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The Air Force Academy has a band. Here’s what you need to know

  The Air Force Academy Band performing to a crowd.
Janise Jansen
Wyoming Public Media
The Air Force Academy Band performing to a crowd.

On July 2, the Air Force Academy Band played in the Cheyenne Amphitheater. The free show was called “Sounds of Liberty.” Wyoming Public Radio’s Eric Vigil sat down with one of the band's members to talk about what the band is all about.

Editor’s note: This story has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Alex Viera: My name is Alex Vieira. I am a Senior Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force and I'm a member of the United States Air Force Academy Band in Colorado Springs. I'm a bassoon player in the band, and I'm also a Section Chief of Admin Support, which is my additional duty in the band.

Eric Vigil: Now, I was surprised that the Air Force Academy Band existed. What is the band like? Most people know of a high school or college band. Is it similar?

AV: Well, it might be similar in the instruments you'd see on stage, but that's pretty much where the similarity ends. Our band is made up of full-time professional musicians who are enlisted in the United States Air Force. Most of the folks in our unit have multiple degrees in music, meaning studying at the college level for many years beyond what we would have done in high school. And they enter the Air Force Academy Band through a highly competitive audition process that is open to both military and civilians. So it might appear on the surface to look like a college band or even a high school band., however, we're all full-time military musicians.

EV: Could you give us a little bit more understanding on what the path of entry looks like?

AV: Basically, we are hired for vacancies within the band. We have a sort of a set instrumentation that we try to maintain, and if there is a vacancy, someone either separating or retiring from the band, then we put an announcement out in the various places where you can advertise for jobs in music. It could be the union paper, it can be online and a number of different websites that advertise music playing positions. And we hold an audition. People are asked to send a tape in of their playing. If they're invited to the final round, a live audition, we might hear anywhere between five and 15 people at the live audition who are finalists, and hopefully, someone there matches all the skills that we need them to have. And if we have a winner for that audition, then they are screened for the ability to enlist in the Air Force through a recruiter, and they would be able to get a date for basic military training in sunny San Antonio, Texas. And after going to basic training, they report to our unit and they start playing in one of our many groups.

EV: The Air Force is known for its high standards when it comes to anybody trying to join. Does this also apply to the Academy Band?

AV: Absolutely. All the members of our band have to pass all of the same physical requirements, the same background checks that any member who's joining the Air Force would have to pass.

And of course, we are held to the same standards as all the members of the Air Force when it comes to physical fitness and preparedness to be able to execute whatever mission we're asked to do.

EV: Another thing that comes to mind when I think of the Air Force is the rigorous training and busy schedules. Does this also apply to the band, or how do people involved in the band try to fit in the rehearsal with the rest of their work?

AV: Well, it's interesting. The rest of our work, the way you described it, is actually all in support of the band. If you think about how an orchestra or any other professional musical organization would be run, you'd have an entire team of people who organize everything behind the scenes in addition to the actual performances and rehearsals. And our organization is no different, except that the musicians themselves are the ones who are running everything behind the scenes. So we have people in our organization who run the music library, people who fix instruments, people who book tours such as the one we're going to be doing in Wyoming, and everything in between. We have, of course, many jobs that are required by the Air Force for our own Air Force standards. So everybody has what's called an additional duty on top of their expectations to be prepared for rehearsals, to maintain their playing at a very, very high level, and of course, the whole reason we're doing this, to get out and perform all around our country and around the world.

EV: Oh, wow. And so because these people are part of the Air Force Band, their main focus is to be the best performers that they can. How does this fit in with the Air Force's goals to protect and serve the American people?

AV: Well, the mission of our band and really all of the Air Force Band programs. We have three parts that we are always aiming for. We're using the power of music to honor our nation and our veterans, to inspire future generations to serve and to inspire a more patriotic involvement of all citizens in the United States, and finally, to connect the Air Force positively with audiences both within our own borders and around the world. So those are the three main mission statements that we have: to honor, inspire and connect. And that's how the Air Force Bands fit into the bigger picture of the Air Force's mission around the world.

EV: You mentioned that one of the goals of the Academy Band is to bring patriotism to the American people and abroad. It feels like right now the country is increasingly divided. Is it becoming harder for the band to find an audience, or how does that work into it?

AV: Well, I would say that if there's one thing that Americans can all seem to agree on, and we find this to be true wherever we tour in our country, is we all share that common element: no matter what your political belief might be or where you might be on any spectrum of beliefs, it's almost universal that the citizens of our country consider themselves to be Americans first and foremost. And what we try to bring is a sense of togetherness. When we perform, we try to find the commonality. Music is often described as the international language, something that can bridge borders or something that can bring people together, even though they might have differences in many other ways. And the power of music is incredible for getting conversations started, for allowing people to remember that we are all on the same team in America. We are all pulling together towards the same goal, even if we have different ideas about how to get there. So what I've seen is that the music that we bring when we are touring around our country has people from all walks of life attending. It's not one type of political belief or another that tends to show up. Really, patriotism is something that bridges across all people in America.

EV: Speaking of patriotism, by the time our listeners have heard this interview, you guys would have played on July 2 in the Cheyenne Amphitheater with a show called "Sounds of Liberty." Could you just tell us a bit about this show?

AV: So because of the nature of trying to be as diverse as possible with representing as much of America as we can, we try to really bring as many different styles of music to our performances as possible. In this particular show, we were bringing everything from classical music to some of the latest pop songs. We have a country tune on there by Dolly Parton, which is a real fun tune. We have a couple of soloists who are showing off the virtuosity and the very, very high level of excellence that all Air Force members bring to the fight through their solos and everything in between. Of course, we're playing some very patriotic music. We have a really fun variation set of variations on "My Country Tis of Thee." And of course, we always play marches because everyone wants to hear marches out of a military band concert.

EV: Do you have anything else you'd like to mention, Alex?

AV: Well, I would just like to mention that we really have enjoyed the time that we've spent touring through Wyoming. This isn't our first tour through Wyoming, and every time we've been up there, we've received tremendous support. We definitely look forward to the next opportunity we'll have, and we hope that your listeners will be able to keep their eyes open and notice the next time we're coming through so we can play for them and meet them. The best part of any performance that I do, in my opinion, is when the performance is over and we get to talk to people from the audience. We get to learn from people about their experiences. We get to hear their stories about people who have served before us. And it really is an amazing opportunity. Once those doors are open, once people feel comfortable through that soft power of music to begin conversations, it's just so much fun to get to know people. And we really look forward to the next opportunity we have to tour through your amazing state.

Eric is a third-year student at the University of Wyoming. He is majoring in both political science and journalism. Eric feels local media is extremely important in keeping communities whole. Giving local non-profits and listeners a voice on the radio is something he's happy to be a part of. Eric hopes to continue refining his skills at WPM to help local media in the future.
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