Publication: Charleston Daily Mail (West Virginia)
Date: Thursday, April 22 2010
It's not easy to say which is the more difficult part of getting a slot in the U.S. Air Force Band or chorus.
First, musicians have to get their foot through the door of an “incredibly competitive” tryout for one of the 10 bands and choral groups stationed around the country, said Lt. Col. Alan Sierichs, the commander, conductor and music director of the Washington, D.C.-based group.
“Most of them have very formal degrees and some have graduate degrees in music performance,” Sierichs said.
The next step – yikes – is to meet with a local Air Force recruiter, sign up and head off to basic training, just like any other Air Force recruit.
Musicians have to pass muster with both parts to officially become members of the band.
“I'm very familiar with the process – my daughter just joined the Air Force,” Sierichs said. “She just got back from basic training and moved to Boston.”
Sierichs said during his 29 years with Air Force bands, first as a trumpet player and then in leadership, he has seen some of the finest musicians in the country join the ensembles.
“In fact, one of the best musicians I've ever had in my band was a person who was from Charleston,” Sierichs said. Master Sgt. Steve Browning, a bass player who now is retired, is the son of former state Attorney General Chauncey Browning.
Sierichs's current charges come to Charleston Friday night for a free concert at the Clay Center.
He said the public concert is just one of the missions for the Air Force bands.
“First and foremost, we exist for the ceremonial aspects of the military – that's something that's gone back to the dawn of ages,” Sierichs said. “A lot of what the military does is very symbolic and music has a great part in that.”
“Our second mission is troop morale and esprit de corps. We do a lot of internal functions that the public wouldn't see. The biggest thing we do is our band has been over in the desert – Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, etc. We don't herald it, but for the last seven years we have had Air Force bands there continuously.
“These are not the big USO shows. These are the little places where they can't take the big stars. We go to the little outposts where you have to take a helicopter to get there and we bring something to those folks. That may be the most important thing we do now.”
Still, when the bands travel for public concerts, they do two other important things.
“It is a recruiting tool – we're letting folks know that opportunities like this exist; there are many skills you can apply inside the military,” Sierichs said. “And then there is community relations, which is what we are doing (Friday). We are putting a good foot back to the folks that employ us.”
He said folks who come to Friday's free concert can expect a lively show.
“I have a full symphonic band with over 60 people and a chorus of over 20,” he said. “In the span of two hours, we will give them a wide range of music.”
That will include band music, traditional march music, some fun pieces from different decades and songs that highlight instrumental solos.
“And of course, there are the patriotic finales. We always honor the veteran,” Sierichs said.
While Sierichs's current band stays busy in the Washington, D.C., area, he said a couple of times a year it packs up and heads out on the road for a U.S. tour.
“We started a couple of weeks ago in Kansas City and we are working our way eastward,” he said.
There are 10 ensembles of the United States Air Force Concert Band and Singing Sergeants stationed throughout the country. The playlist for Friday's free Clay Center concert will feature traditional marches and popular works from the past.
Contact writer Monica Orosz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4830.