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The Road to Now

MSG Leigh Lafosse • America's MusiciansJanuary 2022 • January 19, 2022

Master Sergeant Leigh Lafosse

When I think about how I became a clarinet player for The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” I suspect my story mirrors that of many current professional musicians. My first exposure to music study was in elementary school with the magical Ms. McAdoo. I remember how her classroom was made of windows and light with a soft carpeted floor, and between the drama of discovering the story of Peter and the Wolf and the intense feelings of responsibility when it came to properly playing my recorder, her class always ignited my respect and imagination toward learning music. 

On the day we got to try different instruments at the end of fifth grade, I glimpsed an older girl wetting a clarinet reed and thought to myself “Wow. She looks so cool with that reed. I want to be like her.” (I was so naïve; how little I knew.) But that started me down the twisted road of reeds and squeaks, never to be rescued from the bane of cane. 

I had a great middle school band director–Mr. Neilson–and one of our class assignments was a metronome challenge to play all the scales at different speeds. I remember how my pulse would race as the key signatures grew and the keywork intensified. I loved the way it felt to unlock notes faster and faster, with the chromatic scale always coming in as my favorite. My competitive nature put me in the early running for first chair, and my initial rival and I learned how to navigate those sportsmanship waters by awkwardly courting at all the band dances. 

After studying for a couple of years, I started taking private lessons and then graduated to Kingwood High School, special in that they marched strictly military style. I passed out from heat on the first marching rehearsal (thanks Houston, Texas), and then went on to lead as the drum major my junior and senior years. I loved everything about high school band–my friends, the All-State adventures, my director, Larry Ward–this is when I obviously decided I would become a high school band director. But first, college.

I was lucky my parents supported the idea of a music degree and the plan was for me to attend University of Texas, my father’s alma mater, on a fairly substantial scholarship. Everything was in place until a motivational speaker presented to the senior class and opened with “How many of y’all are going to Texas A&M? (cheers) University of Texas? (cheers) How about Texas Tech?” At this moment my heart skipped, my eyes grew wide, and I turned to my best friend and said “I’m going to the wrong school. I have to go to Texas Tech.” I didn’t even know if Tech had a solid music program. (Spoiler alert-it’s like a beautiful musical oasis in the armpit of Texas.) I ran home, told my parents the ‘exciting’ news, and reached out to Tech’s clarinet professor at the time, Dr. Robert Walzel, who was an unbelievable advocate in drumming up some scholarship money to help turn what started as a heart flutter into a tangible reality. 

Dr. David Shea ultimately took over as the clarinet professor at Tech and helped me to complete my undergraduate and master’s degrees in clarinet performance in five years. He suggested I apply to Indiana University, Bloomington, to undertake a doctoral degree with Howard Klug where I ended up receiving a Chancellor’s Fellowship and serving as an associate instructor. Professor Klug was the strongest pedagogue I’ve ever encountered, and even though our time working together was not without its conflicts, I can safely say I would not be in this position if it hadn’t been for the education he provided. 

He was the person who put a career playing in military bands on my radar. I didn’t even know this was an opportunity to pursue. He was the one who encouraged me to apply, if only for the experience of helping teach future students how to prepare for military auditions. When the committee offered me the job, I thought I’d do my three-year enlistment and then go back to the world of academia, but here I am–15 years later–still proudly putting on the uniform. This place became my home, these became my people, and I am endlessly proud of how we use music in service to our country.

If I could do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing, and I love it’s all thanks to that cool girl who was quietly cursing a reed.

Thanks, cool girl, wherever you are! 

In 2022, The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own” celebrates the centennial of its founding. Visit www.usarmyband.com for a list of upcoming virtual events and links to all of our social media.

Master Sergeant Leigh Lafosse leads the educational outreach activities for The Army Band “Pershing’s Own” and can be reached at aubrey.l.lafosse.mil@army.mil.

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