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

  1. #11

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    I want to major in Music Education (HS Band Director). I was considering joining the military in order to pay for my college. I was curious if any of the various military academies had any music programs in which you can recieve a degree?


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

    The military academies (West Point, Annapolis, Coast Guard, Air Force) do not offer music majors. The purpose of these academies is to train command-line officers. Most of the degrees offered tend to be Bachelor of Science in technical subjects (Engineering, Physics, etc.) with a heavy emphasis on development of leadership traits. The academies do have student drum and bugle corp, but the primary music group on campus is the academy band which is a professional group similar to the Washington DC bands. (The Coast Guard Academy's band is the USCG Band, stationed in New London rather than in Washington).

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  3. #13

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    [QUOTE]Originally posted by: FlaEuph
    I want to major in Music Education (HS Band Director). I was considering joining the military in order to pay for my college. I was curious if any of the various military academies had any music programs in which you can recieve a degree?

    First, Doug's answer is great and very accurate! Because the USCG Band was stationed at the Academy, I was able to observe many of the cadets' activities. If you are interested in at least a hitch in the Coast Guard, for example, you would find a few different musical opportunities within your 4 years at the Academy. For example, there is a concert/marching band, a jazz ensemble, and "pit band" playing for the cadets' annual musical (usually a Broadway musical).

    However, once you get through the 4 years there you have a commitment to the service as an officer. Still, if you DO have a compatible interest (engineering, etc.) and want to serve for a while, it is a great way to get a free (and good quality) education. You will also mature a lot during your time serving after graduation (and make decent money), after which you could go on to other things. Note, too, that the Coast Guard at least is extremely competitive to get into. The other services are not quite as academically competitive and rely a bit on a Congressional recommendation (i.e. talk nice to your Congressional representative).

    But if you want to be a professional musician after college, this is not the way to go.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    Alliance Mouthpiece (DC4)
    YouTube: dwerden
    Facebook: davewerden
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  4. What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    the regular military bands as opposed to the Presidents Own etc. can provide a significant opportunity for younger people who are military bound anyway. They don"t require a pedigree BUT YOU GOT TO BE GOOD. You can go directly from high school into a military band. Watch one of the bands on youtube. Count the number of people without multiple stripes on their sleeves. Those who want to go into the marine Corps should realize there is a pretty tough boot camp followed by basic infantry traning. Straightest backs anywhere. The marine corps stresses you are a rifleman and will tell about manning the lines at Guadalcanal and one man killed and 7 wounded in Korea not counting frostbite. They won't hesitate to put you in harms way should it be necessary.

    Regular bands are going to march more, concert less a fair amount of traveling for some bands others stay home more. I hated it. But I have fond memories of a lot of good musicians ( and funny ) and would do it again. I hear in my mind the first few bars of officer of the day march and see the straight backs---I regard this as a seizure disorder as it is preceded by an aura of the smell of hot asphalt and valve oil

    You can arrange an audition at a marine corps band through your friendly neighborhood marine corps recruiter. Audition material is your own plus sight reading.


  5. #15

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    Please forgive my long post ahead of time, but I feel a need to respond within this thread. I've seen posts of those who, like me, served in Army bands in the so-called "line" bands, but I don't believe I saw any other Army retiree thus far. I'd like to offer a perspective from someone who served in those bands that required more of their musicians than "just music."

    I spent 20 years in the Army, active duty. Not quite 18 of those years I served as a euphoniumist.

    I enlisted within a few months after high school and somehow (I never could quite figure out how) wound up cooking for the Army Security Agency. I guess it sounded spook-like, cooking for a bunch of folks who did the secret squirrel thing. But for about 2.5 years, I served as an active duty Army cook. Not so prestigious, perhaps, but I enjoyed what I did and did my best. I certainly grew and learned during that time.

