News: Air Force Band flies high in Marine Corps territory; gets high marks from citizens
Story by Joseph P Cirone
WOODBRIDGE, Va. – 300 people attended a performance of the U.S. Air Force Concert Band held in the shadows of the Marine Corps Base Quantico and Marine Corps National Museum in Prince William County, Va last weekend.
The concert, one of two special performances performed by the band during its 2010 Summer Concert Series, was held at the Sean T. Connaughton Community Plaza, approximately 25 miles south of the nation’s capital.
The performance began with a moving musical piece, filled with brass, percussion and cymbal crashes, demonstrating the full range of the band’s instruments and their dynamic range, while Master Sgt. Melinda Burts, introduced 2nd Lt. Peter J. Folliard, of Ridgewood, NJ, the band’s conductor.
A color set from the Air Force Honor Guard presented the colors. Following the National Anthem, the band’s repertoire covered a broad spectrum of musical tastes.
The audience covered a broad spectrum as well. Rachel Lewis and her brother, Michael, both of Woodbridge, Va, the children of a former Air Force KC-35 navigator, were enjoying the band’s performance for the first time. “We were invited to attend by trumpet player Chris Pagnard - a friend of ours since we all lived in Ohio.”
Senior Master Sgt Chris Moehlenkamp, a Cello player with the band for 22 years and a resident of Woodbridge, said it was his first time playing in the county he now calls home. “It sure was nice not having much of a commute to the gig tonight,” he said with a smile on his face. “While playing, I was looking out at the audience to see if I saw any familiar faces,” he said.
Dedicated fan – 40 years following the band
While Moehlenkamp did not recognize anyone he knew this time, Folliard easily recognized someone. Folliard’s wife, Jennifer, was sitting next to perhaps the band’s most dedicated fan. They sat in the middle of the vast open air concrete plaza.
“I have been coming to Air Force Band concerts for 40 years. I attend them as often as they have them,” said Tom Wensel of Reston, Va. “I have actually followed them on a couple of tours - to Kentucky, North Carolina and places like that.”
Asked why he is so dedicated to the band, Wensel said, “I used to work in DC and sit on the Capitol steps, listening to the band after work. In about five minutes, I felt the stress just go away. They are great musicians, they are great people. I have gotten to know many of them over the years. It’s a great organization, from top to bottom.”
Wensel’s dedication runs deep. “The last concert is Oct. 31. We move to western Pennsylvania the day after the concert. We will be five hours away. I scheduled the date to get to the concert.”
Speaking to the audience, Folliard paid tribute to the band’s commander and its members who are deployed overseas, helping lift morale of warfighters in harm’s way.
“We are very honored to have the Air Force Band here tonight,” Patty Prince, a public information specialist with the Prince William County Executive’s office, said. “The concert band is just blowing us away tonight. They are absolutely wonderful - they give me chills.”
Moehlenkamp understands the vital role the band plays. “I think it is a worthwhile thing. A lot of the general public, unless they live right next to an Air Force base, don’t get to see what the Air Force is doing; their attention is not drawn to it. That is where we come in.”
Inter-service rivalries and bias
Russell Bryant, a retired Navy Lt. Cmdr., said the couple often attends concerts at the two-year old plaza. “We are just glad to come out in the cool breeze and enjoy a great concert.”
Bryant’s wife, Jannell, said while her favorite musical piece was the Italian operatic solo sung by Technical Sgt. Joe Harten, she also enjoyed the entire band. “I’m thoroughly enjoying the show tonight, yes indeed. They’re excellent.”
Russell admitted, “I’m obviously biased for the Navy, but [the Air Force Band] is quite good.”
Bryant’s bias was not alone. “This is my first time seeing them. I’m an Army guy, but I’ll give the Air Force Band a close second as my favorite,” ten-year Army veteran, Rodney Johnson of Gainseville, Va., said laughing.
“I liked the Honor Guard and patriotic music as they marched on at the beginning. I get very emotional and choked up when they do that,” Joan Ladd of Woodbridge, shared.
Adding to the emotions, Burts read a short sampling of Air Force enlisted members and officers killed in action during World War II, the Korean and Vietnam wars and in the modern day, to the somber, yet strong sounds of the brass, wind and percussion sections performing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the background,
Wrapping up the show, “Stars and Stripes Forever,” had most of the crowd clapping, but two World War II veterans – one a Navy Damage Controlman, the other a Coast Guard sonar technician, compared shipboard experiences on the North Atlantic.
“We sank two subs. Our ship was torpedoed in the stern and patched up, using parts from two other torpedoed ships, at the Brooklyn [NY] Navy Yard,” former Coast Guardsman Robert Dickerson of Woodbridge, Va. told the Sailor, nicknamed, “Tye.”
Dickerson, served most of his two service years in USS Menges, a Navy destroyer escort (submarine killer), entirely manned by Coast Guardsmen, he said.
As to the band’s performance, “I felt sorry for the poor xylophone player, he worked his butt off. He went back and forth from the xylophones, the chimes, Euphonium and triangle. He kept walking his butt off.,” Dickerson said.
“I liked everything they played, except the opening song. It sounded like mish-mash. I couldn’t recognize or understand it. But that is my problem, not theirs,” he said.
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