the band shows to motivate Airmen to have excellence in all they do, Shelton said.

“Not only do we hope to inspire those serving today, but we also hope to motivate future Air Force and U.S. military prospects,” said 2nd Lt. Philip Emory, USAF HOAB flight commander and associate conductor. “When my little girl and other children see an Air Force band play for the first time, I want them to be inspired by a love for their country and an appreciation for service members that have sacrificed in the past and present. My hope would be to share that music can connect and build relationships in ways that words can't express.”

Whether band Airmen are playing during a concert in the U.S. or overseas, they represent U.S. Armed Forces members across the globe, serving anywhere – anytime.

“We represent the greater good for the greater whole, and we do so with those core values of integrity, service and excellence,” said Col. (Ret.) Lowell E. Graham, former USAF HOAB commander and conductor. “When [spectators] come to our concerts, they will remember those three things. They might not remember what we played, but the audience will know the U.S. Air Force is a well-trained, disciplined and focused organization that represents the core values of the United States.”