For many classically trained musicians, professional options can be limiting in the civilian sector, but playing for the armed forces can offer opportunities for both sides.
Unlike most jobs in the Army, Soldiers who are selected to serve in the Military Occupational Specialty 42R, musicians, musicians come into the organization already proficient at the job ... some with years of experience in and around the music industry.
December 23, 2016 - The 1st Infantry Division Band plays to a live crowd during the 2016 Armed Forces Bowl at Amon C. Carter Stadium in Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas. The band prefaced this performance with a smaller performance by their brass section at the ticket booth. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael Roach, 19th Public Affairs Detachment)
“In the civilian world, it’s definitely struggling,” said Spc. Brent Kelley, a saxophone player in the 1st Infantry Division Band. “A lot of major symphony organizations are in trouble. I think I read that both the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh orchestras went on strike. The music industry is definitely changing. (There is) less classical music available these days, it’s more pop more electronic music like DJs.”
The Army has more uniformed bands than any other branch of the military and uses them to support a variety of functions and events in addition to myriad community outreach avenues. They play at many military ceremonies throughout the year, provide esprit de corps during events and are capable of putting on entire concerts with a range of music from jazz to classical featuring both large- and small-piece productions.
“For me, for the kind of playing that I want to do, this is the best choice,” Kelley said. As a saxophonist there aren’t too many other band opportunities out there. There are some professional jazz and musical jobs available, but again (they are) very competitive.”
The process of joining the Army as a musician is only slightly different from that of other enlisted jobs. Prospective candidates are put in contact with a band liaison for their respective region and are then given an audition of ceremonial, orchestral and pop music in order for the liaison to judge the musician’s versatility and ability to play the range of music that is required in the modern Army band field. Additionally, a piece of prepared music is given to the would-be Soldier just a day prior to their audition to determine how quickly and proficiently the candidate can perform a new piece if they are asked to do so in a hurry.
After passing their audition and subsequently joining the Army and completing basic training, the new Soldiers are then sent to Advanced Individual Training at the Armed Forces School of Music in Norfolk, Virginia.
Having a degree in music is not required to join the Army band, but it is encouraged. In the 1st Inf. Div. Band, 19 out of 27 musicians currently at Fort Riley have at least studied at the collegiate level with the unit boasting 17 bachelor’s degrees, eight master’s degrees and one Ph.D. student at nearby Kansas State University.
The competitive nature of the music industry, coupled with an overall decline in markets for classical music, has made the Army band an appealing prospect for many experienced musicians.
Playing for the Army bands is not only appealing, but rewarding to some who view it as an opportunity to grow musically and take advantage of opportunities not presented in a typical orchestral or symphonic setting.
“The symphonies are very competitive,” said Spc. Amanda DiClerico, a trombone player in the 1st Inf. Div. Band. “In addition to them just downsizing, a lot of musicians will stay there for their tenure, so you’ll have people that will stay there 30 to 40 years — that’s what makes it hard. In the military it’s great because we play a lot of different types of genres. Me personally, I don’t like to think of myself exclusively as an orchestral trombone player so to be able to play different genres: jazz, classical, different styles of contemporary music, is wonderful. So that was very appealing. That was another reason that I decided to join.”
Perhaps most important to the professional musicians who join the Army band is the fact that they get a significant amount of time to simply play music.
“I graduated college with a music industry degree, so I took both music and business classes,” Kelley said. “I started working for my local symphony orchestra, the Albany symphony. I also got into ticket sales and I worked for a sports arena. I also worked for a large theater in the box office. I did that for three years after college and I decided that I wanted to do more playing and that’s what brought me to the Army ... We do get to play a lot on average I would say that half the day is music so I really enjoy that.”
In the Army band, being a Soldier means doing more than simply playing music, it’s an advantage that can make members of the organization more dynamic than their civilian counterparts.
“I think the Army also pushes for individuals to be fairly well rounded,” DiClerico said. “They expect us to be at a level of athleticism. In the band we have collateral duties as well, so I’m a human resource specialist, I learned how to do that. There is a lot of cross training the Army expects and I think that’s very helpful.”
Members of the 1st Inf. Div. Band are quick to point out other bonuses to life in the Army band and as a result consider it an opportunity towards a career.
“I like the steady schedule, knowing what is coming up, I like keeping in shape — fitness has become important to me,” Kelley said. “When I first joined I didn’t expect to go longer than my four-year contract. Now that I am getting into it I think I could potentially make this a career. I still haven’t totally decided but I could see myself in the band for 20 years.”
For others, being both a band member and a Soldier has proven fulfilling enough to cement a career in the Army band, because of what they represent to the public and the professional responsibility that comes with their positions.
“I just reenlisted for another three years and two months, as of right now I do plan on making it a career, it’s a really rewarding job,” DiClerico said. “I definitely enjoy the musical side of things. That being said, I also like helping the unit, doing my particular jobs I have to do here. Tomorrow my group is playing for the Equal Opportunities observance. Being able to add our musical contribution, I think is really special. And to go to those little towns and kind of help and be a part of their parade, definitely the musical outreach is my favorite part of what we do.”
By U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Roach
Provided through DVIDS
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