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Thread: Why not play forever?

  1. Why not play forever?

    I have a question for all you former pros. Many of you once played in military bands or other full-time professional capacities, but now have "regular" jobs and only play on the side. If you love it enough to keep playing now, why did you give it up then? What about it wasn't sustainable in the long run?
    Wessex Dolce

    "Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things -- trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones." - Puddleglum in "The Silver Chair"

  2. #2
    I left after 26 years. They would have kicked me out at 30, which is the max for enlisted members. Because I was moving to the tech field, I didn't want to be perceived as "old" by potential employers.
    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. #3
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    I left The U.S. Army Band after 6 years, and that was after an initial 3 years in the Army after high school followed by a couple years of college. I left to finish college which I figured I wouldn't do if I stayed with the Army Band for another 10-15 years. So, back to school, and then I got pulled into ROTC, and then the Army as a commissioned officer for another 14 years, this time THEY sent me to school to get a Master's, pretty good deal. Like Dave, I could have stayed longer, but elected to retire at age almost 45, so that I would not be an old codger looking for employment in the tech field, also like Dave (my Master's was in Computer Science). Even then, all the people I worked with initially were in their 20's and 30's, so I was definitely the "old man".

    So, I really liked the Army Band. But, I continued to play all the years after the Army Band, just not for a living. I suppose I could have finished my degree while in the Army Band, but my degree was going to be something other than music (Mathematics).
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone, Edwards T396-A Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YSL-891Z Jazz Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Morgan View Post
    ... elected to retire at age almost 45, so that I would not be an old codger looking for employment in the tech field, ...
    This is a big consideration for ANY kind of significant career change, but especially those requiring some kind of additional formal education to pull off. And the longer you wait, the more difficult it is.

    In part, this is because of different forms of age discrimnation (from subtle and almost unconscious to explicit and borderline illegal). And in part it's because it's just more difficult as you age (for several reasons involving cognitive issues, temperment, and "social" issues) to go through yet another formal education process.

    Also, regardless of how you pull it off, it will take some time to "come up to speed" in the new work area and environment, and get to the level that you're capable of (and making the money that you need to). A mistake that many people (especially academics or ex-academics) make is in believing that they can switch into some different occupation at a particularl level that THEY feel is "appropriate" for what THEY think their skills, experience, and needs are. Certainly for the intelligent, skilled, and educated, "advancement can be rapid" (and in fact very rapid -- I saw my wife switch out of academia and go from what was basically a clerk-ish paper-shuffling job to a senior technical writer job in two years), but don't expect to change your career area and be hired in at that manager or director level. Three things are important in the real world of business and industry: education, experience, and perceived ability. That's the three-legged stool on which the whole thing sits.

    The longer you wait, the harder it gets, and you end up working for people who are possibly 15-20 years younger than you. Some folks are okay with this (you should be), but for others, it's a real stumbling block -- and it's another kind of age discrimination (this time by the old against the young!).

    I would say that John showed great courage in deciding to make the change at age 45. Based on my experience in industry, as a practical matter, that would be beyond your sell-by date by about 10 years for many/most job openings. They won't tell you that the age matters, or provide any evidence that it does, but you'll be weeded out at a pretty early stage for what will appear to be reasons of experience or some such. But it looks like John had the education and the ability, and maybe just enough experience to make it happen. And he probably WASN'T thinking that he'd refuse any position below VP.

    You may think I'm kidding, but I know too many people -- mostly academics -- who couldn't "convert" because they just thought too highly of themselves and their own "value" to take a job that wasn't "compatible" with what they thought their skills and experience justified. Yes, grasshopper, those 4-6 years you spent in graduate school just don't matter a whole lot to someone who's looking for an employee who can actually work and produce. Those years may in fact have given you very valuable, transferable, and marketable skills, but demonstrating that is an entirely different issue to someone who needs you to start work in 2-4 weeks and fill a definite business need at that point.

    Anyhow ... part of the moral of the story I'm getting at here is that if you decide to "play forever" (say at age 25 or 30) and you make sacrifices in order to "stay in the game" over time, then at the point that you decide that it's really smart to get out and "go in a different direction", it may truly be too late. And that's one reason to make the decision not to "play forever" too firmly at certain stages of your life: it can effectively close a door that you'll want to be open, at least a crack, later on.

