Their eyes lit up in excitement as the rest of the Airmen entered the room. It was the first time they had ever seen U.S. military members poised at the ready; except these Airmen weren't equipped with weapons, they were armed with music.
The U.S. Air Forces in Europe jazz band, Wings of Dixie, gave nearly 150 music students a treat that would have them out of their seats, cheering and dancing during a free concert and musical workshop here Sept 18, 2014.
"What an amazing experience," said Tech. Sgt. Saundra Sininger, Wings of Dixie trombone player and lead vocalist. Never in my music career have I ever seen a crowd get so excited and so involved with one of our performances. This is a day I will not soon forget."
They played the concert in the auditorium of the Music Academy of Gauteng, run by their director, founder and notable South African trumpet player, Johnny Mekoa.
"Music was always in my family," said Mekoa, who finished his master's degree in music at Indiana University in the U.S. "My father loved music and he pushed my brothers and me to learn and appreciate music."
Mekoa said he can't remember a time when music wasn't in their family. As far back as he can remember, his mother always sang for the church choir and his father always had music playing in their home. He added that he has been able to pass on that love of music down to his students for the past 20 years.
"I want to develop young musical talent," he said. "There are a lot of talented in kids here and it means a lot to them, and to me, to have these great musicians here to (impart) their knowledge to the children. This is something the kids will remember for the rest of their life."
The workshop split into four instrument groups to allow for a more intimate experience.
"It was so much fun to learn, teach and play with these guys," said Tech Sgt. Jeffery Reich, Wings of Dixie trumpeter. "We used some time for instruction, but we really started having fun when the students picked up their instruments and we jammed together."
The jazz band was able to teach advanced work in brass and woodwinds, guitar and keyboard and drums.
"They may never have another run in with the Air Force again and we wanted to make a good impression and ensure this was an event they could remember and tell their friends and family about for years," said Reich. "I think that mission was accomplished."
The auditorium roared with cheers, laughter and applause as the band played their last song.
"Even after our last set, they came on the stage and continued to jam with us. It was so cool and so exciting to see their faces and watch them as they dance to our music," said Sininger. "What a great day."
For more, click USAFE Band, Wings of Dixie plays, teaches music in South Africa