By MATTHEW KENWRIGHT
The music swelled, slowed and blended genres during the U.S. Air Force Academy Band's concert Tuesday. But one theme was consistent -- the performers' dedication to their country.
The 51 active duty service band members played to a crowded Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center. Military tunes, classical music and modern pop songs were performed. The significance of the evening was captured when the songs of the five military branches were played, and attendees were asked to stand if they were a veteran or knew someone with service experience.
There also was a skit during a Beethoven symphony to engage the audience. Band members treated it as a sports competition with commentators, penalties for miscues and injuries from instruments.
Instruments used throughout the show ranged from the guitar, trumpet, West African drum, water gong and rainstick.
Lt. Col. Donald Schofield, commander and conductor of the band, said the program is an opportunity to reflect the Air Force's pride and professionalism through music. The diverse set list, which ranges from "Stars and Stripes Forever" to The Beatles, resonates with different audience members, he said.
"I think it's a really unique opportunity that we can reach a very wide variety of audiences with a wide variety of songs like we did tonight," Schofield said.
Capt. Dustin Doyle, flight commander and assistant conductor, said one of his favorite parts of the evening was sharing the stage with four Hays High School students for a song. Speaking with audience members afterward and discussing their favorite moments also is a highlight, he said.
"They feel more patriotic as they walk out, we did our job," Doyle said.
Alex Crowley and Ben Rajewski, two juniors at HHS who play the trombone, played with Aislinn Walters, a senior saxophonist, and Amy Jordan, a senior clarinet performer.
"It's always very humbling to do things like this," Jordan said. "You really forget how much you have to improve on until you're around people like this, and it's really motivating."
Dave Wasinger, Hays, said he served in the Army during the Vietnam War. The quality of the show was "exceptional," he said.
Hays Vice Mayor Eber Phelps read a proclamation at the event recognizing the Air Force Academy's 60th anniversary, and its accomplishments in education and entertainment for troops and communities.
Phelps said he has heard the band before and other military acts.
"To me it's always a very moving experience, and they're such just polished musicians," Phelps said. "It's just a superb presentation."
Tammy Wellbrock, executive director for Hays Area Chamber of Commerce, said the program served two meaningful purposes.
"We need to remember all those who have served and are serving for us, so it's certainly to keep them at the forefront of our thoughts, but also the cultural experience of the music, the quality of the music was amazing," she said.
Julie Smith, Russell, said the show was "awesome" and shows potential military members they can use their musical talents to serve their country.
"It shows them other opportunities that the service has to offer. ... They don't have to give up if they play an instrument or sing or whatever," Smith said.
A group within the band is set to tour southwest Asia and perform for troops later this year.
The Hays Daily News, James Motor Co., FHSU and its Student Veterans Association and the Military Friendly Committee sponsored the program.