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AFCENT Band exchanges culture in colorful Turkmenistan

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Steven M. Przyzycki
  • AFCENT Band
During a one-week tour through Turkmenistan, the U.S. Air Forces Central Band "Mirage" performed public concerts for thousands at performance halls, universities and military academies April 25 through May 2, 2009. 

Basking in the warm hospitality of the Turkmen people, the members of Mirage exchanged ideas about music, art, food and military life and were united in their mutual love of country and world cultures. 

Mirage is comprised of eight musicians who deployed to Southwest Asia from the United States Air Force Academy Band in Peterson Air Force Base, Colo. Mirage performs throughout the area of responsibility to promote troop morale, diplomacy and outreach to host nation communities. 

The band's tour started in the capital city of Ashgabat, which means "the City of Arsaces" in Persian and loosely translates as "the city that love built." Performances here included concerts at the Music Vocational College, a joint performance with the Ministry of Defense Band at the House of Officers, and a show at the Magtymguly Theater. 

Mr. Silap Aliyevich, a piano instructor at the Music Vocational College, said, "We enjoyed Mirage's performance immensely; these are great memories that will last with us forever." Aliyevich performed some compositions by Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff that he chose because the composer spent his later years living in America. 

The joint performance of the Ministry of Defense Band with Mirage provided the two groups the opportunity to collaborate on several selections. The Turkmen soldiers' enthusiasm was contagious as the joint concert resulted in them erupting into exuberant applause. 

Mirage's tour included appearances in the cities of Turkmenabat and Mary as well. Mr. Sahet Babayev, Provost of the Turkmenabat Music College thanked the band and the U.S. Embassy for providing the concert. "This performance will have a lasting impact on us for some time, and I look forward to the next concert by an American Air Force Band," he said. 

The school concerts provided the Turkmen students the opportunity to ask the members of Mirage various questions. The most interesting question of the trip came from a student at the Mary American Corner School. An assertive young lady in her teens asked, "Why did you come to Turkmenistan; don't all Americans think that the people of Turkmenistan are walking around with guns and shooting everyone like many of the other people that live in our border countries?" It was explained that only ignorance would cause someone to generalize all the people in Central Asia into one ideal and assume that they are all extremists or terrorists. 

The people of Turkmenistan are proud of their independent culture and are especially known for their carpet making, folk music and horsemanship. They are a peaceful people, and through the universal language of music we can teach that to the world.  Throughout the rest of the performance this young lady danced along with her classmates to the world beat of Mirage's music, posing afterwards for pictures. 

Turkmenistan borders Afghanistan to the southeast, Iran to the southwest, Uzbekistan to the northeast, Kazakhstan to the northwest and the Caspian Sea to the west. It serves as a major transit route for regional and international commerce and for supplies supporting Coalition efforts in Afghanistan. Thus, the U.S. maintains a strong interest in establishing a long-term cooperative relationship here and elsewhere in Central Asia to create a positive security environment. This is challenging, and requires gradual, incremental approaches often achieved through artistic, cultural exchange. 

Mirage Vocalist Tech. Sgt. Nancy Poffenbarger was proud to make a positive impression on the young people in the country. 

"For many of these kids, this is their first contact with Westerners and a first impression is a lasting impression," she said. "Two generations from now these kids will still see us for who we are and the impact will be fantastic. Through music, we are able to put America's best foot forward, and we get the opportunity to learn something new as well."