    It's one thing to live a life you enjoy, and with certain benefits you find attractive and adequate in your 20s. It's something a little different in your 30s. It's then a bit more different in your 40s. By your 50s, you'd better be happy with it -- or at least resigned to it -- because that's what you've got and (except for rare exceptions in certain fields) it's not going to change.
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  5. #5
    Gary provided a great summary of issues in the real world. To create a tangent about moving out of academia, I'm reminded of a trend we saw as we auditioned for openings and hired folks for the USCG Band.

    First, auditions. We'd get resumes first along with a demo recording. If they passed that stage we hear them at a live audition. We found a genuine trend that those coming to the audition with a DMA, directly after their college years, were not going to do well. At the time, at least, very few DMA programs were going to prepare you for the literature we played (from "classical" to marches to pop/showtunes and even big band music), much less the duress of sight reading difficult music in various styles. Much much less the regimented environment of the military. (I suspect it is different today for those coming from many schools, such as UNT.)

    Second, coming into the band right from college. This was about a 30% problem area. That is, about 30% of those who had not actually held a job yet had some very difficult adjustments to make. The percentage may have even been 50 or 60, but I was not keeping hard stats. Not unlike jobs in the business world, you have to land there and be ready to do your job. That includes MUCH more than just playing well. Those soft skills especially can be tough to acquire under pressure. Some jobs required us to show up at 4am; from other jobs we might get home at 4am! But even the more common daylight/evening jobs required being on time, dressed in a well-prepared uniform, being well groomed, etc. And yet our performance standards and expectations were very high. All of this is not usually the case in college!

    Highest likelihood of success. We were much more confident of a smooth landing and pleasant 4 years (or more) for those who came from the working world, which was usually teaching. They would have an undergrad or masters typically, so education was no problem. They passed a tough audition, so their playing was usually no problem. Most importantly, they have had to toe the line, be responsible, take a little abuse, deal with some form of politics, play nice in the sandbox, etc. Frankly, most of this category of new band members were quite happy and were very strong "citizens" in the group.

    Thanks for indulging my tangent!
    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

  6. #6
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    A great tangent by Dave.

    Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
    Not unlike jobs in the business world, you have to land there and be ready to do your job. That includes MUCH more than just playing well.
    Yes, as I said to each of the interns (all hand-picked undergraduates) I took into my research group: "There aren't any B's or C's or Incompletes here. Bring your A game. All the time."
    Gary Merrill
    Wessex EEb Bass tuba (Denis Wick 3XL)
    Mack Brass Compensating Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J9 euph)
    Amati Oval Euph (DE N106, Euph J, J6 euph)
    1924 Buescher 3-valve Eb tuba, modified Kelly 25
    Schiller American Heritage 7B clone bass trombone (DE LB K/K9/112 Lexan, Brass Ark MV50R)
    1947 Olds "Standard" trombone (Olds #3)

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by ghmerrill View Post
    …..I would say that John showed great courage in deciding to make the change at age 45. Based on my experience in industry, as a practical matter, that would be beyond your sell-by date by about 10 years for many/most job openings. They won't tell you that the age matters, or provide any evidence that it does, but you'll be weeded out at a pretty early stage for what will appear to be reasons of experience or some such. But it looks like John had the education and the ability, and maybe just enough experience to make it happen. And he probably WASN'T thinking that he'd refuse any position below VP. …..
    Quite astute and quite accurate, Gary. I chuckled to myself as I went through the interview. I was interviewed by the manager of the team I would be on if I landed the job (a computer programming job using "C" at Colorado Memory Systems, who made tape backup drives, soon to be bought by Hewlett-Packard), and by just about all the people on the team of about 8-10 people. They, several of them, asked if I could do more than one thing at a time (this after being in the Army for a total of 23 years, the last 10 or so, mostly in command of various units where you routinely had to do multiple things at a time as the norm). And if I could work with younger people (not sure this was a legit question, even back in 1992). I said I got along great with my kids, one of whom I had already given the oath of office to as he entered the Marines. At least one of them laughed at this response and at the same time, probably realized full well that the question should not have been asked. And I wasn't looking for the VP job. Not yet. However, when my soon to be manager asked me what I wanted to be doing in 3-5 years if I got the job, I said I wanted to be doing his job or his boss's job. Incidentally, I did move into management after about 4 years in the trenches. My goal when applying for this job was to get a job as a programmer and to earn with this new job and my Army retirement combined, at least what I was making just before I retired. I did, so I was happy with that. Then, once aboard, I would have the time to make my presence known. Mission accomplished. And there were numerous opportunities to play my euphonium, which I did, as well as trombone.
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone, Edwards T396-A Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YSL-891Z Jazz Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
    Gary provided a great summary of issues in the real world. To create a tangent about moving out of academia, I'm reminded of a trend we saw as we auditioned for openings and hired folks for the USCG Band...…

