Facing the music in South Africa

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. David Dobrydney
  • U.S. Air Forces Europe Africa Public Affairs
Music is sometimes considered a universal language, capable of bringing together people of many different countries and cultures.

That ability was on display here as the members of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band ensemble, Touch 'N Go, gave performances and met with local music students.

Arriving in Johannesburg to perform at the Waterkloof Air Show, the band landed at the airport and almost immediately began preparing for their first appearance that very night at the National School of the Arts. However, teamwork and professionalism ensured the band made it there on time.

"We've got a good group of people who, when the going gets rough, put their heads down and work hard to make sure what needs to get done gets done," said Tech. Sgt. Mark Frandsen, NCO in charge of the band.

With their first concert a success, the band set off the next day on a five-hour drive to Bloemfontein for their next set of engagements. The first concert was at Navalsig High School, where students eagerly watched as the band set up their equipment.

"They enjoy the music," said Nick Klopper, Language Department head at Navalsig, who in his off duty time gives music lessons. Klopper noted that Navalsig has no official music program beyond a school choir.

"Music is not really taught anymore in most schools," he said. "But it's very important that kids learn singing, they love singing in harmony."

Besides the live music, Klopper also noted another positive aspect of the band's visit.

"The benefit is getting to meet people from another country," he said. "We don't get to have that face-to-face interaction all that often."

Once the band started playing, all the tedium of the road and hassle of setup melted away.

The audience cheered and sang along as songs ranging from KISS to Lady Gaga filled the room. Soon students, teachers, even custodians were dancing to the music.

After the concert, the students praised the band for their performance.

"It was great, I love dancing," said student Kabelo Pitikoe. "We thank them for being here."

Fellow student Dintle Adoro added that the concert was a welcome change from the everyday.

"It's something we never have over here," she said. "It was an awesome experience."

The next day, the bandsmen visited the Odeion School of Music at the University of the Free State, where percussionist Staff Sgt. Robert Browning met with the school's own Dixie Band. The band is very new and had only four rehearsals prior to Sergeant Browning's visit.

"We weren't really sure what level we were at because there's really no one in South Africa who plays that kind of music," said university student Angelo Mockie, who plays drums in the band.

For two hours Browning listened to the band rehearse and offered advice, at one point even sitting in on drums for one song. Mockie said that having an experienced musician such as Browning come and play with them was inspiring.

"It was very nice. We were nervous in the beginning but [Browning] was quite friendly and the way he related to us really made us feel comfortable and we learned a lot in terms of how the Dixie band setup works," he said.

Browning was humbled that the band was invited to speak at the university and came away very impressed with the abilities of the Dixie Band musicians.

"Each one of them is a great musician," he said. "For them to come together and play a style of music that 99 percent of the group has not played before, and to play it the way they're playing it now, really shows the professionalism of their individual talents that they have as musicians."

Prior to their departure, Frandsen mentioned what he thought was the most fulfilling part of being a bandsman.

"When they know the words and they're singing them back to us, that's the fulfillment for us-- being able to establish that relationship through music."