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U.S. Air Force's Singing Sergeants entertain Yuma
The voices of the singing sergeants – in fact, the Singing Sergeants – bounced off the wooden floor and soaring walls of the Yuma Art Center Monday in a way that was richly reverberant.
The Singing Sergeants, the official chorus of the U.S. Air Force, held a special matinee performance at the gallery ahead of their evening show with their sister concert band in a well-attended, yet intimate set. Sometimes accompanied by percussion or stringed instruments but often a capella, the ensemble reached into its diverse bag and pulled out folk standards from around the world for its audience: “Shenandoah” and “She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain” (U.S.), “Danny Boy” (Ireland), “Las Mañanitas” (Mexico), “Tshotsholoza” (South Africa) and “Da zamung zeba watan” (Afghanistan) among them.
Yuma is a stop on the musicians' two-week California-Arizona tour, which wraps up Thursday in Tempe. These are professional musicians who come to the active duty military from top colleges, conservatories and other performance programs to make music their full-time jobs. Through song, they boost morale and bridge cultures.
“Our country has a heritage of military music dating back to George Washington,” said Col. Larry Lang, commander and conductor of the U.S. Air Force Band. “George Washington played the flute.”
The receptive audience Monday showed that the ensembles are easy to get into. But they're hard to join. Many members have master's degrees in music and some have doctorates. The band rarely has openings, and when it does, it gets dozens of candidates. Lang said that when a spot recently opened up for a trumpet player, 100 people applied. None made it.
The vocalists are all classically trained, and each is a capable opera singer. The Singing Sergeants, so called because every member is at least a technical sergeant, have performed worldwide and for distinguished audiences – including every president since Truman – and with orchestras like the New York Philharmonic and the Boston Pops. In more practical pop culture terms, Lang is confident that any one of them has the talent to win “American Idol.”
The chorus' officer in charge, 1st. Lt. Peter Folliard, said the musical outfits are entrusted to be a face of the Air Force, and he likes “the opportunity to represent the excellence you see in the Air Force” – as if to say, if the band is this good, imagine the rest of the airmen.
In addition to folk tunes, the musicians perform pop, jazz, Broadway and opera standards. Folliard, a conductor and euphonium player by specialty, especially enjoys playing the patriotic standbys that are also a major part of the repertoire – the medley of military anthems and “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”
“It just never gets old,” he said.
Hillary Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6857.