PLAY MUSIC FOR A LIVING

This story replaces “Band”, published a couple years ago.

Enlisting in the military can open many great opportunities, for young people, but this particular endeavor is different from all others.


Seventh and Eighth Graders and High School Freshmen, who are starting in music, starting is the hardest part. It is something new, learning the basic steps of your instrument and basic music reading, but as you gain skill (practice a lot), you start really making music. Then it becomes FUN.

Band (music) is an elective in high school. The National Association for Music in Education list 20 benefits of studying music in school. It is also a skill, that not everyone possesses, and its’ FUN. For some, it could be the most important class they take in high school, because you could make your living, the rest of your life, just playing music. If you are in high school, in the band, you love music and love playing in the band, you could do that for a living, in the military.


If you are in an Army band, that is your primary duty. All you do is play music. You are still a soldier, you do PT (Physical Training) every weekday, you qualify with your rifle at least once a year, you have a PT test at least once a year, and you go through the gas chamber once a year, and you attend the same professional development schools every other soldier attends to get promoted, and you get promotions at about the same speed as other support jobs in the Army, but your duty that you perform every day is playing music. Within each Army band there are various ensembles, woodwind, brass, jazz, rock, etc.

An example of the schedules of the 399th Army Band at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and the 82nd Airborne Division Band at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Some part of them performs about every day. On Friday, the 399th Army Band Bugler might be at Gammon Field for the start of the Engineer Run, and at 6:00PM the jazz combo, fife, drum and bugler would be performing at the Engineer Regimental Ball. On that day, at 11:00 AM the brass quintet of the 82nd Airborne Division band will perform at the “Volunteer of the Quarter Ceremony”, at Hall of Heroes on Fort Bragg, at 6:30 PM, the jazz combo will perform at Movie in the Pines, Town Park, in Southern Pines, North Carolina, and at 7:00 PM, the rock band will perform at the “4th Friday Dogwood Festival”, at Festival Park in Fayetteville, North Carolina. Army bands travel.

399th Army Band Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri
399th Army Band in concert with the Missouri University of Science and Technology Band
82nd Airborne Division Band in concert
82nd Airborne Division Rock Band the Riser Burn

Riser Burn performing in Fayetteville, North Carolina

101st Airborne Division Rock Band The Big Five

US Army Field Band Woodwind Quintet

All branches of the military have bands. The US Army has 15 regional bands in the continental United States, plus one in Alaska, one in Hawaii, one in Korea, one in Germany, and one in Japan. There are also four “Premium Bands”, The United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own), The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, The United States Army Field Band, and the West Point Band. Competition to get into one of the premium bands is tough, they are the pros of the pros.

The United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own)


The Navy has nine bands in the US, one in Hawaii, one in Italy, and one in Japan. The Marines have eight bands in the US, one in Okinawa, and one in Hawaii. The Air Force has eight bands in the US, one in Germany, and one in Japan. The Air Force is much tougher to get into, because they send their music people directly to a band after basic training, whereas the Army, Navy and Marines send their musicians to music school after basic.

The process for getting into an Army Band is first see an Army Recruiter. First you must be eligible to join the military, height, weight, physical and medical condition, and ASVAB (Armed Service Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, and nothing derogatory in your background. If you are 13 or 14, and are not yet too overweight, don’t get that way. Being overweight is one of the biggest military disqualifiers. One of the things that puts a lot of weight on many young people, is soft drinks. Pepsi and Coke, and all related drinks are heavy with sugar. Find a tasty zero calorie water, they make all different tastes, and they don’t put on the weight.

There is serious competition to get into an Army Band. Many new music major college graduates go into the Army, but many high school graduates are also accepted, every year. Depends on how good you are.

The recruiter will contact the closest Army Band Music Audition Coordinator, who will contact you and request that you submit a recording and a performance resume as soon as possible. If the Audition Coordinator believes that you have the musical talent to be in an Army Band, he will tell the recruiter to “qualify you”. Then you take the ASVAB, a physical assessment test, a physical exam, plus have your medical records reviewed to see if you can enlist in the Army. When you are qualified, the recruiter will notify the Audition Coordinator that you can enlist.
The Audition Coordinator will then contact you to schedule an audition. The audition would probably be at your school, or a location convenient for you, they will come to you rather than have you go to them. That is not the case with the other services. The audition will consist of four areas; 1 – Ceremonial Music, the coordinator will send you a packet of ceremonial music to be prepared prior to your audition. 2 – Prepared Music, that is your time to show off, you should prepare at least three selections of contrasting styles to emphasize your technical, musical, and stylistic ability. These selections can be excerpts from classical solo repertoire, concert band or orchestra literature, or jazz/pop standards. You may ask the Coordinator for suggestions. 3 – Music Preparation, this portion of the audition judges how well you can quickly prepare music in the event you were called to sub on a gig with short notice. The evening prior to your audition, your coordinator will send you a packet of various styles. You will be responsible for preparing the music by your scheduled audition time. 4 – Additional Skills, Army Bands value additional skills that musicians bring to their organization. You may receive additional points on your audition if you choose to demonstrate any of the following; doubling, singing, or improvisation. You should ask your coordinator what would be appropriate.

