From Mean Green to Army Green: My Journey as a Musician

Staff Sergeant Trevor Duell • America's MusiciansJune 2023 • June 12, 2023

“Are you sure about this?” my mother asked with a slight twinge of worry. “We support your decision and are behind you all the way,” my dad quickly added. I remember the conversation as though it were yesterday. I was completing my doctoral dissertation at the University of North Texas and planning my next move. My journey as a trumpet player started the same way as so many others, but the pursuit of a career in music has been anything but typical. The thought that me – nerdy, unathletic, uncoordinated, goofy me was going to be an army musician would astonish even my parents.

I didn’t come from a particularly musical family. My first exposure to the trumpet was being roped into attending my older brother’s concerts (he played trombone) and occasionally seeing my dad’s old cornet in the basement. I was instantly captivated by the instrument. During the beginning 5th grade band “petting zoo,” I didn’t want to try anything else. The trumpet was my first, last, and only choice. My dad came home with a used Yamaha student trumpet from the local pawn shop, and I took to practicing immediately. Like so many others, my early days on the instrument were fostered and encouraged by a team of passionate band directors and private lesson teachers. Things changed for me in a big way during my sophomore year of high school. I took private lessons with a former member of the Maynard Ferguson Band. “You can major in music in college? You can actually make a career as a musician?” And I majored in music in a big way. 

After high school graduation I went on to earn undergraduate education and performance degrees (Fort Hays State University), a graduate degree in performance (Lamar University), and a doctoral degree in performance (University of North Texas). All the schooling brought with it the opportunity to broaden my horizons, meet new people, and explore musical genres. Becoming a college teacher in applied trumpet was the focus throughout the entire process. Auditioning for a military band had always been in the back of my mind, but that changed as I was wrapping up my doctoral studies in Texas. While pondering my life as Dr. Duell, I crossed paths with a colleague who had just finished his contract as a 42R (army musician). His stories piqued my curiosity. Once I found out that there was an official Army School of Music and positions available as trumpet instructors, I knew exactly what I was going to do next.

After completing basic combat training, at the ripe old age of 32, I immediately went on to additional training at the Army School of Music in Virginia Beach. During those 10 weeks I learned how to apply entertainment concepts in a chamber group, performed in a concert band and ceremonial band, and even had private lessons all coached by extremely qualified faculty. Although I enjoyed my time at the school, I was ready to get to my first band – the 1st Infantry Division Band at Fort Riley, KS. I had enlisted to see the world and ended up getting stationed just an hour away from my hometown. My parents, wife, and infant son were all glad we would be close together as we adapted to army life. 

The 1st Infantry Division Band and my second assignment, the 25th Infantry Division Band at Schofield Barracks, HI, provided me fantastic opportunities to perform and lead a brass quintet, play traditional concerts, take part in ceremonies, march in parades, and travel. I have performed in Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, Missouri, Wisconsin, Virginia, Maryland, and Hawaii. The highlight was a brief stint in Iraq, Kuwait, and even Syria. The 1st Infantry Division Brass Quintet was invited to play for deployed troops during the Christmas of 2019. During that time, we performed at embassies in Bagdad and forward operating bases across Kuwait and Iraq. We even boarded a Chinook helicopter and ventured out to more remote locations in Syria to spread a little Christmas cheer. I was flabbergasted when several special forces members saw ME as the cool guy and wanted pictures together. Not bad for a band nerd! 

I am currently serving as a trumpet instructor at the Army School of Music. I work with brand new army musicians as they prepare for their first assignments. Although military life is at times challenging, I am honored and humbled to serve my country through music. It is gratifying beyond words to represent the United States Army to the public. Whether it is swapping stories with veterans after a parade or sounding Taps as a part of funeral honors, I don’t regret going from UNT mean green to army green.

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