Military Corner by Steven Maxwell
Colonel Larry H. Lang, U.S. Air Force Band
Colonel Larry H. Lang is commander and conductor of The United States Air Force Band. Born in El Paso, Texas, Colonel Lang began his musical career as a trombonist. He attended New Mexico State University in Las Cruces where he earned bachelor’s degrees in music education and music performance in 1980. He went on to complete a master’s degree in music education at the University of New Hampshire in Durham and was appointed to the faculty there in 1982. He also served for seven years as assistant director of bands at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, LA.
Colonel Lang received his commission through Officer Training School in San Antonio, TX in April 1990. His previous commands include the Air Force Band of the Pacific in Alaska and the Air Force Heritage of America Band in Virginia. Under his leadership, the Heritage of America Band received four Air Force Organizational Excellence awards. After attending Air Command and Staff College in Alabama, Colonel Lang also served as the commander of the Air Force Band of Liberty in Massachusetts and the Air Force Academy Band in Colorado. He was selected to command The U.S. Air Force Band in March 2012.
In 2005, Colonel Lang was inducted into the prestigious American Bandmasters Association. He is also a member of numerous musical associations and is active as a guest conductor and clinician throughout the United States and abroad.
Steven Maxwell: What drew you to the military?
Colonel Larry H. Lang: The extraordinary opportunity to work with the outstanding professionals throughout the USAF Band career field, who proudly represent the excellence found throughout the Air Force. My father was an aerial maintenance officer in the Army Air Forces in WWII and my step-father was a supply sergeant who served two tours in Vietnam. I was inspired by their service and devotion.
SM: Who has most inspired you during your career as a conductor and performer?
CLL: I have had many wonderful mentors throughout my career. The most inspiring is my college band director, Dr. Tim Lautzenheiser. He is an extraordinary teacher, conductor, and musician, and an inspirational leader.
SM: One of the great privileges of performing in a military ensemble is to participate in significant national events. Has there been an event or performance that is most memorable to you?
CLL: I have had the great honor of leading Air Force bands in special ceremonies for Presidents GHW Bush, Clinton, and Obama. Our participation in this year’s Presidential Inaugural Parade and Ball was particularly memorable.
Col. Larry H. Lang conducts the Band’s first-ever flash mob at the National Air and Space Museum
SM: What musical qualities do you look for in a tuba or euphonium player?
CLL: Pure, resonant sound and ability to control that sound through the full range of dynamics, exceptional technique, and excellent pitch.
SM: Do you have a favorite piece you have conducted that was written for solo tuba? Solo euphonium?
CLL: Tuba – Vaughn Williams Concerto; Euphonium – Guilmant Morceau Symphonique
SM: What advice do you have for people interested in auditioning for a premier military band?
CLL: Study with the finest teachers possible and gain as much performance experience with top notch music ensembles as possible. Practice smartly, practice often, and dedicate yourself to excellence.
SM: What is the most common mistake that you have witnessed people making when auditioning for a premier military band?
CLL: Lack of preparation and a related lack of confidence.
SM: Do you have any general advice for tuba and euphonium players performing in bands?
CLL: For all performers, dedicate yourself to excellence and enjoy what you’re doing.
SM: What are some of the most enjoyable pieces you have conducted (I know there are far too many to pick just one!)?
CLL: Stravinsky Octet
SM: What is your favorite march?
CLL: Black Horse Troop, John Philip Sousa
SM: Outside of the military band repertoire, what music inspires you?
CLL: I love many types of music, and our military bands are able to perform just about any style of music. But outside of my role as a military band conductor, I enjoy listening to country, jazz, opera, rock, and classical.
SM: I know that you have been on tour numerous times with all of the different ensembles that you have been associated with. Can you estimate how many different venues you have conducted/performed at during your time in the military?
CLL: In my 23 ½ years as a military conductor I would estimate I’ve performed in over 2,000 different venues.
SM: During your time in the military, have you seen the level of playing rise? Has the competition been consistent?
CLL: There is absolutely a rise in the quality of all of our military service bands. The standards are higher and the competition is much more intense for each opening.
SM: Has the number of people auditioning for premier ensembles increased or decreased over the years? Why do you think this has happened?
CLL: There are probably more people auditioning for our openings today than 20 years ago. We often have over 100 applicants for a single position. I would attribute this to two primary factors…college music programs are graduating far more performers and professional musician openings have declined. The military bands provide a very viable opportunity for a professional musician to make a secure living while serving their country.
SM: What do you see as the future role of military bands in the United States?
CLL: This is a very important question. I believe military bands have a vital role in supporting ceremonial events. These include final honors for our fallen warriors and their families, events that uphold important military or national traditions such as state funerals, change of command ceremonies, national parades, and events that display and tell about the importance of our military/national heritage such as tattoos and public concerts, especially those that honor our veterans and our American democracy.
Our bands also play a key part in building strong relationships with communities across America through public performances and outreach to schools, and with international audiences through participation in cultural, military, and political events and ceremonies.
Finally, I believe our bands will continue to have a vital role in recruiting the best and brightest into our services. Music, especially live music presented by professional military musicians, communicates with youth very effectively, and combined with the right messaging, is a powerful recruiting vehicle.