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Fully Staffed Above the Staff: a Choir at Full Strength

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Matthew Murray
  • The United States Air Force Band
It has been six years of making do with less than enough, but now the Singing Sergeants soprano section is finally operating at full capacity.

Off and on since 2012, the highest voices of the chorus have been under-staffed by as few as one to as many as four of its five-member section. The situation arose from a series of challenges, including retirements, vocal injuries, acquisition obstacles and changes to the Air Force's maternity policy affecting travel.

"Shortly after I joined the Singing Sergeants, our flight chief retired, which was the beginning of a long period of soprano shortages," said Master Sgt. Mandi Harper, the soprano section leader.

To make do, the chorus has borrowed sopranos from regional and sister service bands and has even hired civilians. However, for the last concert tour, there was only one soprano available.

"Maintaining vocal health is a major part of readiness for the Singing Sergeants,” said soprano vocalist Technical Sgt. Ashley Keeks. "Being the only soprano on that particular tour proved to be a constant stressor on me as my desire was always to ensure the mission was successful. Now with a full section, that teamwork helps remove the anxiety."

Now the Singing Sergeants are thrilled to complete their soprano section by welcoming three new young, vibrant, and immensely talented vocalists into their family: Technical Sgts. Katie Baughman, Adrienne Kling and Nicole Vander Does.

Technical Sgt. Baughman has been with the Singing Sergeants for just over two months. She is a native of Atlanta and has bachelor's and master's degrees from Georgia State University and a doctorate of musical arts from the University of Maryland.

Baughman's very first performance just weeks after completing Basic Military Training was to sing for one of the most revered events in the Air Force, a ceremony for Medal of Honor recipient Technical Sgt. John A. Chapman.

"To get the opportunity to be a part of such a prestigious event was pretty unbelievable," Baughman said. "I was completely beside myself to be singing for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force, people I had just been learning about in basic training."

Technical Sgt. Kling has been in Washington for just a few weeks. She grew up in Cleveland and has a bachelor's degree from the Oberlin Conservatory and a master's degree from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.

Kling has known about opportunities for musicians in the military for a long time. One of her teachers was in the Navy Band Great Lakes as a trumpeter and prior to moving to Washington she and her husband also lived in Dayton, Ohio, home to the U.S Air Force Band of Flight at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

"Everyone here is so talented and has been so supportive," shared Kling. "While I was in the midst of a pretty stressful time at basic training I received a letter from the whole chorus, which really helped me feel encouraged and even more excited to get to work with the Singing Sergeants.

Sgt. Vander Does is the most recent arrival to the choir. She grew up in Parker, Colorado near Denver and earned her bachelor's degree from Cain College of the Arts at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.

She first learned about opportunities in the military for musicians from Dr. Craig Jessop, the current dean of Cain College of the Arts, former music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and Officer in Charge of the Singing Sergeants.

"From the very beginning everyone has been so kind, positive, supportive and unified in purpose," said Vander Does. "From the audition process to all the assistance I've received since arriving in Washington, I feel like I'm already a part of a family."

"I struggled in my first weeks of basic training," Vander Does recalled. "But my training instructor inspired me to change the military saying 'embrace the suck' to 'embrace the opportunity,' which helped me to rise to the challenge and keep going."

Now with the full augmentation of their soprano section, the Singing Sergeants are excited to get to work and raise their musical product to new heights.

"The soprano section of the chorus often carries the melody, and we are very glad to have this section fully staffed for the first time in several years," said Master Sgt. Taylor Armstrong, the music director and enlisted conductor of the Singing Sergeants. "Having five in the section will enable the members to have a more unified sound and more dynamic capabilities."

"I'm so excited about the recent manning accessions we have filled," said Senior Master Sgt. Ryan Carson, the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the flight. "The chorus will be at its strongest by the numbers in years and I am so very fortunate to be leading us during this time. Gaining all of this new talent has sparked an environment of innovation, teamwork and excellence."