    Highest likelihood of success. We were much more confident of a smooth landing and pleasant 4 years (or more) for those who came from the working world, which was usually teaching. They would have an undergrad or masters typically, so education was no problem. They passed a tough audition, so their playing was usually no problem. Most importantly, they have had to toe the line, be responsible, take a little abuse, deal with some form of politics, play nice in the sandbox, etc. Frankly, most of this category of new band members were quite happy and were very strong "citizens" in the group.....
    So my audition for The U.S. Army Band (TUSAB) didn't fit any of the above. At least I didn't. I had three years of the Army following high school. Then almost 2 years of college working toward a BS in Math. So, when I heard of the opening at TUSAB, I was at the University of New Mexico (had just transferred from Eastern NM University). I played in the band, but was majoring in math, and had met a fellow named Fred Dart (who I know Rick Floyd, a moderator on this forum, has a nice history with), who had been recently hired in the Music Dept. I asked Fred about the premier Service Bands in Washington, D.C., because I learned he had been in one. He gave me the scoop on the bands and audition stuff. He was nice enough to play with me a few times before I headed off to Washington, D.C. in January 1971 in an Austin Healey Sprite with wife and horn and suitcases stuffed in. And drove through a blizzard in Pennsylvania, and thought my life would end right then.

    So, I had no degree, and was not even studying music. I was just a very prolific player ever since 8th grade. At the audition, I played a couple things I had prepared (one theme and variation solo, and another was an etude, I think). Then a ton of sight reading. I knew the major scales, but only knew about the minor scales, not fluent at all. I was asked to play 3 or 4 of the major scales. Then I was asked to play a D minor scale, I remember it as if it were yesterday, and instant oh-oh. Fortunately, I knew how a minor scale was made, and also knew that I could think of the parallel major and just flat the 3rd, 6th and 7th and I would have the natural minor. I also knew how to make a melodic or harmonic minor, just hadn't really worked them up. So, I can do that sort of thing pretty easily on the fly, my brain just works that way, and managed to pull off the D minor scale as if I had been playing it over and over for years. They were much less impressed with my D minor scale than I was. I played with an ensemble later in the day, and found out that I got the job the next day. No degree, but I had been out in the real world a little with my 3 years in the Army. And I was going on 24 by the time I entered the U.S. Army Band.

    I will save the part about going from an E-4 (I had been an E-5 when I left the Army after 3 years after high school, but I was out over two years and you lose a grade for being out that long, so I entered the U.S. Army Band as an E-4) to E-7 in less than 6 months.
    Last edited by John Morgan; 05-09-2019 at 02:10 PM.
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone, Edwards T396-A Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YSL-891Z Jazz Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by John Morgan View Post
    ...I headed off to Washington, D.C. in January 1971 in an Austin Healy Sprite with wife and horn and suitcases stuffed in. And drove through a blizzard in Pennsylvania, and thought my life would end right then.
    A "bug-eye" Sprite? Like the one below? Wow - and I thought I had been brave to make a trip like that in a VW Beetle!

    Click image for larger version. 

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    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

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by davewerden View Post
    A "bug-eye" Sprite? Like the one below? Wow - and I thought I had been brave to make a trip like that in a VW Beetle!

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Here is mine. I think the bug-eye version went away in the 60's. Mine was about a 1970 model or so. I think everything that could possibly break, broke on that car. It was a labor of love (and money) to keep it running. Taken in Albuquerque...

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Last edited by John Morgan; 05-09-2019 at 02:12 PM.
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone, Edwards T396-A Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YSL-891Z Jazz Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

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