The instruments are; Cornet/Trumpet, Baritone/Euphonium, French Horn, Trombone, Tuba, Flute/Piccolo, Oboe, Clarinet, Bassoon, Saxophone, Percussion, Keyboard, Guitar, and Electric Bass. The conductor of the audition will use a US Army School of Music Form to grade your audition. Your audition will be given a numerical score which will be reported to the School of Music, the Human Resource Command, and your recruiter. An audition is good for 45 days. You must either enlist or contract into the Future Soldier Program (it used to be called the Delayed Entry Program), within that time frame. If you elect a delayed program of 90 days or less, the Army Bands Senior Career Advisor will negotiate a unit-of-choice with you, in other words, you can pick your band, if there is a vacancy, if you go over 90 days you will be assigned according to the needs of the Army, in other words, no choice of where you may be assigned.

Because of COVID-19, auditions may now be performed remotely. That process may be started online at goarmy.com/band/auditions. Also, after the audition, all who have auditioned, with the same instrument, will compete for positions. Top score getting top slot.

I have seen pictures of high school bands playing with masks lowered, I have also seen some playing with split masks. Hopefully, you are able to keep up your practice, during COVID.

Basic training, is basic training, Infantry, Artillery, Armor, Combat Engineers, and Military Police have their own basic, everyone else goes through basic together at Fort Leonard Wood, Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, or Fort Benning, Georgia. Army Basic Combat Training is as tough now as it has ever been, since World War II. It is not harassment it is just physically and mentally tough training, to convert you from civilian to soldier. You may be a musician, but you’re still a soldier. After 10 weeks of Basic Combat Training, band people will attend the 10 week AIT (Advanced Individual Training) US Army School of Music at Virginia Beach, Virginia. That is Army MOS (Military Occupational Specialty) 42R, with a skill identifier according to your instrument. The school consists of small groups of 4 or 5 students with an instructor/mentor. There is lot of one on one private instrumental instruction, as well as music theory, sight singing and ear training, and group instrumental techniques. The primary mission of the school is to produce professional musicians.


When the headquarters of the 82nd Airborne Division deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the band also deployed. They played for the troops. The rock band which was formed from within the 82nd Airborne Division Band, “The Riser Burns”, was the most popular with the troops, and would sometimes fly to three locations a day to perform for the troops. Bands do go to war, but they don’t fight, they play music. The Army has protected its’ music people since the Revolutionary War, because bands are good for morale. About everybody appreciates music, and those who are good at it.

On Tuesday, the 22nd of May, 2007, the 82nd Airborne Division Band’s Woodwind Quintet, “The 5 Knot Winds,” once again traveled to HQ ISAF in Kabul. This time they were accompanied by the band’s show band “Level 82.” The group had five performances throughout the week. The main highlights from the trip included performances for the ANA band, Camp Phoenix, The US Embassy, HQ ISAF Christian Concert and a Memorial Day Ceremony.


Army musicians have a high reenlistment rate. What better job than to play music for a living. What do you make, in the Army? While in basic training and AIT, after deductions, you will have about $1,400 per month deposited in your bank account. Divided in half and paid twice monthly. By the time you get to your band, most soldiers are promoted to PFC (Private First Class) about that time, your take home pay will be about $1,650. Plus, you’re living free. You share a suite with a roommate, each has their own bedroom and share a bath and kitchen, and eat free in the DFAC (Dining Facility). At around 18 months in service, most make Specialist E-4, which makes the take home over $1,800 per month, and that includes contributing 5 percent of your base pay to a Thrift Savings Plan, which the government matches. The TSP can be rolled into an IRA, or 401K, when you leave the service. When you go over Two years, the pay goes to about $1,900 per month. A Sergeant (SGT) with over three years makes about $2,100, after deductions. How about a married Staff Sergeant (SSG), over six years, living off post, that’s about $4,500 per month, take home, plus health care for the family is free. A married Sergeant First Class (SFC) over 10 years, living off post takes home about $5,400 per month. Throw in the free health care, what you and the government are contributing to a Thrift Savings Plan, and all the other benefits of being a soldier, and that SFC is making the civilian equivalent of about $100,000 a year. Plus, most all of the SFC musicians I found had accumulated at least a bachelor’s degree in music, during their time in the Army. Some already had their masters, by that time.
Many musicians, who make a career of the Army, become warrant officers around mid-career, thereby becoming band leaders and directors.


Imagine this, play music for the Army for 20 years, retire at age 38, with a bachelor’s degree (at least) in music, an immediate monthly retirement check of around $2,000, almost free health care (about $550 per family, per year until age 65, then it is completely free), plus a few hundred thousand dollars in the government Thrift Savings Plan. You would have the experience for about any job in the music industry, and you would be highly qualified to teach music in any school.

If this sounds interesting, take high school band seriously.

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