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The Bald Eagles fly overseas

Richard Reese, left, Guy Williams, center, and Tom Rynders play with a group of students at Kabul University.1 / 4
Guy Williams, left, Tom Rynders, center, and Richard Reese, right, of the Dixieland trio the Bald Eagles, recently returned from a short music residency in Kabul, Afghanistan.2 / 4
A view of Kabul, Afghanistan.3 / 4
The Bald Eagles perform with a group of students at the Kabul Univeristy Auditorium.4 / 4

Seventy-seven year-old Richard Reese never imagined he would be doing much traveling with his band. That was until recently.

He along with bandmates Tom Rynders and Guy Williams of the group the Bald Eagles, returned two weeks ago from a tour that may just be the wildest trip of their lifetime - spending 15 days in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The purpose of their journey was to expose audiences to Western music. Not country, not rock n' roll, not bluegrass, but the nostalgic sounds of American Dixieland.

So how did these three Red Wing locals end up on a mini concert tour in Afghanistan? The simple answer is by a sister.

Rynder's sister, Faith, volunteers as a music teacher playing Western music and piano at the University of Kabul, among other places.

She had previously invited the band to come and perform over a year ago, but the plans fell through.

Meanwhile a photo exhibit set up by the U.S. Embassy celebrating music of the late 1950s, '60s and '70s had been produced. Images include American jazz musicians and bands and their travels to Third World countries as they performed, educated and submersed themselves into the country's music culture.

From those experiences, the exhibit of 65 photos was created and shown throughout the world until it was recently given to Kabul University.

In celebration of the exhibit's arrival, the university was looking for jazz music. Faith was approached by some people from the Cultural Affairs Office of the U.S. Embassy.

She suggested her brother's band, the Bald Eagles. In the end, the timing worked out perfectly with the arrival of the music exhibit and the trip was back on.

"We have never traveled like this as a band," Rynders said.

Guy Williams laughed as he described his initial reaction to the opportunity, "Why not?"

The three men all grew up with music in some way, shape or form and met 15 years ago while playing for the Zumbrota Community Band.

Six years ago, they left the band to form their first Dixieland band and called themselves the Westenders. Overtime, some band members were switched around and the Bald Eagles formed.

"This is end result," Williams said. "It's the happy result."

Reese on woodwinds, Williams on cornet and Rynders on tuba create the core of the band. Typically other instruments may include trombone, guitar and banjo.

"Dixieland is fairly accepted in that it will take almost anything," Rynders explains of genre, "It is something that grew out of people having instruments they were learning to play - playing music they didn't have music for. Rhythms were brought and they played how they felt." The sound is borderline jazzy.

Williams adds, "We have our own brand, it is more subtle."

While in Kabul, the Bald Eagles performed for many different audiences. "The music stays the same, it is just the audience who you playing for that changes," Rynders said.

In fact, their first concert was at a preschool. Between high schools, college, the U.S. Embassy and Faith's extensive connection to the music community, their schedule was full.

They not only performed for audiences, but also played with a handful of student musicians.

"Many of the students had not heard of American Dixieland music," Rynders said. It took awhile for some to understand how this type of music works, he added.

While at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music, the trio worked with a local drummer. "It was interesting because many of the Afghan drummers had heard American rock music and thought they would be playing in a rock band," Rynders said. "But they were not."

The men said they felt many students learned to appreciate some of their unique style of music.

ANIM Piano student Milad Yousufi said, "It was a good experience because we learned lots of things including how to play jazz which is really different than Western classical music. We had a lot of fun improvising."

Faculty from institute have tried started their own version of a Dixieland band, Rynders said. "That's what we went for."

"They were really good, really nice and were also funny," Yousufi said of the Bald Eagles.

The band left the institute more than 100 pieces of Dixieland music where over 300 students from grades 3 to 14 take part in music programs of high quality academic education, helping ensure that students are able to achieve at the highest level internationally as musicians, music educators, academics and specialists.

"My background is in art," Williams said. "They have some really good people. They are a beautiful people."

Williams, Reese and Rynders all agree they have a shared experience that none will forget.

"It was amazing," Reese recalls with a smile and adds he has never has so much fun playing in a band as he has with the Bald Eagles.

"And you got to remember we are old," Williams said laughing.

The Bald Eagles can be heard playing from 4 to 8 p.m. every Wednesday at Nesbitt Nursery's "Pie Night" in Prescott.

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

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