Happy Memorial Day

Whether you’re home enjoying the day with family and friends or your orchestra is putting on a performance today, try to take a few moments to remember the reason for the holiday. Also remember that the single largest employer of full-time professional musicians is the United States Armed Forces and get this: the Armed Forces spend more on music than the government allocates to the NEA. What sorts of conclusions can you draw from that?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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6 thoughts on “Happy Memorial Day”

  1. Both Shirley and I remember our Fathers with great pride on this day. Shirley’s Dad, who just recently passed away at the age of 88, was quite the warrior who survived not only Pearl Harbor, but Midway and Okinawa as well.

    My Dad began our family’s tradition of serving as a Military Musician as a clarinetist with the 4th Regiment Marine Band in Shanghai back in the 1930s. I am alive today because he was fortunate enough to make it out of Shanghai on the last boat before the Japanese fully occupied the city. The rest of his Band comrades left behind perished in a Japanese POW camp.

    Thirty-five (or so) years later I was fortunate to serve our country in a similar way as Timpanist & Coast Guardsman with the Armed Forces Bicentennial Band, a joint-service unit created by the Pentagon to help celebrate our national two-year long celebration. It was an honor to carry on the tradition my Father began, and to participate in the long healing process our nation endured from the grueling Viet-Nam debacle. (It was also great professional experience for a young ‘buck’ starting out a performing career.)

    One thing armies have known since the early days of battle is that music can stir the soul, whether on a battlefield, a parade ground or in a concert hall. Our armed forces have traditionally invested heavily in their music programs because they know they reap great ‘return-on-investment” when it comes to PR and the morale of its citizens: both in and out of uniform.

  2. Our military bands may be the last bastion of serious band music. Yeah, we have community bands, and some of those are pretty good, but professional bands are virtually extinct. So if you’re so fortunate as to have a military band playing a concert in your home town today, go out and listen to them. They’ll provide music worthy of your applause.

  3. Drew, I wonder if you could provide the funding numbers (NEA vs. Armed Services music expenditures), preferably with citations. I’ve forwarded this info to a couple of places, and have run into skepticism (which I don’t personally share). Thanks.

    • The NEA figures are available here while the military band funding is a bit less straightforward since there’s a need to consider items the Department of Defense doesn’t necessarily include in budget figures, such as music schools, musician benefits, GI bill appropriations, etc. You have to digging around in Department of Defense budget figures to start piecing things together.

      However, I ran across an AP article a few years back from 1997 that quotes a figure of $168 million for band funding via four branches of the military. Of course, I’m assuming that didn’t include the Coast Guard, which also maintains a number of band activity and full time musician personnel.

      What’s more, the military band figure cited in the AP article outpaces the NEA spending from the same year by just over $68 million. Granted, that was during a period when NEA funding was at its lowest in the past few decades but the highest NEA appropriations since then was 2010 with an estimated figure of $167.5 million. When you look at the larger picture and take into account that the 2009 Armed Forces budget was $680 billion, it would only take less than 0.0003% of that to outpace the most recent NEA figure.

      I know it can be tough to imagine, but the largest single employer of full time musicians in the world is the U.S. Armed Forces. If nothing else, this little fact helps keep me sane when I watch congress fight the culture wars.

  4. What conclusions do you draw, Mr. McManus?

    Here are mine:
    When something has been long established, it is harder to terminate it, especially if it is not seen as a politically partisan hot potato and its proponents are an organized force accustomed to putting up a fight.

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