The Other Music Education – Being a Military Musician

All my life I’ve been asked about my level of education. How much college do I have? Where did I attend college? Who did I study with? Well the answer is I got the other education.

I joined the Army after a month of fun. I graduated high school, took a month to get myself together and then off to Ft. Leonard Wood for basic training. Since I already had skills as a musician, I entered the Army at an advanced rank, which put me ahead the others with respect to responsibility.

After basic training, the next step was the Naval Amphibious School of Music where the Army, Navy and Marine musicians go to study their craft. At the time, it was 6 months of intensive music training. Playing in concert bands, big bands, individual private lessons, learning music theory, ear training and of course, Military marching techniques.

Most of the playing part of the school was exposure to the “required” performance pieces that most Americans are familiar with. If you’ve ever seen a Military Band concert, you’ve heard exactly what I am talking about. Development of sight-reading abilities was of extreme importance. The instructors would make you aware of the need to play everything on the page. From dynamics to articulations, he/she would point out your every mistake.

As a group and at times as an individual, if something sounded “off” about the performance, it would halt the rehearsal. Corrections were made and you were expected not to repeat the error. Concert band and Jazz band (Big Band) were similar but a little more “give” in Jazz band.

Jazz band literature, with its particular articulations, had a bit of flexibility. Interpretation of dots, accents, doinks and drops were explained but sometimes left to the lead player with respect to the length of the articulations.

After graduation from the School of Music, you are assigned to a band and sent on to the real world application of all that you’ve learned. Similar to college graduation, you learn it and then you live it.

Once you get settled into your assignment, it is up to you to maintain and advance your skills, taking in “words of wisdom” from your section leader, group leader and those appointed above you. If your skills are up to it, you will eventually find a band outside of the Military band where you can perform and learn a different level of musicianship.

With arts in public school getting cut at a dramatic rate, the government is now making cuts to Military bands. If you can’t afford a college education, talk to a Military musician about their experiences. The number of positions is dwindling; if you have the discipline and basic skills, get in now while the gettin’s good.

If you have any questions please leave them in the comments section below or message me on my Facebook page!!

-Frank Valdez - MU Columnist

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