    But I knew I had screwed the pooch after I'd heard the 282nd Army Band at Ft. Jackson during my own basic training graduation. Those guys were doing things not too much differently than I had done in high school, but were getting paid for it. And as I'd always had an affinity for the euphonium (but played mostly trombone), I could see that the Army had an MOS (job) specific for the euphonium. Once that bit of information sunk in, I kicked myself thoroughly for not having explored Army bands enough. I could have requested an audition and while I certainly wasn't setting the world on fire with my playing, I was reasonably sure I could pass whatever audition the Army had.

    When I became eligible to do so, I began talking to a reenlistment NCO about reenlistment for the School of Music. I got a green light, especially when I was armed with a successful field audition and I then made the decision to serve a full 20-year career, ideally as a euphoniumist.

    I served in some crappy assignments, and some incredibly good ones. I schlepped a lot of equipment. I endured tyrannical bandmasters. I saw a lot of things that probably would get people jailed today. I played a lot and developed phenomenal endurance.

    But I did a lot of things outside of music, to include logistics (supply), administration, training, and especially operations. I spent enough time in Germany to qualify as a certified linguist, and that experience was especially noteworthy for me since almost 9 years of the rest of my career was spent in West Berlin.

    Being a part of the activities associated with The Wall's demise and eventual reunification was an experience I'll never forget. Not too many people can claim that they've performed alongside a Soviet band, seen where communism actually painted a happy face (but clearly showed otherwise), observed evidence of tyranny and threat, entertained diplomats in Tunisia, or performed honor guards for visiting presidents and vice presidents, to wit: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall!"

    As a Soldier, however, there were those soldier-like duties that had to be done. Meeting height and weight standards was crucial (running 13 marathons and hundreds of half-marathons helped keep me trim) along with physical fitness tests, and the expected attention-to-detail of uniforms, haircuts, instruments, and equipment. I spent some time in the field, performing both a musical mission and a security mission. I learned what a steel pot was and later, when the Kevlar came into vogue, we learned how to substitute a faux helmet for it that weighed mere ounces instead of pounds.

    I won't even talk about marching band, because I spent a LOT of time outdoors in all sorts of weather conditions.

    My final road trip while active duty occurred in the summer of 1994. The 1st Armored Division Band took a commercial bus down to a little-known area in southern France called Draguignon. This was the site of the equally little-known military cemetery that was the final resting place of hundreds of Americans killed during the landings in southern France in August, 1944. The D-Day stuff in June had gotten all the press, but there was more dying to do elsewhere. Battles were raging in southern France and in Italy in August, with a ferocity that warranted the establishment of at least one American military cemetery.

    If you've never visited an American military cemetery in a foreign country, you need to at your first opportunity. NOTHING prepares you for that. And you walk away from the experience knowing that you've served your country - not nearly to the extent that those fallen did, but you served.

    And this is the crux of my statement here - we can talk about careers in music, we can reminisce about our experiences here and there, but if you really want to reach down and find something that you can grab hold of, appreciate, know, and understand job satisfaction, putting the uniform on of a member of the armed services will get you very, very close to that.

    I am proud of my service as a lowly cook and as a euphoniumist, trombonist, and incredibly bad trumpet player (yes, I played two bugle jobs on trumpet and at least one concert on that instrument). I know for a fact that the stuff that "you can write home to Mom about" has a great deal to do with service to the Nation and to others, rather than ourselves. There is an enormous sense of personal pride and commitment that comes with this type of work, irrespective of what the job is.

    It just so happens that, again as Dave has pointed out, service in the military as a euphoniumist is one of the very few options available to most of us who play this instrument.

    But that service goes beyond music, and that is what makes it so satisfying - at least for me.

