Family's love of music drives win at AF competition

  • Published
  • By Mark Wyatt
  • 66th Air Base Group Public Affairs
Turn on the television any weeknight and you will likely find some talent-themed program with aspiring musicians showcasing their talents. Locally, if you were at the Air Force Worldwide Family and Teen Talent Contest at the Youth Center last October, then you had the opportunity to watch Cathy McSwain and her two daughters, Emily and Allison, take the first step in what would eventually result in the family being named as the best family act in the Air Force.

"My daughters and I entered Hanscom's talent competition and performed 'Summertime' from 'Porgy and Bess'," said Cathy McSwain, 66th Air Base Group Judge Advocate Office procurement attorney and lieutenant colonel in the Reserves assigned to the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale Air Force Base, La. "The girls also entered themselves in the teen division."

The McSwain family considered the night a success regardless of the eventual outcome.

"We had a great night together as a family," Cathy said. "I cherish the time I spend playing music with them."

The Air Force talent competition offers families an activity that develops creative expression through an appreciation of the arts, such as music.

Performances in the competition were recorded by local organizers and forwarded to the Air Force-level "You Got Talent" contest. Cathy admits that she forgot about it until organizers stopped by her office May 2 to tell her the good news.

"Russell Jackson [66th Force Support Squadron community program coordinator] came by and let me know that we won the family act for the Air Force," said Cathy. "Emily and Allison placed second in the teen 13 to 15 year old division for the Air Force."

And while winning was fun, the family collectively agrees that it was doing it together that made it more memorable for them.

"Friends come and go, bands form and break apart, but no matter what happens, we will always be family, and that's my favorite part of winning this competition," said Emily, an eighth-grade student at Hanscom Middle School.

For their selection, the McSwain family won $800, a Kodak digital camera, an iPod Nano touch screen and a JBL speaker.

"I told the girls they could split the cash award among themselves," said Cathy. "However, they quickly suggested that it would be a good start to a family vacation."

Allison, a sixth-grade student at Hanscom Middle School, said she was excited that music is creating new opportunities for her family.

"It's always fun to play music, no matter who you're with, but family music just has this special vibe that you can only get playing with your family," Emily said. "I love how one minute we're all in the kitchen or eating dinner and the next minute we all have our instruments and are playing a song."

Jackson, who served as host for the local talent show, agrees with Emily that this family has a special vibe.

"The 66th Force Support Squadron was extremely impressed by all of the participants at last year's competition," said Jackson. "I have known the McSwain family for a number of years and I am incredibly excited whenever they come out and support any Hanscom community program with their musical talents."

Musical talents that the sisters, both of whom play multiple instruments and participate in music programs through school, work hard at perfecting.

"We have awesome music teachers that help us when we tell them we want to work on new songs," said Emily. "They never tell us something is too hard or try to talk us out of it."

Hanscom's Middle School Music Teacher Howard Worona is impressed by the sisters, the family and their love of music.

"They are incredible people and wonderful musicians," he said.

Both are members of the orchestra, select choir and the Falcon Concert Choir at the middle school.

Worona noted two songs that Cathy McSwain wrote and performed at the school during student assemblies.

"'Children of the Heroes' is a moving tribute to military children and the sacrifices they must make in support of their parents who serve," Worona said. "This song was performed by the select choir during our 2012 Month of the Military Child assembly and at a music festival."

Cathy was inspired to write the song by the strength that military children display at the school.

"Military children have so many challenges because they come in from all over and start at a new school in the middle of the curriculum, which is not easy," she said. "I felt like I wanted military children to know that someone understood them and to use that song as a way for other people outside of the military to understand them."

Students from the middle school sang the other piece, "Thank you," a tribute to faculty, during an assembly last spring while a slide show played on a screen.

Inspired by music growing up, Cathy wanted her daughters to focus on activities that would be a lifetime skill and provide lifelong joy.

"I think that's the greatest joy in life - when you have something that makes you happy that you can do by yourself or share with other people."

Music does just that for the recently named best musical family act in the Air Force.