Music to our ears
By Kelly Shackelford , 11th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published July 21, 2009
BOLLING AFB, D.C. -- From the drums and fifes of the Revolution, to Maj. Glenn Miller's orchestra of World War II, to the United States Air Force Band today, American military bands have existed to provide music for military events.
"As long as there's been military, there's been music to go with it," said Lt. Col. Alan C. Sierichs, USAF Band commander.
"The USAF Band supports the global Air Force mission by providing the musical services the Air Force needs," he said. "We provide music for any official Air Force ceremony, support troop morale and esprit de corps, assist Air Force recruiters, and provide community relations by putting a good foot forward with the American people for the Air Force."
The Band performs for both military and civilian audiences. "To us, every audience is equally important. The American people don't get to see generals making decisions, mechanics working on airplanes, or soldiers in combat. They see the Band and the Honor Guard. We represent everyone the public doesn't see," the Band commander said.
They frequently receive requests for performances. Air Force organizations request music for promotions, retirements, and dinners. Civilian organizations host concerts. Local recruiters want help with high school events. "We derive a lot of our work from the requests that come to us," said Colonel Sierichs.
The Band travels nationally twice a year. According to Colonel Sierichs, the DOD has carved the country into five regions, and each service Band is assigned a different region every six months to do community relations. Overseas, the Band has been performing since the end of World War II. For the past six years, they have mostly focused on Southwest Asia as deployed musicians performing for deployed Airmen.
The Band is made up of almost 200 members divided into six groups: the Concert Band, the Airmen of Note, the Singing Sergeants, the Air Force Strings, Max Impact, and the Ceremonial Brass.
Each bandmember is exclusive to one group because schedules overlap. "We can be in lots of places at one time, an efficient way to do work," the Band commander said. Sometimes people from different groups do perform together. For instance, the Band recently filmed a PBS TV show for Veteran's Day that contained members from four of the six groups.
The Band produces much of its own music with a staff of four professional music composers. On July 14, when the Band performed at a high level event for a foreign dignitary, one of the songs had been composed specifically to honor him.
"They provide whatever product the Band needs. Sometimes they have six months to write something, sometimes they have six days," said Colonel Sierichs.
Not all bandmembers practice for the same amount of time. Groups with a standard repertoire practice a little and perform a lot. Groups that frequently change their product must practice more often. "It all depends on the types of events. No two days are the same, which is the fun part of the job," the Band commander said. "The great thing about professional musicians is that they learn really fast."
These musicians don't think of music as a hobby: it's their life. The overwhelming majority joined the Air Force to be in the Band. They audition and qualify for the Band first, then they go through the formal process of joining the Air Force. Most hires have master's degrees, and many have PhDs. Most of the Strolling Strings members played for two decades before they joined the Air Force.
Colonel Sierichs said, "The greatest benefit to being in the Air Force Band is working with amazing people, which is true for any job in the Air Force." His advice for people wanting to join the Band is, "Get your education and practice."
His job duties include being the squadron commander, where he is responsible for people, the mission, and resources. He has the added benefit of being the music director, which is, in his own words, "Challenging, exhilarating, humbling. We have the opportunity to make glorious music."