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Music in the military: it's about influence.

Music and the military have a long and very distinguished partnership. Many academic articles and much research have been done on this fruitful relationship. There are general assumptions about the mission of music in the military, but they usually are vague. Ceremonies, troop morale and entertainment are the three that most often come to mind. While it is very true these are objectives all military musical units fill, they are only a small part of the mission. While I can speak in general terms about military music with some authority, I am more comfortable speaking about music in the United States Air Force (USAF).

The first paradigm shift is to think of "music" in the military, not just marching bands. As such, one gains a broader view of using music as a tool and not as an end in itself. Music supports the larger mission of the USAF by preserving and promoting our national heritage through a variety of musical products. Team work and communication are keys to success. To be effective and reach the largest audience, all tools of technology and communication must be employed. Each and every performance displays the core values of the USAF--integrity, service and excellence. When one views Air Force musicians in action, these values become immediately apparent.


First, we must establish what music does to make it so effective as a tool of influence. Music surpasses speech by establishing a communicative connection between people that involves the basic senses common to all, without resorting to sounds unique to any one race, ethnic or social group.

USAF musicians connect disparate peoples by establishing commonalities on an emotional level--not intellectual. This is the real strength and reason for music in the USAF. The better the musical product (performance), the more influence is projected. There also is a concept of "transference." Simply put, if one sees and hears a performance (any medium) by a USAF musical organization, the listener will associate/transfer the excellence of that performance with the quality of work being accomplished by the entire USAF. Of course, this concept applies to a variety of situations and work environments.

Many tangible things take place in this process. Certainly, there is enhanced morale of listeners (troops), family and friends that equates to esprit de corps and retention for the USAF. With the "tingle factor" in place (a great performance), music inspires. This inspiration influences parents, relatives and certainly encourages youth to serve their nation. Inspiration takes many forms, but quality leads to trust--"If it is this good, how good is everything else?"


USAF musicians are trusted agents nonverbally communicating the values Americans embrace. They send messages through quality performance and symbols, our flag and the uniform for example, to the world about democracy, diversity and excellence. This ability to project values through music, associated with symbols, strengthens the reputation as a good neighbor that is a respected professional organization responsible for national security. That is no small task.

Let's continue to look at the big picture of what it means to be a member of the USAF Music Program. A member of one of these elite musical ensembles will promote American pride and patriotism, communicate our national heritage and link that to the future. He will represent the highest standards of military deportment and musical performance, which demonstrate personal and organizational integrity and technical competency. A member of the USAF Music Program will be in a synergistic environment that converges the collective efforts of all toward the greater whole while being responsive and sensitive to the individual.

The USAF Music Program hires and trains musicians to provide a broad variety of musical products in various mediums. With those skill sets, the USAF Music Program can respond quickly to various needs and requirements of the customer. This expertise allows all ensembles to create a specific performance to meet the customers' needs and exceed their expectations. It is all about customer satisfaction. Yes, this is a business model. This kind of production is the sum total of an environment that expects and fosters cost-effective productivity. Members grow in musical and management expertise that pursues excellence, innovation and cutting-edge technology. Status quo is never accepted as progress, but the concept and implementation of continuous improvement of individual performance, concerts, shows and events are always in play.

What is the organizational structure of "music" in the USAF? Musical products all fall under the term "band." However, one must think of "band" as a generic term, not a performing group, covering many types of ensembles and musical products. The various ensembles within a "Band" certainly vary based on the needs of the area. Here is a list of generic ensembles that will be common to most USAF Bands.

* Concert Band: performs concert, patriotic and popular entertainment music for civic events and concerts, as well as educational concerts, at the high school, college and university levels

* Marching or Ceremonial Band: performs for military ceremonies, parades and civic events

* Jazz/Show Band: performs music ranging from big band, dance and jazz orchestras for colleges, civic concerts and festivals

* Popular Music Ensemble: performs a variety of popular music to include rock, Top 40, country and "oldies" for recruiting, community concerts and authorized official functions

* Chamber Ensemble: performs a variety of music using a small instrumentation in concert settings for both military and civilian audiences

* Protocol Combo: performs background, dinner and dance music for official military social functions

* Individual Musicians: buglers for funerals, solo vocalists, pianists or other instrumentalists perform for official functions or ceremonies


