Veterans Day in Music

veterans-day-poster-2019-The Marlowsphere Blog (#145)

Monday, November 11, 2019 is Veterans Day. While Veterans Day is usually associated with those who have fallen in battle and those who have served their country, of men and women in uniform, weapons of land, sea, and air, and “the art of war,” the United States military is more than that. The various branches of the military—Marines, Army, Air Force, Navy, Coast Guard—also guard America’s walls through music.
This 2019 Veterans Day blog is dedicated to the men and women who not only serve in uniform, but also serve, not with a weapon in their hands, but with musical instruments. I have chosen this perspective this year because I am also a musician and a military veteran. I served as an Air Force historian for most of my four-year hitch during the Vietnam War era. I also got a lot more involved with music while serving my adopted country. (See Marlowsphere Blogs: Under the Influence of. . . Frank and Butch and Sonny and Rudy: Part I  and  Under the Influence of. . . Frank and Butch and Sonny and Rudy: Part II”.)

Each branch of the United States military has several bands—traditional military, ceremonial, classical, jazz, and in one instance, rock. Each musician is required to go through basic training and, if called upon, to carry a weapon. Even though it could be perceived that performing in a military band would not require as much training or discipline as in a civilian band, quite the opposite is true. Military musicians are held to a high standard. You just need to go listen to the many albums and performances these bands collectively have recorded and you realize very quickly the high quality of the performance.

What follows, then, are descriptions of the military bands by branch. Most of the material has been drawn directly from each military branch’s “band” website:

The Marine Bands

Established by an Act of Congress in 1798, the Marine Band is America’s oldest continuously active professional musical organization. Its mission is unique—to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Because of the demands of this unique mission, “The President’s Own” is known to have included strings when performing for major White House events as far back as 1878 and during the directorship of John Philip Sousa, composer of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” An orchestra taken from within the Marine Band also gave regular concerts at the Marine Barracks music hall in Washington, D.C., as early as 1893.

On April 14, 2019, the Marine Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Assistant Director Capt. Ryan J. Nowlin, performed Johann Sebastian Bach’s Suite No. 4 in D, BWV 1069; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 2 in E-flat, K. 417; and Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 103, Drum Roll. The concert took place at the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center at Northern Virginia Community College in Alexandria, Va. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Master Sgt. Kristin duBois/released)

The U.S. Marine Symphony Orchestra officially emerged as a concert ensemble under the leadership of William H. Santelmann, Marine Band Director from 1898-1927, composed of band musicians who doubled on a string instrument. The doubling requirement ended in 1955, and a chamber orchestra staffed by full-time string players was formed. That model has continued to the present and the musicians of today’s Marine Chamber Orchestra musicians hail from some of the nation’s most prestigious universities and conservatories. More than 60 percent hold advanced degrees in music. Musicians are selected at auditions much like those of major symphony orchestras, and they enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps for permanent duty with the Marine Band.

(Above photo: The Marine Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Assistant Director Capt. Ryan J. Nowlin. Photo by: Master Sgt. Kristin duBois/released)

Marine Chamber Orchestra musicians appear at the White House an average of 200 times each year, performing for State Dinners, ceremonies, receptions and other events of national significance. These performances range from small ensembles such as a solo pianist or string quartet to events that feature the full chamber orchestra, making versatility an important requirement for members.

In addition to its regular appearances at the White House, the Marine Chamber Orchestra performs concerts during both an annual showcase series and summer series. Performing a wide variety of music from the staples of the orchestral repertoire to modern works, Broadway and light classical selections, these concerts give patrons a virtual glimpse inside the Executive Mansion. The musicians of the Marine Chamber Orchestra are frequently highlighted in solo performances and also participate in chamber ensemble recitals and educational outreach programs that feature a variety of smaller instrumental groups.

The Marine Band performs a varied repertoire including new works for wind ensemble, traditional concert band literature, challenging orchestral transcriptions, and the patriotic marches that made it famous. The band frequently features its members in solo performances that highlight their virtuosity and artistry.

