Air Force Strings ensemble to perform at music festival

The Air Force Strings ensemble performs at last year's Air Force Association's Airman of the Year Banquet at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at Oxon Hill, Maryland. The ensemble will perform for a second year at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah Valley Music Festival

The Air Force Strings ensemble will make its final stop on an eight-day tour at the Shenandoah Valley Music Festival for a free concert on Thursday.

The performance will begin at 8 p.m. after the gates open at 6 p.m. Capt. Joseph Hansen, the flight commander for the  U. S. Air Force Band, will conduct part of the classical performance, and another part the musicians will play independently from memory.

Audiences will listen in to a selection of classical pieces by composers like Tchaikovsky and Mozart that will showcase the talents of 20 active duty airmen musicians, followed by a mixed-genre Strolling Strings portion of the show. During this portion, the string and accordion musicians will play while walking among audience members in the style of dinner music performances.

According to Hansen, the Strolling Strings formation has performed for every president since its inception in the 1950s, and this is the first time the group has toured in more than a decade.

“This group stays so busy with supporting high level officials — they’re very busy with playing in the White House or playing for senior military leaders, what we call ‘priority missions,'” Hansen said. “I’m glad that we were able to find the time in the calendar to make it work, for one thing. It’s neat to be able to play for audiences with a different repertoire.”

Having been with the ensemble since September 2014 and coming from his service in Texas and Qatar, Hansen will be visiting Orkney Springs and the Shenandoah Valley for the first time. The ensemble came to the festival for the first time last year, and he said this performance will have one of the largest audiences the ensemble has seen on its tour so far.

While the conductorless classical portion of the performance demonstrates the musicians’ proficiency, the Strolling Strings portion allows them to see their audiences up close with some real crowd-pleasers like “Soul Sister.” Hansen said the crowd is sometimes surprised by their repertoire of jazz, country, gypsy music and current hits.

“You can actually see face-to-face the audience’s response,” he said. “It was fun watching the kids in the audience’s eyes light up; its always fun for them to hear things that they’re familiar with.”

Because the acoustic performance of the string ensemble isn’t as loud as it might be in other groups, it brings its own audio engineer to make sure the music rings loud and clear throughout the outdoor venue at Shrine Mont.

Hansen said the ensemble has been greeted with excellent hospitality everywhere it’s been, and he expects Orkney to be no exception. The musicians all look forward to meeting audience members and connecting with veterans that come to the concerts.

“That’s always one of the favorite parts for me, is getting to know people after the show,” he said.

From some of the more official appearances the Air Force Band makes, Hansen said the ensemble enjoys this chance to unwind a bit with the picnicking audiences at the festival among the names of other great musicians who attend.

“It’s nice for us to be around music lovers — and nice to be around as many as we can,” he said.

Find out more about the festival and the concert at http://musicfest.org/united-states-air-force-strings/.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com