Bandleader Compares Task To "Steering An Aircraft Carrier"
"Welcome to one of the greatest moments of your career." With
those words, Air Force Col. Dennis M. Layendecker, commander, music
director and conductor for the US Air Force Band, impressed on his
airmen the importance of their upcoming mission supporting the
inauguration of President Barack Obama.
"This is a historic moment for our country," Layendecker told
the musicians, assembled nine across and 11 deep in the 459th Air
Refueling Wing's Hangar 11 at Andrews AFB for a 6:00 am rehearsal
session this week. "It's a great example to the world of what it
means to have a peaceful transition of power," he said.
The Air Force Band will join the other military service bands to
march from the US Capitol to the White House during President-elect
Obama's inaugural parade January 20, said Air Force Capt.
Christopher Moore of the Armed Forces Inaugural Committee.
The US Army Band, known as "Pershing's Own," will go first along
the 1.5-mile parade route as part of the presidential escort
formation. The Army Field Band also will march in what organizers
refer to as the first "division," or segment, of the parade.
"The President's Own" US Marine Corps Band will be on stage at
the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony, then march down
Pennsylvania Avenue as part of the second parade division. The US
Navy Band will follow in the third division.
As the youngest of the premier military bands, with a heritage
dating to 1941, the US Air Force Band will march in the fourth
division. "The way we see it, they're saving the best for last,"
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Elizabeth Schouten, the band's
superintendent, said with a smile.
Each service band will have 99 musicians, a number reserved only
for inaugural parades and state funeral processions. "That's a
b-i-i-i-g band," two to four times the usual size, Layendecker
said. "Directing it is kind of like steering an aircraft
Force Chief Master Sgt. Edward Teleky, the band's drum major, will
wave his huge, ceremonial baton, or 'mace,' high as he leads the
Air Force Band down Pennsylvania Avenue. Layendecker and his
command element will go next, followed by the trombones, French
horns, trumpets, percussions and wind players. The tubas will hold
up the rear.
They'll march at 100 steps a minute, a bit slower than their
typical 120-step march tempo.
Schouten estimated that, at that pace, the band will go through
eight or nine iterations of the three songs it will play: John
Philip Sousa's "The Washington Post" march, "In Place Soundoff:
Into Trombones Triumphant," and "The Air Force Song."
As they approach the review stand, the band will burst into a
rendition of "Hail to the Chief."
Schouten expressed hope that they'll reach the stand before
night settles over the Washington skyline. She has a good sense of
what to expect on Jan. 20. She's marched in six inaugural parades
-- through rain, snow, slush, below-zero temperatures and blustery
wind gusts – since following her childhood dream and joining
the Air Force Band.
During President Bill Clinton's second inauguration, she and her
fellow band members marched behind miniature ponies and elephants,
which left unexpected "debris" in their wake along the parade
"You have to stay in formation, whatever happens," Schouten said
with a laugh. "Some of the band members had to get rid of their
shoes after that parade."
Formation "is everything" when marching in the Air Force Band,
After all, Layendecker said, "the whole world will be watching
as we render our first salute to our commander in chief."
Teleky, preparing for his sixth inaugural parade, appeared
undaunted by the prospect of millions of spectators in Washington
and billions more via TV.
"We're going to come in, do our mission and complete our
mission, regardless of how many people there are," he said. "And
when we do, we will be representing our US military. It's an honor
to be able to do that to billions of people around the globe."
With that in mind, the band's command group moved through the
formation during today's rehearsal to ensure no detail went
overlooked. They followed along as the group moved outside into the
pouring rain to march in formation across the tarmac.
"We try to be as perfect as humanly possible," Schouter said.
"After all, the public hears with their eyes. When they see us, we
want to be sure that we are representing the excellence of the men
and women of the Air Force."
Air Force Tech Sgt. Benjamin Bowers, a clarinetist looking
forward to his first inaugural parade, said January 20 will be a
high point in a three-year Air Force career already punctuated with
many high points.
"We play for a lot of important functions, but this is as
important as it gets," he said. "It's amazing to be part of such a
historical event. I feel lucky to represent the Air Force and
airmen around the world."
Despite her vast inaugural experience, Schouten said, she's
looking forward to the upcoming inauguration with the same
enthusiasm she felt during her first, President Ronald Reagan's
first inauguration in 1981.
"What a wonderful opportunity this is to be a part of our
nation's celebration and to celebrate our way of life," she said.
"This will be a grand demonstration of support for our newest
commander in chief. I'm so glad to be part of this historic moment,
and of this band."
(Aero-News thanks Donna Miles, American Forces Press