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Air Force Heritage of America Concert Band honors veterans

Correspondent photo / Dianna Oatridge Members of the horn section perform in the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Concert Band on Monday night at Stambaugh Auditorium. The Vindicator was the media sponsor of the free 90-minute patriotic show.

YOUNGSTOWN — Air Force Maj. Rafael Toro-Quinones has yet to see a day off this month, but the last things you will hear from him are complaints.

“I have not had a day off in three weeks, but for the right reasons,” the 22-year Air Force serviceman and musician said.

Monday evening was no exception, as he busily prepared to conduct several patriotic and Broadway-themed numbers for a free concert the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Concert Band performed at Stambaugh Auditorium.

The Vindicator was the media sponsor of the free 90-minute patriotic show to honor veterans and current soldiers. The performance also was part of a six-day tour, he added.

An estimated 2,000 people attended the performance, organizers said.

Toro-Quinones, who also is a classically trained bassist as well as the band’s commander, noted the program’s primary purpose was to “honor those veterans who came before us,” as well as “to inspire and say ‘thank you’ to our community.”

In addition to making efforts to educate, entertain and inspire people, the band, based at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Va., seeks to use its repertoire as a tool to connect with veterans and others. That level of connectivity is pivotal at all locations in which the brass, reed, percussion and woodwind musicians play, Toro-Quinones explained.

“Music is not an end to itself. We’re doing something greater than ourselves,” he added.

Monday’s performance couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, said Lt. Col. Jeff Shaffer, operations group commander with the 910th Airlift Wing at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna.

“The timing was impeccable due to the fact that Veterans Day was last Monday,” said Shaffer, adding that he was proud the band was able to showcase its talents to Mahoning Valley veterans and others.

The band and the 910th Airlift Wing also share a desire to reach out to military personnel and civilians alike “to show what the community means to us,” Shaffer continued.

In addition to spotlighting popular flag-wavers such as “America the Beautiful” and the “Star Spangled Banner,” Monday’s program opened with a patriotic song titled “Fanfare for Freedom,” which the composer Morton Gould wrote in 1943 for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra. The Air Force band played the triumphant feeling piece in a crescendo style that rose to a dramatic ending.

Also featured was its adaptation of William Schuman’s “Chester Overture,” based on a 1778 anthem and adopted by the Continental Army around the time of the Revolutionary War.

For close to 75 years, the Air Force Heritage of America Band, which now has about 60 airmen-musicians, has produced more than 55 highly acclaimed recordings of Broadway tunes, marches, movie themes, jazz standards, orchestral pieces and patriotic selections. The band, which regularly tours throughout the East Coast and mid-Atlantic region, also has performed ceremonies for U.S. presidents and foreign heads of state, according to its website.

In addition to gaining worldwide acclaim, the ensemble has been the recipient of a variety of military awards that include eight Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards and three Col. George S. Howard Citations of Musical Excellence, along with numerous mayoral proclamations.

Before the performance, many veterans of all military branches and their families were treated to a pre-concert dinner in Stambaugh Auditorium’s ballroom.

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