With each of these ensembles, one must think "opportunity." As a member of any band, one has the opportunity to participate in two or more ensembles that represent the military to the American public. Many of these events are national in scope. Over the past few years a member of one of the USAF Bands or ensembles might have participated in the following:

* The Singing Sergeants performing on the David Letterman holiday show

* The Singing Sergeants performing the National Anthem at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl

* Airmen of Note and High Flight from the USAF Band deploying to the Middle East in support of U.S. troops stationed there

* A performance of combined air force bands at the Japanese Military Band Festival at the Budokan Theater

* Celebrating 100 years of manned flight with an original musical "Born of a Dream" by the USAF Band

* The Band of the USAF Reserve performing for deployed troops during the holidays with Operations Seasons Greetings--with guest artists

* An annual performance by USAF Band's Ceremonial Brass on the Today Show on July 4

* A combined active duty and Air National Guard band leading the 2003 Tournament of Roses Parade

* Performing with the USAF Band, the American Bandmasters Association, Texas Bandmasters Association and National Band Association and numerous state conventions

* Performing for the U.S. presidential inauguration

Each of the USAF Bands has a distinguished story to tell that carries great history and tradition. As a career field of professional musicians, the USAF offers about 900 positions (jobs). These are coveted positions in the music industry. As with any business, positions open when a vacancy is created through retirements after a minimum of twenty years of service or separations following an enlistment (usually four years). Below are a few statistics regarding retention for Fiscal Year 2002. "First Term" applies to the first four-year commitment for the enlisted force; "Second Term" applies to those enlisted members in their second four-year commitment; "Career" applies to those from the eight-year point to twenty years.


First Term: 61 percent

Second Term: 73 percent

Career: 95 percent

USAF Band Career Field:

First term: 67 percent

Second Term: 92 percent

Career: 94 percent

It is obvious these figures tell a very significant story. These are great jobs with qualified people (airmen) doing worthy work for our nation using their expertise as musicians. Again, they are military members first, using only cutting-edge technology, equipment and expertise to influence public perception by great performance.

Each year the USAF Band presents a Guest Artist Series in Washington, D.C. at Constitution Hall. This tradition is now in its fourth decade, featuring entertainers of national and international renown performing with various units of the organization. One very popular guest was Keiko Matsui, who returned for a record four consecutive appearances. Following each performance, a reception hosted by the Japanese. Embassy was held for her. It is at this event that something very special happened.

In attendance were many influential and important people. This event was co-sponsored by the Canon Corporation with all its associated leadership--CEO, CFO, VPs and so on. From Japan were the ambassador of Japan to the United States, plus embassy leaders and the military leadership of Japan assigned to the Embassy. From the USAF were the Secretary of the Air Force, the Chief of Staff, the Vice Chief of Staff, the Assistant vice Chief of Staff, the Commander of the Chief's Own, plus many public affairs people. To say this was a high-level event would be an understatement

I made a few statements and presented Matsui the higher award available from the USAF Band in Washington, D.C. Then the ambassador came to the microphonne for his remarks. After making many pleasant comments, he asked, "I play clarinet; can play in your band?" I smiled, because this again brings home the point that many smart people have a background in music. If you want smart people who can think, educating them musically at a young age is a good way to do it. The, ambassador's comments solidified that concept perfectly. However, he was not done. The next question he asked was profound on so many levels: "lf the United States Air Force Band is this good, how good are your pilots?' Wow He got it! I looked at the Secretary of the USAF, the Chief of Staff and the others. They were beaming. The ambassador understood that when this level of quality, precision and performance was expected and demonstrated by the USAF Band, it had to be the same for the pilots--world-class professionals who do the job right the first time.

If one wants to perform at the highest level, serve the nation, do worthy work and be respected, this is a career to be considered. Yes, it is all about influence.

Lowell E. Graham serves as chair of the music department at the University of Texas at El Paso, where he holds the Abraham Chavez, Jr. Professorship in Music. He assumed this position on his retirement as the commander/conductor of the United States Air Force Band in Washington D.C. At his retirement, Graham was the senior ranking musician in not only the United States Air Force, but the entire Department of Defense.
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Author:Graham, Lowell E.
Publication:American Music Teacher
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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