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Thread: What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

  1. #1

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    I have been asked many times about the experience of playing in a military band. It is a natural topic for a euphonium player because (in the U.S.) that is about your only full-time professional playing opportunity. But the topic should be of interest to other band players as well.

    When I first joined The United States Guard Band, it was my intention to stay for four years and then get out and get a job as a high school band director. However, I liked the job so much that I stayed in for 26 years. I had the chance to play in some of the nicest venues around, but I was also playing in some pretty uncomfortable situations, too.

    Realize that the situation is different depending on the band you are in. First, there is the level of the band. The top bands in each of the five military services are usually called "The United States ... Band" (with "The" not "the" at the beginning). Except for the Coast Guard, the services have many other bands as well. In the Army, for example, they have two other bands that are very close to the top: the Field Band and the Military Academy Band (West Point). Then they have other bands at various bases or posts. The best gigs are in the top bands, but the other bands can still offer very satisfying careers. The post bands often ask for players to be able to double so they can fill spots in other ensembles. In the top bands this is not usually a requirement because they have specialists in all ensembles.

    My favorite part was playing concert tours. There is something really exciting about performing in a different hall for a different audience each night. It was fun doing recording sessions, and we produced several albums during my time there. The job also requires playing ceremonies, parades, and other less-musically-glamorous gigs, some of which could be physically uncomfortable (rain, heat, cold, etc.). But often those uncomfortable jobs would be the ones I would "write home" about because we were playing for Presidents, Kings or Queens, or for some event that received national attention.

    You audition for the top jobs before enlisting. Once accepted by the band, you are recruited into that service and given a Musician rating. Army, Air Force, and Navy musicians go through the normal basic training before being sent to the band. The Coast Guard sends you to a 2-week orientation session before you go to the band, and I'm not sure what the Marines' policy is these days.

    You will be provided an instrument to use. Usually these are top-quality horns. However, you may find yourself playing a brand you do not prefer because the section leader likes them.

    As a band member, you are still in the military. You are going to salute officers, shine your shoes, keep a clean haircut, etc. You also get military benefits, and about 1/3 of your pay is non-taxable, so there are both advantages and disadvantages of the military part of the job.

    It's a great career for the right person, and it can be pretty unpleasant if you are not comfortable with the military situation.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  2. #2

    Military Band Recital Series

    In some military bands, you have the opportunity to perform in a recital series. I believe the U.S. Coast Guard Band was the first to have an official series, thanks to the inspiration and hard work of then-member Denis Winter and the support of the then-director Capt. Lewis Buckley.

    The USCG series was and is run by the band members. Programming is open to almost anything that involves one or more band musicians, even if other outside performers are involved. All recitals were recorded, so it was a good chance for many players to get some experience and come away with a nice collection of recordings of their playing.

    I know the Army and Marine Bands also have recital series, and even some of the "post" bands have recitals.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  3. RE: What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    dave,

    I played euphonium in two army bands in the late 60's and early 70's. one was a gig and the other was an abomination. it depends on the bandmaster. if you get a good one it can be a most enjoyable experience, if not it is not very enjoyable. at ft. polk, la. we had a bandmaster who knew how to make you "dig a little deeper in the well" and bring out your best. In germany we had a bandmaster who griped and fussed over everything. if he didn't like the way you played he would get on your case and never let up. he destroyed my desire to remain in the army and music period. when I got out I gave up my career in music(was music major in college) and I went into law enforcement. like I said it is a fantastic assignment IF you get a good bandmaster.

    sandy

  4. #4

    RE: What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    Sandy,
    I am sure it can be uncomfortable to be under the leadership of someone you don't like. For what it's worth, it seems like the U.S. bands are pretty good that way. I have talked to lots of service band folks and haven't heard scary stories about the bands in this country. I didn't run across many people who had played overseas. Maybe we'll get a few more posts from others who have done that duty.

    Also, I think the situation has improved across the board in military music. Leadership and musicianship are generally at a higher level these days.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  5. RE: What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    My experiences as a Euphoniumist in the 98th Army Band had there ups and downs just as with any group. Overall, I enjoyed my time in service as a bandsman, and would also recommend it to anyone considering a career as a performing musician.Playing as a full time musician is a somewhat rare opportunity for a Euphoniumist, however the job also comes with the same responsibilities as any other MOS in the Army.

  6. What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    I have 7 years of military band experience. 2 years with The United States Army Band (Pershing's Own) aka TUSAB or "the downtown band" to Field Band members, and 5 years with the Army Field Band. The mission of the two bands is very different, and therefore, so are the ways they operate.