    Allen Lawless
    Sergeant First Class, U.S. Army, Retired

    U.S. Army, Retired (built mid-Fifties)
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  6. #16

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    Well said, Eupher6! It took me quite a few years before I began to appreciate why we did the pain-in-the-neck, not-so-musical jobs like ceremonies. I just tried to endure them and wait for the next concert. But at some point I began to listen to the speakers and tried to relate to all the people who worked to put the ceremony together. During my "aware" years I heard veterans from WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam talk about their experiences. Some of it was very, very eye-opening. We also did some ceremonies that were kind of cool in other ways, such as the kick-off for the Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty restorations, and the celebrations when they were done. Then we had the awards/recognition ceremonies for some of the dramatic things the Coast Guard folks were doing in deep, cold, nasty water to save lives - it was pretty stirring. It made the gigs a lot more interesting. They still weren't especially gratifying musically, but they filled some other needs human beings have. And there is always a lot to be said for really trying to play well during marches. Playing through a march is not terribly difficult, but playing it really well and correctly (style-wise) is very challenging and fun!

    Yes, there is a good portion of stupidity or silliness in the government in general, but the military manages to do a tremendous job.

    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams Artist (Adams E3)
    Alliance Mouthpiece (DC4)
    YouTube: dwerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    Twitter: davewerden
    Instagram: davewerdeneuphonium

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

    I am currently serving as a Tubist in the Marine Forces Pacific Band stationed in Hawaii. The experience for me can basically be summed up as rewarding. Though I do not plan to make this my career, these four years are some of the most eye opening years of my life. My current possition could basically be described as low risk high yield, as right now i dont have any plans of getting deployed and everything that I will be getting out of this whole experience is worth ten times what I acctually put into it. While you do have to put up with the whole military aspect of things, there is still a huge emphassis on the music itself. In fact I would say that the largest part of the work is centered around the music with some minor emphasis on military training.

  8. #18

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    I spent some time in the Army - specifically as Euphoniumist in the "Continental Army Band" (Headquarters, Continental Army Command) and the 266th Army Band (Headquarters US Army, Viet-Nam).

    These weren't "Premiere Bands" by any stretch of the imagination, but as headquarters bands, they were ostensibly a cut above most of the other Army "line bands."

    I can't say the experience was all negative. I made some great friends, got to play with some really cool toys and saw the world from a very unique position, to say the least. A good way for a kid to blow off a lot of steam!

    Musically, however, I've got to say that my time as an Army *musician* was pretty much a bust. We were constantly reminded - and probably rightly so - that we were neither real musicians nor real soldiers.

    Contrast that to a concert I once played some time later when I was in the Marine Band - the President's Own.

    It was for the Commandant of the Marine Corps and a room full of his Generals. You've got to know, there's nothing much more intense than a room full of Marine Generals!

    The concert was our standard fare: an overture, a couple heavy-weight symphonic transcriptions, and an operatic vocal, with a few marches as encores, ending of course, with the Marine's Hymn.

    After the concert was over, the Commandant walked up to the front of the Band and faced his Generals.

    Saying a few heartfelt words words about the history of the Band, he concluded by challenging his Generals in a tone that raised the hair on my neck:

    "When YOU guys (meaning the Generals) can do your jobs as well as THESE men and women (meaning the musicians of the Marine Band), then YOU can call YOURSELVES Marines!"

    That was followed by a standing ovation that went on forever!

    OK ... one more story:

    For as long as anyone can remember, the Marine Band has played a "surprise concert" on New Year's morning for the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

    The Commandant would then invite the Band into his house where he would personally serve members of the Band a hot buttered rum, said to be the last remaining official "grog" that is dispensed by the Navy to this day.

    Grog notwithstanding, the house was always full of senior Marines who were amazingly gracious to members of the Band.

    A far cry from being told I was neither a soldier nor a musician!

    Glenn Call
    Marine Band under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan

    I always felt a tremendous feeling of musicianship whenever I played with the Marine Band, and have always felt a tremendous respect from every Marine I've met, then and to this day.

  9. #19

    What It Is Like to Play in a Military Band

    Great stories! Thanks!

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