The Marine Band performs at the White House, at the Presidential Inauguration, State Funerals, full honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, and the Marine Barracks Washington, Friday Evening Parades. A 42-piece Marine Band is used for all Pentagon and formal military arrivals and patriotic openers for large events. Patriotic openers consist of 15 minutes of patriotic music, the presentation and retirement of the colors, and performances of the National Anthem and The Marines Hymn. Patriotic openers are performed throughout the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area at a variety of events for military organizations, federal agencies, and associations.


The United States Army Bands

United States Army bands provide music throughout the entire spectrum of operations to instill in American forces the will to fight and win, foster the support of our citizens, and promote America’s interests at home and abroad. The Army has 21 Regional Bands stationed around the country and the world. The mission of each band varies, but they often tour regionally and nationally to perform for the public during parades, concerts and other events.

399th Army Band Ft. Leonard Wood, MissouriThe United States Army has bands in various categories: Active Bands, Army Reserve Bands, and National Guard Bands. It even has its own music school, the United States Army School of Music located in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where musicians are put through a 10-week training course.

There are 15 Active Army Bands: 1st Armored Division Band (Fort Bliss, Texas), 1st Cavalry Division Band (For Hood, Texas), 1st Infantry Division Band (Fort Riley, Kansas), 3rd Infantry Division Band (Fort Stewart, Georgia), 4th Infantry Division Band (Fort Carson, Colorado), 9th Army Band (Anchorage, Alaska), 10th Mountain Division Band (Fort Drum, New York), 25th Infantry Division Band (Wahiawa, Hawaii), 56th Army Band (Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington), 77th Army Band (Fort Sill, Oklahoma), 82nd Airborne Division Band (Fort Bragg, North Carolina), 101st Airborne Division Band (Fort Campbell, Kentucky), 282nd Army Band (Fort Jackson, South Carolina), 282nd Army Band, Detachment I (Fort Gordon, Georgia), and the 323nd Army Band “Fort Sam’s Own” (Fort Sam Houston, Texas).


The United States Navy Band

Its mission is to provide musical support to the President of the United States, the Department of the Navy (DON), and other senior military and government officials. Through ceremonies, national and regional tours, public concerts, and recordings, the U.S. Navy Band inspires patriotism, elevates esprit de corps, enhances Navy awareness and public relations, supports recruiting and retention efforts, preserves the Nation’s musical heritage, and projects a positive image at home and abroad.

U.S. Navy BandThe United States Navy Band is the premier musical organization of the U.S. Navy. Comprised of six primary performing groups as well as a host of smaller ensembles, “The World’s Finest” is capable of playing any style of music in any setting.

Since its inception in 1925, the Navy Band has been entertaining audiences and supporting the Navy with some of the best musicians in the country. From national concert tours to presidential inaugurals to memorial services at Arlington National Cemetery, the Navy Band proudly represents the men and women of the largest, most versatile, most capable naval force on the planet today: America’s Navy.

One hundred seventy enlisted musicians, recruited from the finest music schools and professional musical organizations, perform over 270 public concerts and 1,300 ceremonies each year. In addition to their demanding performance and rehearsal schedules, band members are responsible for the daily administration of the organization, including operations, public affairs, a large music library, information systems and supply. As the Navy’s musical ambassadors, band members maintain the highest standards of appearance, military bearing and physical fitness.

The United States Navy Band, nationally and internationally, stands for musical and military excellence. Whether performing at Carnegie Hall, the White House or a rural civic auditorium; sharing the stage with Ernest Borgnine, Itzhak Perlman, Branford Marsalis or Vince Gill; or appearing on television programs like “Today,” “Meet the Press” and “Good Morning America” and in films like “Clear and Present Danger.”


United States Air Force Bands

Air Force Strings: The Air Force Strings is the official string ensemble of The United States Air Force. Stationed at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., it is one of six musical ensembles that comprise The U.S. Air Force Band. The Air Force Strings consists of 20 active duty Airmen musicians performing a wide range of musical styles, from classical symphonic selections and Broadway show tunes to classic rock, bluegrass and patriotic compositions. The ensemble often entertains audiences at high-level military and government events in a formation known as the Strolling Strings. Providing a multi-dimensional experience, the instrumentalists surround the audience performing from memory without the aid of a conductor.

The Airmen of Note is the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Air Force. Created in 1950 to continue the tradition of Major Glenn Miller’s Army Air Corps dance band, the current band consists of 18 active duty Airmen musicians including one vocalist.

