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Joint Base Andrews Features

NEWS | May 14, 2015

Singing Sergeants seek skilled soprano

By Airman 1st Class Philip Bryant 11th Wing Public Affairs

In a small windowless room lined with U.S. Air Force paintings and a long wood table sits six of 13 women in anticipation of their audition. A chance to wear the U.S. Air Force uniform.

They wait quietly as they flip through pages of prepared music.

The women are from all over the country; Oregon, Kentucky and Illinois. Some have bachelor's degrees, others master's. They have a variety of vocal and musical credentials.  

One Columbus, Ohio, native is trying for a second time to become part of the U.S. Air Force Band's Singing Sergeants. The group honors those who have served, inspires patriotism and positively impacts the global community on behalf of the U.S. Air Force.

Four years ago, Kristen Basore auditioned for the same soprano opening. She tried for it again on May 5, 2015.

Basore has dedicated her life to singing, and achieved both a bachelor's and master's degree in music. She runs a full voice and piano studio, and has placed in various vocal competitions nationally.

She waits two tense minutes before she is called in for her audition.

"Auditioning is walking into a room and having a panel of people standing in front of you who do nothing but critique you," said Basore, as she waits. "They evaluate how you performed that day, how you sound, how you breathe, how you sing, how your high notes are, how your low notes are, how you present the music you choose to sing and how you are generally as a person. They are going to decide if they want you or not within the first 10 seconds of you singing and that's the terrifying part."

Basore's chance to become a Singing Sergeant comes down to one day of auditioning and, in her mind, just seconds to make an impression.

"The Singing Sergeants have a worldwide reputation of musical excellence," said Capt. Joseph Hansen, Singing Sergeants officer in charge. "Since 1945, the group has performed for the highest dignitaries of the U.S. and entertained audiences from across the globe."

The Singing Sergeants are comprised of 20 singing members and three instrumentalists. The only time auditions are held is when a current member leaves the Air Force. In this case, a retirement of one opens the door for Basore and 12 others.

"The auditions started seven months ago," said Chief Master Sgt. Angela Burns, Singing Sergeants flight chief. "This included communicating with people, having them turn in materials online and sending us MP3s. We then listened to all 99 soprano applicants."

Burns explained that after listening to the applicants, 20 were invited to Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, D.C., home of the U.S. Air Force Band and Singing Sergeants. Of those 20, only 13 were eligible to join the Air Force and made the trip to JBAB.

The auditions are split into two days; six applicants the first day and seven the second. In those two days, one will be asked to join the band. This same band travels the world, performs at the White House, sings for military and civilian diplomats and educates at outreach events.

"They have to be able to do it all," Burns said. "The first thing we are looking for is a really solid vocal technique, because you have to be able to move between different styles. Operatic, pop, country music, you name it, we do it."

Singing contrasting styles of music, sight-reading, a 30-minute test on music theory and a vocal-range performance is the gauntlet these women face during the live auditions.

As she waits to be called in, Basore describes her body as flushed, balmy and uncomfortably hot, and her hands as cold, wet and clammy.

That effect on Basore was echoed by the other women, but the process isn't only difficult on the 13 sopranos auditioning.

"It's difficult because we're rooting for them and we want them to do really well, but this is one of the hardest auditions," said Master Sgt. Joe Haughton, Singing Sergeants tenor and audition panel member.

Each singer auditioning is a person with hopes and dreams of joining the U.S. Air Force to serve their country by singing.

"This would absolutely be a career move," Basore said. "Before this opportunity, I was traveling and performing on cruise ships around the world."

She, and many of the singers auditioning, have part-time jobs and see being a member of the Singing Sergeants as a unique opportunity.

"We are fortunate enough to be in the Air Force and making music," Burns said. "It's important that we make the right choice."

The first day of auditions are over, initial cuts have been made and Basore is still there.

After auditions concluded May 6, 2015, each woman received a phone call. A call that is highly anticipated, but only one has cause for celebration.

Basore wasn't selected.

She spoke of persistence after receiving the bad news and plans to audition when the chance presents itself again.

"Similar to the application for other career fields in the Air Force, the USAF Band audition process is very competitive, and we only had one vacancy to fill," Hansen said. "Those candidates invited to the live audition have already proven to be some of the finest vocalists our country has to offer, whether or not they actually win the position."

She, like 98 other singers, must put her hopes of wearing Air Force blue on hold, until next time.