    I auditioned and was accepted on both trombone and euphonium for TUSAB, and decided to take the trombone slot as the guys playing euph in the Concert Band were a long way from retirement. I spent two years in the Ceremonial Band getting very familiar with Arlington Cemetery, retiring generals, and arriving dignitaries. Ceremonial Band euphonium players also doubled on the G Bass Herald Trumpet. These days, of course, the Army Brass Band provides some real musical opportunities for ceremonial musicians.

    The greatest things about the Army Band gig is that you are treated like a professional musician. All schlepping of equipment is done by the band's dedicated technical support staff, also building maintenance is handled by civilians. The worst part of the gig is standing outside at parade rest for 30 minutes or more on the asphalt during summer funerals wearing navy blue coats with West Point collars. The heaviest days work for the Ceremonial Band included a retirement parade practice, 5 funerals, and the retirement parade itself; duty form 7:15 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

    After 2 years with the Ceremonial Band I auditioned for a trombone spot in the Concert Band of the Army Field Band, and then spent five years touring the country. While Pershing's Own stays mostly in DC, the Field Band's main gig is to tour three times a year, Spring, Summer, and Fall. Average tour length for Fall and Spring is 40 days, while Summer tours are between 10 and 14 days.

    The band prepared three concert programs which they rotated on tour. That helped keep the music from becoming too stale. Our best treats were playing great orchestra halls and music educator conventions. Great halls that stand out in my mind are Powell Hall in St. Louis and the performing arts hall in San Antonio.

    The greatest lesson I learned in both groups is that one's musical fulfillment can not come solely from playing in the band. The need to create, to experiment, and to learn new literature has to occur through outside playing. Fortunately mainly top military bands now have recital series, and metropolitan communities have many more performing oportunities.

    That being said, I value my time in the military, and am proud to have a son in the Marine Drum & Bugle Corps.

  7. #7

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    From an South African perspective. All seems pretty much the same.

    I have spent seven years in total in the SA Defence Force Bands. One and a half years in the SA Navy Band and five and a half years in the WP Army Staff Band. The WP Army staff Band which is crowned year after year the best Defence force band in Africa has performed and all Major SA venues such as the inauguration of President Nelson Mandela 1994, Band tours nationally, Concerts in the Cape Town City Hall, parades, Ceremonial ingagements etc.

    Daily procedure within both bands followed the following routines: Report for duty at 07:30 am. Band practice from 08:00 till 10:00. 10:00 till 10:15 Tea time. 10:15 till 12:30 band reahearsals. 12:30 - Home time if we had no engagements.

    As soloist performed the following pieces: Andante and Rondo - Capuzzi, Euphonium Sonata -Young, Mozart Bassoon Concerto KV. 191, Grand Fathers Clock - Air and Variations - Drake Rimmer, Horovits Euphonium Concerto, Barbier De Seville - Rossini, Euphonium Suite - Young, Introduction and Allegro Spiritosso - Senaille, Trombone Concerto - Rimsy Korsakoff, Rondo Giocoso from Bassoon Concerto in F- Von Weber.

    At the age of 20 I was at the peak of the salary notches and could progress no further as a musician in the band. This bothered me for six years. I then decided that it was time to move on. I studied IT and progressed to National IT Manager and again felt the urge to progress and this led to the birth of Unseen Power Music studios.

    I have been without a euphonium for 7 years since I left the defence force, but I am now the proud owner of a Yamaha 842S - great horn!

    In conclusion - I have enjoyed my time in the defence force band even though there were ups and downs.

  8. What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    I guess I am the first Marine Bandsman to answer up here. I did four years as a Bass Trombonist in a couple of the Marine Field bands. After the School of Music in Little Creek, my first assignment was In Okinawa, Japan. Then I was sent to Camp Lejuene and the 2nd Marine Division Band.
    I have switched to playing Tuba in my own brass choir, hence why I am posting on this forum.
    I can pretty much concur with all that has been said above.
    You get a good Band Officer, it can be alot of fun, a bad one, Not so much!
    I did some really interesting gigs in the Marines. Lots of change of commands and such. The fun ones where things like flying to Guam to do a parade. Going to Trinidad/Tobago to do a Military Tattoo or as we called it a "Dog and Pony Show" If you want to travel and don't mind alot of "Spit and Polish" and discipline I highly recommend joing the Military Bands.

  9. #9

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    Dave, in response to your explanation about what the certain fields do. I studied with Matt Tropman at EMU two years ago(great player). If I remember correctly the Marine band(well he got into the Presidents Own) so this is different at least he auditioned was given a staff sargent rank and went straight to the band, now this is off course if I can remember correctly.

    byoung

    Music Education Major-Tuba
    Rochester College

  10. #10

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    Originally posted by: byoung
    ...the Marine band(well he got into the Presidents Own) so this is different at least he auditioned was given a staff sargent rank and went straight to the band...
    Yes, that is consistent with what I have been hearing lately as well. Thanks for following up.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

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