The Ceremonial Brass is the official ceremonial ensemble of The United States Air Force. Featuring 38 active duty Airmen musicians, the Ceremonial Brass includes brass and percussion instrumentalists, a bagpiper and a drum major. The ensemble provides musical support for funerals at Arlington National Cemetery in various configurations to include 16-member ensembles for full-honor funerals and individual buglers to render taps. Additionally, the Ceremonial Brass supports state arrivals at the White House, full-honor arrivals for foreign dignitaries at the Pentagon, patriotic programs, and change of command, retirement and awards ceremonies.

The United States Air Force Concert Band is the premier symphonic wind ensemble of the United States Air Force. It is the largest of Air Force’s six musical ensembles. Air-Force-Band-Collegiate-SymposiumFeaturing 53 active duty Airmen musicians, the Concert Band performs throughout the United States via biannual tours, live radio, television and Internet broadcasts, as well as at local concerts across metropolitan Washington, D.C. Additionally, Concert Band members perform in smaller chamber ensembles at official military and civilian functions, education outreach events and local concert venues.

Max Impact is the premier rock band of the United States Air Force. This six-piece band performs classic and current rock and country hits, as well as patriotic favorites and original music. Through national tours, local performances and digital audio and video recordings, Max Impact showcases Air Force excellence to millions each year. Back at home, they support events for the White House, State Department, Department of Defense and numerous other high-level military and civilian functions, using music to advance international diplomacy with America’s allies and strategic partners.

The Singing Sergeants is the official chorus of the United States Air Force. Featuring 23 active duty Airmen musicians, the Singing Sergeants presents more than 200 performances annually performing a wide range of musical styles, from traditional Americana, opera, and choral standards to modern Broadway and jazz. The Singing Sergeants regularly perform with their instrumental combo and in smaller configurations, such as duets, Barbershop quartets and specialized musical ensembles, at military and civilian ceremonial and diplomatic functions, education outreach events and local concerts throughout metropolitan Washington, D.C.


The United States Coast Guard Band

The United States Coast Guard Band is a military band maintained by the United States Coast Guard. Established in 1925 and classified as a “premier ensemble”, the Coast Guard Band is stationed at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut and is responsible for providing musical support to the Coast Guard Academy’s corps of cadets, as well as other official Coast Guard events and ceremonies. During the summer months it undertakes national and international tours to promote the Coast Guard.

As of 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard Band is the Coast Guard’s only professional musical ensemble (a second branch band, the U.S. Coast Guard Pipe Band, is an auxiliary-staffed organization).

In 1989 the Coast Guard Band became the first U.S. military band to perform in the Soviet Union and, in 2016 the Coast Guard Band performed at the debut of “The Finest Hours” at Mann’s Chinese Theater, the first time the band had performed at the debut of major motion picture.

In late 2015 the Coast Guard began another study about the feasibility of relocating the band from its traditional station in New London, Connecticut to Washington, DC. The proposal to relocate the band has been opposed by United States Senator Richard Blumenthal.

Almost all personnel of the Coast Guard Band are assigned to the ceremonial and concert bands, the group’s primary performance units. The band, however, maintains several chamber music groups to provide specialized performance capabilities to which some personnel are co-assigned. This includes a woodwind quintet, a brass quintet, and a jazz band.

According to the Coast Guard, competition for its limited vacancies is fierce, and many new Coast Guardsmen enlisting as musicians are conservatory-trained with degrees from elite institutions including the Juilliard School, Eastman School of Music, and the New England Conservatory. A number of its members also perform with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, the Hartford Symphony, and the New Haven Symphony.

Operationally located at Leamy Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (New London, Connecticut), the band has billets for 54 instrumentalists and command staff, and one vocalist.

Eugene Marlow, Ph.D. teaches courses in media and culture at Baruch College (City University of New York). He is a four-year United States Air Force veteran who served during the Vietnam War.  He co-founded the Annual Veterans Day Luncheon at Baruch College, CUNY in 1998. He is a composer/arranger of approximately 300 pieces of music, 32 albums and single tracks, and founder/leader of the Eugene Marlow Heritage Ensemble.

© Eugene Marlow 2019

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