Here’s a trivia question: name the world’s largest employer of musicians.
Give up? It’s the U.S. Armed Forces.
Musicians in the military! It’s a time-honored tradition.
Conjure an image of the bandaged fife and drum trio made famous in depictions of the Revolutionary War. The pomp of a military marching band. Or perhaps a lone bugler playing Taps at sunset on an empty parade ground.
Even the Bible mentions musicians playing their tribes into battle. Music has been intertwined with soldiers all over the world for centuries: inspiring or entertaining them, boosting their morale and boosting their image far beyond the barracks, in ceremonial events to impress and as a diplomatic tool to improve relations.
The U.S. Army Field Band, now in its 76th year, is the premier touring ensemble of the U.S. Army and has presented top-tier musical performances all over North America and beyond.
“We have this amazing opportunity to use this universal language to connect with Americans all across the nation,” said Staff Sergeant Kaci Lewandowski, a Juilliard-trained French horn player. “We have the opportunity to tell their story, and also to inspire people from coast to coast, and to show them that their potential is truly limitless.”
Sergeant Major Brian Spurgeon is the Army Field Band’s Percussion Group Leader, and acknowledged the recruitment message in the very act of performing: “What we do is an opportunity in the Army as musicians. It shows that the Army truly has so many different options and so many opportunities to serve your country, doing anything from playing your instrument to working computers – whatever you want to do, there’s a job for you in the United States Army.”
What might that look like for a military musician? Sergeant Major Spurgeon breaks it down:
“Our typical workweek at Fort Meade includes on average three to four formal rehearsals, from 9:30-12, but everybody rolls in an hour before that to get their equipment ready and warm up. At rehearsal we usually tackle material in our upcoming outreach tours. Occasionally we do special events, like a fireworks show in New York City for Macy’s. We did a month in Scotland last summer that included a lot of marching performances.
“After lunch, the majority of the soldiers in our unit have some sort of additional duty and the afternoon is reserved for that. Some serve on our public affairs and do social media, some are in production on video and audio projects, And then additionally, people take part in small groups, such as Brass Quintet, our brand new Woodwind Reed Collage. So, the small ensembles have rehearsal in the large space and prepare for their recitals and outreach.”
“One of the good parts is there’s no shortage of music – if you want to do more than just what the entire concert band is doing, there are many opportunities,” Staff Sergeant Lewandowski added.
There are also opportunities for side hustles, just like anyone in any job might pursue – one of the Army Field Band’s trumpet players has parlayed his love of comics into a healthy career creating multiple comic book series.
Sergeant Major Spurgeon estimates it takes about two and a half years of touring with the Army Field Band to visit all of the lower 48 states. He himself has been in 49 of all 50. “I haven’t played in Hawaii, but I have in all the other states plus Canada, Norway and Scotland,” he told us. “Over my 20-year career I’ve seen most states multiple times.”
The 2020 Grand Prize Winner of the Philadelphia International Music Festival’s Virtual Concerto Competition, Bensen Kwan, will be the featured soloist on marimba when he shares the stage with the Army Field Band March 23 in Newport News, Virginia.
The concert is part of the Army Field Band tour entitled “Heroes.” Staff Sergeant Lewandowski explained the theme.
“Heroes’ is our way of paying tribute to all the men and women who step up to serve their communities” she said, “whether it’s a first responder or a mother who loves her child or a veteran who served. It’s important to remember we all have what it takes to be a hero.”
The U.S. Army Field Band’s Spring 2023 Tour might be coming to a town close to you. For the audience, it’s a free concert featuring artistry from elite musicians trained at the top music programs in the country. For young musicians, it’s exposure to a professional musical organization with opportunities they might not have considered before.
Staff Sergeant Lewandowski is endlessly glad that she followed the path to a military musical career.
“The most surprising part that people find, I think, is that even though we wear this very distinguished uniform, we’re really just the same as the people in the audience,” she told us. “We want the same things, we have the same goals. The mission is to inspire people to reach for their dreams, because in the end we’re doing the exact same thing. The most surprising thing that I find is how honored I feel to serve my country while pursuing my passion at the same time. It’s a feeling unlike any other. The chance to travel the country and meet so many amazing people – it’s just something I feel so happy to do every single day.”