Why Yes, You SHOULD Care About Military Bands

The 7/11/2016 edition of NonprofitQuarterly.org published an article by Sophie Lewis (h/t Joe Patti) that examines the value military bands add to the national cultural scene and why you should care that some in congress are attempting to all but eliminate funding for the entire program. Lewis’ article joins another exemplary piece of writing from Dave Philipps in the 7/1/2016 edition of the New York Times. In that article, the author goes into considerably more detail covering what the bands do, the diversity among musicians, and their key role in cultural diplomacy.

Adaptistration Guy 005I spent the last two years of high school, at the height of the cold war era, living in the Virginia side of Washington D.C and studying with the principal tubist of the United States Air Force Band. That exposure, along with being fortunate enough to perform alongside and learn from numerous military musicians through a myriad of local gigs and ensembles, provided a special opportunity to learn about a culture most in the classical music field tend to miss.

Consequently, I found the closing paragraph from Philipps’ article particularly striking.

“Military bands are a critical part of operations,” said Mark Wright, a Defense Department spokesman. “They inspire, they build a rapport with our citizens and foreign nations. The types of operations we do may be hard to understand, but everyone understands music.”

I could go on (and on) about my personal experiences and even provide a comprehensive history of military and music (I wrote two papers on the topic during my undergraduate years for military sociology and civil war history courses), but I would rather you spend the time helping make sure US Armed Forces military bands don’t become a historical footnote.

Here’s What You Can Do

In order to overturn the efforts from House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee members Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM), and Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) which successfully added an amendment to the 2017 defense appropriations act that all but guts the entire military music program, you need to:

  • What: contact both of your Senators and ask them to do everything they can to remove this amendment from the appropriations act.
  • When: ASAP!
  • What to ask: Strike Section 10010 from S 3000, or keep the language out.
  • Contacting Senators: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact.

If successful, the discrepancy between the two versions of the bill will end up in a conference committee, where Senators and Representatives meet to resolve disagreements on a particular bill. This is the stage where you need to keep up pressure on your Senators and your Representative to leave out Section 10010 and to continue to allow the DOD to fund military musical unit performances.

  • Contacting Your Representative: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

If you’ve already contacting your Senators, that’s terrific! Now you need to continue reaching out to them as many times as you can work into your schedule. Following up is a crucial step in the process; the more frequent the communication, the better the chance of success.

If You Have Some Additional Time…

I strongly recommend you read a wonderful article by composer Alex Shapiro for the American Composers Forum. I can’t think of a better article for those inside traditional orchestral classical music to better understand just how important military music program is and how much our field would suffer if their funding is gutted.

The brass name plate on the door declared, “COMMANDER.” As I entered, my eyes grazed a wall of framed, autographed photos featuring highly ranked officers. Bookshelves held an assortment of reading material, CDs, files, and a few mementos of stuffed animal toys. A combat helmet casually rested atop a coat rack in which camouflaged jumpsuits hung next to civilian clothes. I was inside the Fort Monroe Army Base in Virginia.

How did I, a chamber-music composer, end up here?

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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2 thoughts on “Why Yes, You SHOULD Care About Military Bands”

  1. A BIG thank you for this article from another retired military musician. (U.S. army). We MUST get the word out to put a stop to this. The public will lose SO much, and the defense budget would NOT really be effected by this!

    Darla Wilmot
    SSG USA Retired

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