Poster U.S. Air Force Band
The U.S. Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants are based in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants bring inspiration to free Minnesota concert tour

The U.S. Air Force Band’s motto — “Honor, Inspire, Connect” — also serves as the motivation behind its upcoming Upper Midwest tour, which includes a stop at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis on April 11.

The Concert Band, the flagship group among six Air Force ensembles, and the Singing Sergeants will present a program of American music, patriotic songs and even some pop tunes on their 12-city sojourn. It begins Thursday in Bismarck, N.D., and runs through April 15 in Milwaukee. Besides the April 11 concert in Minneapolis, the Minnesota stops are April 7 in Bemidji, April 8 in Brainerd, April 9 in St. Michael and April 10 in Waconia.

U.S. Air Force Band
Master Sgt. Laura Henry Shoun is a clarinetist with the U.S. Air Force Band.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a theme, per se, when we’re programming, but we are careful to include music for everyone,” said Master Sgt. Laura Shoun, an Apple Valley native who plays clarinet in the 60-member Concert Band.

The tour program comprises band and choral repertoire and patriotic music (such as “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful”), plus the service hymns of all military branches, when service members in the audience, past and present, are recognized.

“As all premier military ensembles do, we highlight American composers,” said Capt. David Regner, who conducts the band. “This year, we are highlighting Leonard Bernstein, to remember his story and honor his music.”

The concert opener is the overture to Bernstein’s operetta Candide.

And that pop music? The band and singers will offer the music of “three great songwriters — Elton John, Billy Joel and Paul Simon — and the reason is that everybody loves their songs,” Regner said.

The tour, part of the 1,600 performances a year across all Air Force ensembles, serves to accomplish the band’s stated missions.

“We honor those who serve and have served, as well as those who gave the ultimate sacrifice,” Shoun said.

(Half of those annual performances are for memorial services at Arlington National Cemetery.)

“And we love to connect with communities, meet young musicians. We are always looking to connect with students,” she said.

Shoun was a student musician herself, playing in the Minnesota Youth Symphonies under the leadership of Manny Laureano, principal trumpet of the Minnesota Orchestra — “so I’m very excited to come back to Minnesota,” she said. After those formative years, she earned a bachelor’s degree in clarinet performance at Northwestern University and a master’s degree in music at the University of Minnesota before landing a gig with the Green Bay Symphony.

Having an uncle who played bass in the Air Force’s jazz band, Shoun knew the military offered a great opportunity for professional musicians. Growing up, she said, “I always had a level of awareness that I could serve my country and share music with others.”

Regner, for his part, came to conducting after realizing his talents lay in instruction.

“I was really, really bad at saxophone,” he said. “I started at Rutgers [University], playing the saxophone, but really I was studying music education. My dream was to become a great music teacher.”

After earning a master’s in conducting at Northwestern, he was teaching music in New York state when “my path changed unexpectedly” while attending a concert by the U.S. Army’s West Point Band.

U.S. Air Force Band
Capt. David Regner is a conductor with the U.S. Air Force Band.

“It was truly the first time I felt the audience was infused with patriotism. I loved being a teacher, but I felt the need to join,” he said. “That’s what we try to do with the Air Force; we want people to heighten their love for their country.”

The patriotic feeling isn’t always limited to the American brand. Regner shared a particularly memorable experience while deployed to the Middle East last year.

“We had the great opportunity to perform for Afghani evacuees,” he said. “The singers learned some Afghani songs in Arabic and Pashtun.

“The entire audience, who had been through so much turmoil, pain and suffering, sang along. The visceral connection was one of the most powerful things — it was very impactful.”

Shoun likewise described the feeling of profound connection.

“We get to the end of ‘God Bless America,’ and the audience is on their feet and singing along; it’s really powerful looking out from the stage. Everyone that comes doesn’t have the same ideas or lifestyle, but in this moment they are all united with pride.

“Some people have really inspiring stories of service. I met a woman who was one of the very first women to serve in the Air Force while being a mom; she pioneered that terrain. She was in tears speaking particularly to the women in our band; she was so proud of the Air Force and what it’s become.”

The members of the ensembles are highly professional: “When we enlist, we have one job,” Shoun said.

Almost all the musicians have a music degree, she said, from bachelor’s to doctor of musical arts.

“They’ve studied the craft and art of music,” she said.  

“There are 200 career fields available [in the Air Force], and this is just one of them,” Regner said. “It shows the breadth of expertise among airmen. This level of expertise directly correlates with any of the service jobs; like our pilots, they are quite frankly the best at what they do.”

U.S. Air Force Band tour

All concerts are at 7 p.m., unless noted otherwise. Tickets are free but must be reserved. More info

  • April 4: Bismarck, N.D.

  • April 5, Jamestown, N.D.

  • April 6, Fargo, N.D.

  • April 7: Bemidji, Minn. (3 p.m.)

  • April 8, Brainerd, Minn.

  • April 9: St. Michael, Minn.

  • April 10: Waconia, Minn.

  • April 11: Minneapolis

  • April 12: Decorah, Iowa

  • April 13: Sun Prairie, Wis.

  • April 14: Lake Geneva, Wis. (3 p.m.)

  • April 15: Milwaukee

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