Calling All Orchestra Musician Veterans

Who out there knows what conscription is? Now, how many of you know what sort of impact conscription had on the US orchestra field? My guess is not very many of you raised your hand and among those who did, you’re probably over age 58. Okay, the rest of you can go ahead and Google it, then come back. [Before they return, let me say that you’re one of the lucky ones for already knowing]…

Now that we’re all back and everyone understands that conscription in the US is the same thing as “the draft” and that up until it ended in 1973 it had as much, if not more, impact on aspiring and emerging orchestra musicians as inadequate career preparation has today.

While attending a Music of the Baroque (MOB) concert earlier this week, I ran into former MOB concertmaster Elliott Golub backstage and the combination of that plus Veteran’s Day made me realize that it was high time bring this topic up. The reason why Elliott got me thinking is because he served as the concertmaster of the 7th Army Symphony in 1957 and 1958.

There’s a reason why you need to know about the 7th Army Symphony but I’m not going to tell you. At least, not right now. Instead, I’m sending out a call to every orchestra musician and manager (retired or active) that served in a US Armed Forces band or orchestra to write in and describe how conscription and US Armed Forces bands and orchestras influenced your career.

This particular topic has been a passion of mine for decades and it never ceases to amaze me how many incredible careers were influenced (and in some cases launched) by conscription yet how little anyone under age 58 know about it. Simply put, it would be a shame for all of this to become a faint historical footnote.

We’re at a unique period of history where we’re starting to lose many of those with personal stories to tell so I’m hoping this will be the impetus of something much larger. So if you or someone you know has something to contribute, encourage them to leave a comment, send me an email, or even get in touch through Facebook and let’s see where this can go.

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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10 thoughts on “Calling All Orchestra Musician Veterans”

  1. Thanks for a thought-provoking little Friday surprise! I had not ever thought about this, and until recently never knew the impact the WPA had on the formation of orchestras in some communities. Funny how even those of us who technically “know better” at some level still don’t always make the connection looking back on these events.

  2. I’m 56 (born in 1954) and even though the draft was over by the time I was of age (and I got a high lottery number) by 1968 I started to play the bassoon; my teacher was in the Army Field Band at Ft. Meade, Md and it was he that put the bug in my ear that playing bassoon would be a great way to avoid the front line. This scheme was one discussed by many of my classmates, at the Interlochen Arts Academy especially. One of the trumpet players at IAA ended up in the Army Band in DC that played for all the big funerals; he played for Reagan’s funeral, Ted Kennedy, etc. Good topic, Drew!

  3. I was drafted into the Army in 1953 while the Korean “War” was still on. Fortunately, I wound up in the 7th Army Symphony – a State Dept. propaganda machine – playing concerts in my young 20s all over Western Europe in such places as Berlin, Paris, Munich, Hamburg, Lyon, Strasbourg, Vienna, Salzburg, Rome, Milan and other locales.

    I’d like to point out two books having to do with the 7ASO – the first: Uncle Sam’s Orchestra: Memories of the Seventh Army Symphony, by John Canarina. The second, a book I helped to organize a part of about a conductor who got his start conducting while I was there: Kenneth Schermerhorn: He Will Always Be the Music, by Martha Rivers Ingram with D. B. Kellogg. Readers will recognize the Schermerhorn name as that by which Nashville’s Symphony Hall is called.

    The 7ASO has a website that might be of interest:

  4. the honolulu symphony (I’ve been a member since 1985) improved in quality & expanded its repertoire during wwII due to the many military musicians who played in the orchestra when they were based in hawaii. the wife of music diector at the time, fritz hart, wrote of the war years: “Fritz had the finest orchestra ever assembled here during all his years as conductor. A lasting memory is the evening six ‘cellists turned up, all eager to join the orchestra. All sections of the orchestra were augmented by these fine service musicians, all keen to play.”
    some fascinating history relating to this subject can be found here:

  5. A sad bit of information to all 7th Army Symphony members from the son of Bill Merrell. Bill passed away on June 19th, 2006 after a three month battle with cancer. Throughout his life he looked back on his years with the 7ASO to be among the proudest and most memorable times of his life. I have not had the heart to contact other members until now, and for that I am deeply sorry. Long live the 7ASO

  6. my father William W. Ulrich played in the seventh army symphony orchestra in 1958. He played at the worlds fair in Belgium. He played oboe, french horn and I believe he said initially a drum. He met my mother in Stuttgard on a hot summer’s day by the swimming pool. They came back to america and have been married ever since I am trying to write their story my mothers during wwII and then her life after as a refugee and all that it implies and my fathers growing up during depression, father with polio, yale school of music and many very sincere and very funny stories of his days with all of you. The boot camp stories are hysterical but as I sat and listened to the beautiful music you all played I just want this magical time to be remembered if anyone remembers bill ulrich do not hesitate to email me and if you don’t remember him but maybe his friends bill hudson and sheriden let me know. Its a way to keep history alive it’s so very important. Thanks to all of you and God bless america.

  7. Drew, for over 30 years in writing about Classical Music , I have researched,interviewed, and written about countless
    Musicians , including their experiences during wars. However, in following your piece’s lead, I am not going to tell you anything, except it has been and continues to be a theme of great interest to me.
    The stories are often unbelievable, funny, difficult,and awe-inspiring. Yes, and G-d Bless all of you. Any further information is always welcome!
    There is a terrific account about Heifetz’s overseas trip to perform for the troops. I am sorry, but I don’t know how to attach it to this comment.

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