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U.S. Air Force band soars in concert.

Byline: Nancy Sheehan

No offense, George.

The U.S. Air Force Concert Band, which performed to a packed house at the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts last night, originally had planned a George Gershwin segment for the evening. After a rehearsal in the newly renovated hall, however, that part of the program was changed.

"We had to switch to opera," said Master Sgt. Christine Germain, a member the chorus called The Singing Sergeants that performs with the band. "The acoustics are really good for opera, and it's not often that we get to play halls like this."

Opera is more challenging than pop but, as in battle, the Air Force was victorious here. In fact, music might be one of its most powerful weapons - at least for public relations. The military night at the opera was stirring, beautifully rendered and often moving.

Then, cap it all off with the full chorus and the 65-member band, all in uniform, performing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and many in the audience were in tears, or trying hard not to be.

The Air Force Concert Band that journeyed to Worcester is the Washington, D.C.-based version that performs for the president and heads of state. There also are smaller, touring, regional Air Force bands, but last night's assemblage was the top of the crop, a world-class symphonic wind ensemble and chorus that received a well-deserved standing ovation.

The band and chorus had been trying to come to Worcester for years, Sgt. Germain said, but there were two hurdles. One was finding a major sponsor, and the other was finding a venue that was the right size. The DCU Center is too large, and Mechanics Hall too small.

"People will say, `We saw the Marine band at Mechanics Hall' or `We saw the Navy band at Mechanics Hall,'" Sgt. Germain said. "But what makes us unique is that with the chorus, we have risers that take up a great deal of space on stage left. So not only do we have this wonderful big concert band, but we have this group of 24 vocalists with microphones and monitors and things to sit on, so it becomes a little bit of a struggle. Our footprint is often much bigger than other service bands."

Free tickets were offered to the public by the show's major sponsor, Commerce Bank. The tickets were gone within a day, Commerce President Brian Thompson said.

"We're going to have 2,300 people there. It's like we're giving away World Series tickets," he said.

Even Sgt. Germain's mother-in-law, Margaret Germain of Paxton, had to wait in line at a bank branch for tickets. The ticket giveaway had been announced in a newspaper ad.

"People were lining up, and a lot of them were seniors and veterans who maybe would have a hard time affording a ticket otherwise," she said. "There was one lady who had served, and she came in clutching the ad and just quietly asked, `Can I have two tickets please?'"

The Worcester Chapter of Blue Star Mothers, which worked on organizing the event, invited other chapters of the organization from throughout Eastern Massachusetts. The group is made up of mothers who have, or have had, children serving in the military.

"We came to show support of our troops," said Sharon Bouchard, president of the Blue Star Mothers chapter based in Ayer. "We tend to do a lot of fundraising and a lot of work-related things, so for us it was a really nice evening to just get together and enjoy this absolutely wonderful show and the American spirit that's here in this room tonight."

The opera medley ranged from Puccini to Rossini and featured several exquisite moments. But when the band tried to end the show with "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," the audience would have none of it. An encore ensued in which the band and chorus performed the songs of each branch of the armed services.

Veterans were asked to stand when the song representing their armed alma mater was played. The Army had the most veterans in the audience by a long shot. The Navy group was much smaller, but their high spirits made up for their numbers. When the final song, the Air Force theme, was played, everyone stood in a show of respect and appreciation for a memorable night.

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: T&G Staff/MARK C. IDE

CUTLINE: The U.S. Air Force Band performed last night at the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 12, 2008
Words:756
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