Last night the USAF Band of Liberty, which has served New England since 1978, performed for the last time in Boston in a joint concert with the NEC Symphonic Winds at Jordan Hall. A year ago this month, the band organization was informed that they would be cut out of the military budget by May of 2013. Unfortunately for band members as well as the active military, veterans and common citizens that have been entertained by them, that directive is becoming a reality.
Captain David Alpar, Commander and Conductor of the Band of Liberty since 2007, will lead the full concert band in its farewell concert this coming Sunday, March 10th, at Mechanics Hall in Worcester. Like last evening Major Matthew Henry, the previous commander of the band, will serve as a guest conductor for some of the selections in the final concert.
It will be an emotional farewell as the 45 band members, many of whom have been raising families in the Hanscom AFB area that has been home base since 1991, are splitting up and relocating to join a limited number of other Air Force bands nationwide. The group is one of three being deactivated but the only one that is not based overseas. That will leave nine Air Force bands remaining after the cuts.
Capt. Alpar will be transferring to the Washington, DC area and at least half a dozen musicians will move to Langley AFB in southern Virginia. There they will become members of the USAF Heritage of America Band that will now include the Northeast region as part of its territory to cover. Obviously, because that group already serves mid-Atlantic states and is located hundreds of miles away, the frequency with which they will perform in New England will be greatly curtailed.
Like all military bands the concerts presented by the USAF Band of Liberty, whether with the full concert band, the marching band or one of the smaller ensembles, have been free concerts open to the public. And the product has been an excellent one. The players are professionals with the majority of them having advanced degrees in music and some include the New England Conservatory on their resumes.
Personally, it’s been a pleasure to listen to them in places like Faneuil Hall, the Hatch Shell or City Hall Plaza in Boston or in various halls and outdoor venues throughout the region. But, they have also served our country overseas on occasion including in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were even given the honor to appear at the Lincoln Center in New York. Yes, they are that good.
New England is losing an asset that might never be replaced. Perhaps it is our own fault because maybe collectively we should have done more to show support. Sometimes we take for granted what good things we have around us and regret that it is gone after it is too late. As aforementioned, however, on Sunday at beautiful Mechanics Hall we do have one last chance to enjoy their music and to give them an appropriate send off.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I will miss the Band of Liberty. Maybe if the economy improves we can get them back. I’m not counting on that, but I’ll be the first in line to see them entertain again. Meanwhile, as they move forward from this life changing circumstance, best of luck to all of the band members.