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Military bands

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by tww001, Nov 27, 2003.

  1. tww001


    Aug 13, 2003
    Telford, PA
    I didn't know where else to put this...

    I've been thinking about trying to get into a military band after I graduate from college. Does anyone have any experience playing in the military? I play mostly jazz (very little electric and even less arco). Are there any positives or negatives about going into a military band? It seems as if the benifits are great, non-stop playing, and chances to travel. It sounds like exactly what I want in my life, but then again it's the military, is the surface appearance decieving?

    Any advice, comments, or randomings are welcome (and appreciated)
  2. mchildree

    mchildree Supporting Member

    Sep 4, 2000
    If Pacman doesn't reply soon, you might PM or email him directly...he has served in military bands in two different service branches (if I'm not mistaken), and is presently in an Air Force band. The experience certainly shows, too...he's a smokin' player.
  3. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Thanks for the kind words, Mike - I'm not too sure I'm comfortable with 'smokin', but it's very nice of you to say.

    Where to start? Well, first of all, I've spent a total of over 16 years in military bands, in two services, so you can guess that I've like my experience so far.

    I started as an electric bassist in the Army band. No upright asked, none required (that's changing, but the Army is still really only interested in electric players). I played a LOT of jazz, but I played all sorts of things - Rock, country, pop, etc.

    I'm now in the Air Force - and it's a completely different animal! The Air Force has a real string bass requrement (I won my gig on the strenght of my electric playing, but was told I'd have to learn upright). I'm playing in the big band - 95% upright. The Air Force is paying for my lessons with a symphony player, as they have with local jazz player. I run a jazz quartet, play electric in a horn band. I couldn't be happier.

    Things you should understand about military bands: First thing - music is not the only thing you will do!!! Everything that it takes to keep a military unit running (supply, finance, cleaning, booking gigs, driving trucks, loading trucks, etc, etc) has to be accomplished by the musicians themselves. So that means everyone has an "additional" duty. For some, that could take up more of your time than others - usually the higher in rank you get, the more your additional duty will demand of you. This is true for all the services.

    Second, depending on which service you join, your band might have a combat mission, too. Particularly the Marine Corps and the Army - there are 4 or 5 Army bands in Iraq right now, as well as at least one Marine band. I'm really unclear as to the Navy's role (but I do know that they are musicians first and foremost). The Air Force has no combat mission, due to the extremely small size of the program.

    Are there positives and negatives? There are in any job, don't fool yourself. But some of the best positives for me are the fact that you get paid whether there's a gig or not, a good portion of your income can be tax free, health and dental benefits, playing with some good musicians (in the Army - ask me offline), playing with GREAT musicians (in the Air Force), the travel (I've lived in Arizona, Hawaii, Atlanta, and San Antonio - I've played in Puerto Rico, about 40 states, been to Canada, and will live in Japan before my ride is over...), and after 16 years, the pay is finally pretty good!

    Negatives? Sometimes your "other" job seems more important than the music. Sometimes the other musicians I played with just didn't care about playing well, or getting better (army). You never get to decide if you want to play "God Bless the USA" again or not - you're gonna play it!:D

    If you're a really advanced player, there are "premier" bands in all 4 services (mostly based in the Washington, DC area - but also one in Colorado, one in New York) where a lot of what I said doesn't apply (and they pay better!), and you might be able to get into one of those.

    I highly recommend service bands, with the caveat that they're not for everyone. But they've sure been good to me.
  4. tww001


    Aug 13, 2003
    Telford, PA
    Thanks for all of the advice! you've given me a lot to think about, but luckily I still have a few years to decide before graduation.
  5. Very interesting read Pacman. Thank you..
  6. mpm


    May 10, 2001
    Los Angeles
    Hey, Sgt. Lou.....you've must have something to add here.
  7. Ditto. I'm a fan of the big bands, have read and heard stories about the wartime AEF bands, I've never known anyone with first-hand experience in service bands. I'd be interested to hear more.

    I'll bet Mr. Packard could tell a million stories- some good, some ugly...
  8. Things have changed a lot in the Army bands since I was a member back in the stone age. When I was in, ALL of the army bands required you play (atleast) one double. If you played doublebass, you were usually expected to play tuba. Electric bass was something you only played on your off hour gigs if at all. One of my unfondest memories as a draftee E3 PFC was having to teach string bass to a bunch of career army tuba players all of whom outranked my by atleast 2 stripes. That probably why I haven't wanted to teach bass since.
  9. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
  10. I think Pacman nailed just about everything! Since my job has only been with one of the Army special bands (West Point), I'm not sure I can add much, but here goes:

    As Pacman said, there are positive and negative aspects of a military gig, just like any other. I remember my bass teacher in college telling me to be aware of the "grass is always greener"syndrome when it comes to work, and had many stories of symphony players moaning and complaining every day about their jobs! What I tell people when they audition is, if you can enjoy the good parts of the job and let most of the bad stuff roll off your back, you'll do fine. If you want a detailed list of the good/bad, let me know off line. I can go on for days!

    One thing to think about is that there is a college loan repayment plan-if you have federal loans, they can be paid back, up to a certain level, depending on which band you are able to get in.

    Also, don't forget basic training (boot camp)! With the exception of the Coast Guard Academy Band in New London, CT, and the Marine Band in Washington, DC (the President's Own), we all get to go to basic training for 6-8 weeks. Unless the rules have changed, you are not allowed to bring your instrument-you're way to busy playing army to practice, anyway! Then, for the Army and Navy, after you've completed basic, you then go to Norfolf, VA to the School of Music. It's a very intense school where you learn theory, writing, take lessons on your main instrument and possibly a double, along with more military training. Then you get shipped off to your first assignment. However, if you're joining one of the special bands (Washinton, DC area, West Point, and I'm not sure about the Naval Academy), after basic you go straight to the band.

    Don't forget marching! Because of what we do with the cadets here at West Point, I think we tend to stress our marching more, but I know that the bands "out in the field" do more than their fair share. As bassists, we have to double on another instrument (I really get tired of all the bass wheel jokes that go on around here). When I first got here, I was told I would play cymbals, but then someone in the office noticed on my college transcripts that I minored in tuba, so I got stuck carrying a sousaphone around for about ten years, then my back finally gave out. I switched to euphonium for a couple of years and when the oboe player who doubled on cymbals finally retired, I was able to make that switch. This definitely is the toughest part of the gig, but our marching schedule has slacked off a lot in the last few years. ( I don't want to talk about Army football)

    One last thing. if you decide to go for this, do not sign anything from a recruiter until you've had an audition!!! I had a student (before I was in the Army) who wanted to join an Air Force Band after high school. He signed his papers, then auditioned, and didn't pass the audition. Since he had already "signed on the dotted line," he was stuck. When he came to me for lessons, he was a file clerk at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. I think he was the most motivated student I've ever had! It all worked out in the end-he reauditioned, got in an Air Force band, got out, went to L.A. and studied at B.I.T., graduated from there, and last I heard was doing very well.

    Hope some of this helps. Just don't be afraid to ask questions, no matter what you decide to do!

    Lou Pappas
  11. Pacman

    Pacman Layin' Down Time Staff Member Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 1, 2000
    Omaha, Nebraska
    Endorsing Artist: Roscoe Guitars, DR Strings, Aguilar Amplification
    Lou - off topic, but would you ask Laura Bradley to get in touch with me?
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