Band kicks off holiday season with 4th annual flash mob
By Jim Varhegyi, Air Force District of Washington Public Affairs
/ Published November 30, 2016
WASHINGTON (AFNS) – Visitors at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum were delightfully surprised when their tour of the displays was suddenly interrupted by members of the U.S. Air Force Band and Honor Guard as they kicked off the holiday season with their fourth annual holiday flash mob Nov. 29.
Senior Master Sgt. Joe Reynolds, a band percussionist, began the event in the museum’s atrium by hand drumming on a traditional West African instrument called the jembe. He was joined by Master Sgt. Matthew Irish, a vocalist; more vocalists and instrumentalists quickly joined in, and in a flash the area was filled with 125 band members on five stages, including a chorus from the Singing Sergeants, instrumentalists from the Concert Band, and for the first time a choir of handbells was featured.
This year’s event featured two Christmas carols: “Patapan,” which the vocalists sang in French and English, and “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” which is based on a French dance tune originally by Jehan Tabourot, with the text being written by English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward.
Senior Master Sgt. Bob Thurston, a retired bandsman, arranged the music for the performance, as he has done for the previous three flash mobs. He said that each venue the band has used has presented unique challenges from a musical and visual perspective. None of the spaces were designed for band performances, but he looks forward to tackling each year’s set of challenges helping to make the event a unique experience for the viewers to enjoy. Thurston added that he hopes this experience puts a human face on the Air Force and that the viewing public walks away from the event with uplifted spirits.
Master Sgt. Megan Ensor, the band’s principle piccolo player and originally from Pittsburgh, echoed Thurston’s sentiment by saying, “This event brings the Air Force face to face with the public in a real and tangible way.”
She added that though a lot of hard work goes into pulling off the event, it’s rewarding to see the surprise in people’s faces. Ensor also noted that she’s been very surprised by the impact. She said when people learn that she is in the Air Force Band they nearly all ask her about the flash mob and tell her how much they enjoy seeing the performances.
Col. Larry H. Lang, the commander and conductor of the U.S. Air Force Band, also commented on the impact the annual event has had. “When we started this event we had no idea how far reaching it would be. To date we’ve reached over 50 million viewers from the first three events.”
Lang mentioned that he appreciates the relationship that the band has with the Smithsonian Institution and looks forward to collaborating with them throughout the year on various projects.
He also spoke to the hard work that members of the band’s sister unit, the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard, put in to help make the event a success every year. “We couldn’t do this without their help,” he said. “They are a critical part of pulling off the holiday flash mob every year.”
This year, 28 members of the honor guard participated in the event. One of their newest members, Airman Melainie Marrero, from Newark, New Jersey, said that working with the band on this project has been an eye opening experience for her. She said seeing behind the scenes how hard everyone worked on this gives her a better appreciation for the dedication and professionalism of her sister unit.
She wanted to participate in the event because she thought it would be a fun way to see the public’s reaction and to do something completely different than what she does in her job.
Marrero is a member of the honor guard’s firing party and said that it is a privilege to render final honors at a funeral for a service member. Her dream is to be a security forces K-9 handler once her time in the honor guard is complete.
The Air Force is fueled by innovation every year the band try to add new elements to what they do. This year they will be releasing their first dynamic and engaging 360-degree panoramic view of the holiday flash mob.
Chief Master Sgt. Robert Kamholz, the chief of the band’s marketing and outreach, said, “Through the power of social media the band uses world-class musical presentations to strengthen the bonds between the Air Force and the American public and to positively impact the global community.”
Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James echoed that sentiment and said, “We are the premier air and space force and the band plays a critical role in communicating that message with their outreach efforts for the Air Force.”
James said that she was very excited to be able to participate again in this year’s event, this time as a handbell player, and added, “I’m looking forward to helping spread holiday cheer to all the dedicated service members, past and present, who have sacrificed so much in service to this great nation.”