You can look at this video of a glorious flash mob by the The United States Air Force Band a couple of ways.
First, the pop-up Christmas concert at the National Air and Space Museum was a glorious thing -- an unexpected musical encounter with beauty and joy. If this version of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" doesn't move your heart, you may not have one.
Second, The USAF Band has been reduced to staging flash mobs. Thank your local member of Congress for that. It's too bad ol' Johann Sebastian never wrote a little something called the "Sequester Blues."
Ironically, it's those same trolls who befoul the U.S. Capitol who are most likely to see a performance of this scale by a military band. In the federal universe, Washington, D.C., is the center of gravity -- or, if you like, the black hole that sucks everything toward itself.
Still, even in Washington, a military orchestra has to resort to a flash mob. The sequester forbids the armed services from spending any of its own money on promotional or "community-outreach" events. This means that if you're a fan of service bands, you're seriously out of luck out here in the provinces.
|Last year's Heartland of America Band concert|
A 26-year tradition of downtown Omaha holiday concerts by the Air Force's Heartland of America Band will end this year, a victim of federal budget cuts.WE INHABIT a nation whose leaders have plenty of money for financing foreign fights and entangling the American people in pointless wars of choice. We endure a government that can find a billion or three -- or 500 -- for Wall Street interests, yet the Heartland of America Band can't even field a decent flash mob anymore.
The Omaha World-Herald had sponsored the popular series each year since 1987, giving away free tickets to readers who sent in coupons clipped from the newspaper.
But the rules of the budget sequestration forbid the service branches from spending any money on promotional or community outreach events. It's the same rule that has grounded the Navy Blue Angels and Air Force Thunderbirds precision-flight teams and canceled a summer air show at Offutt Air Force Base.
“We're sad that this tradition is coming to an end. I think the Heartland of America Band is sad, too,” said Joel Long, The World-Herald's communications director. “But with the current state of the sequester and financial constraints, there was no other choice.”
In place of the downtown concerts — held since 2005 at the Holland Performing Arts Center — a much smaller band will play a series of community holiday concerts at local high schools, said Doug Roe, the band's director of operations. Suburban Newspapers Inc., a World-Herald subsidiary, will underwrite concerts Dec. 14 in Bellevue, Dec. 15 in Gretna, and Dec. 20 and 21 in Papillion. The Opinion-Tribune newspaper will sponsor a concert Dec. 8 in Glenwood, Iowa.
“These high school auditoriums aren't the Holland Performing Arts Center,” Roe said. “But through the medium of music, we're still going to entertain.”
Military bands in America date back to the colonial era, a time when commanders sometimes used music to guide troops in battle. Bands always have played at funerals, promotions, command changes and military balls.
In the modern era, their public concerts also are a public relations tool — and for many civilians, their only direct contact with the armed forces.
“For that hour and a half we're on stage, we ARE the Air Force, we ARE the military,” Roe said.
But budget cuts have battered military bands generally in recent years, and the Heartland of America Band in particular.
In 2011, Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., persuaded her House colleagues to slash the Pentagon's music budget from $388 million to $200 million a year.
“Spending $388 million of the taxpayers' money on military music does not make our nation more secure,” McCollum said in a message posted last year on her House website. “It is excessive and a luxury the Pentagon can no longer afford.”
That prompted the Air Force to cut 103 band positions across the service, eliminating two of the 12 active-duty bands and sharply cutting two others, including the Heartland of America Band.
As recently as 2007, the Heartland Band featured 60 airmen. That was cut to 45 in an earlier round of budget cuts, and then to 16 in June. The eight-state region it used to cover — stretching from Montana to Iowa, and North Dakota to Kansas — was cut to a single state, Nebraska, plus a few nearby counties in Iowa.
But because "government spends too much," we haven't a red cent for music. For joy. Or for lots of other things that build America and Americans up, as opposed to tearing some other country down.
I would imagine Bach -- not to mention Jesu, of joy of man's desiring fame -- might take a dim view of that, and of the barbarians we have become.