The United States Air Force Band’s Fall Tour: Conducting connection with music

  • Published
  • By Kristen Wong
  • Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Public Affairs

The United States Air Force Band’s Concert Band and Singing Sergeants kicked off their Fall Tour in the Pacific Northwest, Oct. 16, 2022.

The two-week tour sent the Band across Washington, Idaho and Oregon, and featured live concerts, clinics at local high schools and a master class with university students.

After the pandemic put a two-year pause on the Band’s tours, they set out to bridge new connections in the community. U.S. Air Force Col. Don Schofield, commander and conductor of the Band, emphasized the importance of these tours and their ability to reach out to communities that may not have any other organic connection to the U.S. Air Force or the military. 

And a strong sense of community is exactly what was felt on this tour.

“Sometimes the community doesn’t have a reason to come together for a common reason, especially after COVID,” said Robert Layfield, a member of the audience. “[A lot of things] can be very divisive but music isn’t usually very controversial, especially when you’re playing patriotic songs or hymns, it’s really something that brings people together and unites them.”

This was a view shared by many in the audience and they stressed the importance of music in building communities.

“Through music, you can emotionally connect with everybody,” said Ares Turner, guest conductor at the Battle Ground concert and student at Battle Ground High School. “Even if you don’t speak the same language or understand the culture, you can still feel it. We can share cultural identities with each other through music. I see that from not only this concert but also my band experience here at the high school. Music brings people together.”

At each concert, local school bands and musical communities came together to observe and enjoy world-class performances by the premier band. Leaders in the communities noted the impact of the Band’s visits on their cities.

“They are absolutely inspiring,” said Annemarie Smith, Juanita High School Band Director and guest conductor at the Kirkland concert. “Especially after the pandemic, these performances remind people of how important live music is to our culture.”

“Being a member of the armed forces myself, it’s important to me to foster relationships with the military and the community,” she said. “The concerts are a great reinforcement that armed forces does not mean bad or war. There’s another beautiful side to the military.”

Lily Evlyn Webber, a Portland State University student, expressed similar sentiments.

“I loved the master class,” said Webber. “I don’t know much about the Air Force but it was really cool talking to these guys and hearing what they do.”

Webber admitted that meeting and speaking with several members of the Band was eye-opening; it challenged her preconceived notions about the U.S. military and sparked a potential interest for her.

Band members agreed that one of the best parts of the tour was meeting and interacting with members of the community.

“Meeting people before and after the show, speaking with them for just a few moments and getting to know their stories; that’s the real benefit from an event like this,” Schofield said. “We have an opportunity to connect with individuals in the Pacific Northwest that we would have never met if it weren’t for these events.”

Through these brief yet meaningful conversations, several audience members were serendipitously discovered to have deep ties to The Band. 

At the concert in Shelton, Schofield met Annison Ballengee, the granddaughter of Schofield’s mentor and former Band member, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Dave Ballengee. Ballengee’s family was attending the concert to enjoy the music that had been part of their lives for many years. Schofield invited Ballengee to be the guest conductor for the concert and taught her the basics of conducting before she led the Concert Band through “Zaparozhski March.”

Two days later, at the concert in Newberg, one of the audience members revealed himself to be U.S. Air Force veteran Ken Anoe, a former bassist of the Concert Band and Airmen of Note. During the concert, he realized his old instrument was on stage that night, still being played by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jon Davies.

“I think there are more stories like this than we realize,” Schofield said. “Patriotism and respect for the military run deep in communities and being able to find those roots and really getting to explore them is one of the joys of what we do.”