U.S. Navy Music Program

Mike Lawson • Performance • September 1, 2002

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The U.S. Navy is looking for a few good musicians. With six 45-piece “large fleet” bands and two 35-piece “small fleet” bands stationed throughout the United States, as well as three overseas bands, the Navy Music Program is constantly seeking the nation’s finest wind, brass and percussion players to serve the country through music. Like the Army, Air Force and Marines, the Navy fields its own ensembles to perform at military functions and special events. But, according to Gary Seitz, director of recruiting for the Navy Music Program, the Navy ensembles differ from those of the other military branches in that their primary mission is music.

“In the Navy Music Program, you don’t do anything but music,” he explains. “In the Marine Corps and the Army, the musicians are soldiers first. They hit the fox holes and the music is secondary. But in the Navy Music Program, we do music, period.”

The musicians in the Navy bands function as a wind ensemble and marching band, and many players are also involved in smaller groups, such as a woodwind quintet, a rock band or a Big Band.

“A trumpet player, for example, could potentially in the same day pull a wind ensemble rehearsal, a brass quintet rehearsal and have a jazz combo gig in the evening,” Seitz points out.

The large fleet bands’ instrumentation consists of a bandmaster, an enlisted bandleader, an operations chief, two unit leaders, two flutists, one oboist, four clarinetists, one bassoonist, four saxophone players, two French horn players, one euphonium player, five trombonists, two tuba players, two guitar/auxiliary percussion players, two percussion/drum players, three keyboard/auxiliary percussion players, two electric bass/auxiliary percussion players, two vocalist/auxiliary percussionists and one sound engineer. The small fleet bands have a bandmaster, an enlisted bandleader, an operations chief, one unit leader, one flutist, three clarinetists, four saxophone players, five trumpet players, one French horn player, one euphonium player, four trombonists, two tuba players, two guitar/auxiliary percussion players, two percussion/drum players, two keyboard/auxiliary percussion players, two electric bass/auxiliary percussion players, one vocalist/auxiliary percussionist and one sound engineer.

A Navy musician’s career begins just like that of any professional performer: with an audition. By visiting the Navy Music Program’s Web site (www.bupers.navy.mil/navymusic/index.aspx) or contacting a local Navy recruiter, prospective candidates can locate their nearest audition site. The audition consists mainly of performing a prepared piece, playing with the band or other available players (and soloing, in some cases), sight-reading and demonstrating a mastery of scales and chords.

On average, the Navy accepts about 100 new players each year from a pool of an estimated 400 candidates, depending on vacancies and the proficiency levels of those who audition, Seitz notes.

“We’re looking for players who want to be professional musicians – that’s number one,” he says. “We’re looking for qualified players. It does us no good to have an oboe player in a band who’s not a first-chair oboe player. That’s where our standard is. We need first-chair players. We need people who can play the gamut and conceptually understand different styles.”

Once an applicant has auditioned and enlisted, the next step is eight weeks of boot camp. But, Seitz emphasizes, it’s not the brand of boot camp popularized on the silver screen.

“Boot camp’s the standard thing. People tend to think of boot camp as a nightmare. It’s not the Marines, and it’s not the Army – it’s the Navy, and it’s not the crawl-through-the-mud-under-the-barbed-wire kind of boot camp.”

Following boot camp is 20 weeks of intensive instruction at the Navy’s School of Music, which includes academic classes like theory and harmony classes, private lessons, and instruction and rehearsals for all of the ensembles.

“It’s nothing but music. When I think back almost 30 years ago when I went through that school – what I would give for that opportunity again,” Seitz acknowledges. “To have six months to do nothing but practice and take private instruction, and get paid for it? It really is a wonderful opportunity.”

Navy musicians begin with a four-year commitment and the option to sign on for additional service and transfers. In the U.S., the large fleet bands are stationed in Newport, R.I., Norfolk, Va., Jacksonville, Fla., Great Lakes (near Chicago), Ill., San Diego, Calif., and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Small fleet bands are located in Millington, Tenn., New Orleans, La., and Seattle, Wash.

No matter where they are stationed, Navy musicians have a full schedule of rehearsals and performances.

“The bands rehearse as much as they need to. If they’re not gigging, they’re rehearsing. They put in a full day,” Seitz points out.

As a Navy musician, Seitz toured out of Hawaii and visited much of Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Caribbean as well as the East Coast. Along with the travel opportunities come the other military benefits: full dental and medical insurance, and 30 days’ paid vacation per year. The GI Bill and other tuition assistance, plus the potential for bonuses and college tuition reimbursement, are also available to Navy musicians.

“Where else can you do nothing but play and have the kind of benefits the military has to offer? Symphony players don’t have it this good.”

Traditionally, the Navy Music Program has recruited heavily at the high school level and at four-year colleges, but has found in recent years that two-year colleges are a more “fertile ground” for new recruits.

“We want to find people who are more interested in finding that career position,” Seitz says. “Most four-year graduates of a music school are either interested in teaching, furthering their education or looking for that glorious gig in the sky. We’re looking as much at the community colleges as anywhere. Those students are more vocationally focused. Their staffs are generally more interested in finding their students jobs and we’re interested in hiring people.”

Seitz noted that graduates of four-year colleges are more apt to join the Navy Music Program once they’ve been out of school for a few years.

“By then, they’ve either found out they really don’t like teaching, they’ve had enough of that grind, or they’ve auditioned for symphonies for three years and not gotten hired, and they’re looking for some employment in the music business.”

For more information about how to apply and audition for the Navy Music Program, visit www.bupers.navy.mil/ navy music/index.aspx.

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