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You have a face for flute.” – Technical Sergeant Cara Dailey

SBO Staff • America's MusiciansDecember 2023 • December 11, 2023

Technical Sergeant Cara Dailey never expected an auspicious assessment by her elementary school music teacher would cultivate her love for music as well as share it with audiences and students as far and wide as possible. Her musical journey took her from Texas to the Midwest and back to make and teach music and raise and support her growing family. Real-life family decisions paved the way for her to sign in at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., and begin her career with The United States Air Force Band.

Growing up in Arlington, Texas, Sgt. Dailey grew up with an equal passion for orchestra and wind ensemble repertoire, thanks to her love for the flute. Pursuing a life of music was in the cards from the start.

Sgt. Dailey’s musical path circled twice through Baylor University. First, as an undergraduate student in the studio of Helen Ann Shanley, she enjoyed performing in both the wind ensemble and the symphony orchestra. She thrived while performing the music of the foremost living composers today, such as Steven Bryant, John Mackey, and Joel Puckett. From there, her graduate studies continued at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. The legendary baton of Mallory Thompson solidified her love for wind ensemble life, always keeping that career path open and alive. Her time in the studios of Walfred Kujala and John Thorne taught her “professionalism, audition techniques, and the ability to learn and manage large quantities of repertoire ranging from classical to contemporary. “It honed my musicianship and ensemble skills immensely.”

Aside from Sgt. Dailey’s love for performing, connecting with flute students through teaching has always motivated her. Once she completed her graduate studies, joining the teaching consortium at the University of Evansville provided her immediate opportunities to perform and educate others, connecting with music students throughout southern Indiana. After four years, new opportunities arose for her and her band director husband, Steve.

Baylor University encouraged Steve to apply for their vacant Assistant Director of Bands position, an opportunity they could not pass up. Despite the joy their musical lives held in Evansville, the Daileys found themselves again in Waco, Texas, this time with their two-month-old daughter and a new role for Cara.

“I went from employed musician to stay-at-home mom. Thankfully, I could stay connected to the flute community by teaching at McLennan Community College, leading master classes and flute pedagogy at Baylor, and a semester of teaching at Texas Christian University.” In addition, she freelanced as much as possible, citing performances of Copland’s Symphony No. 3 and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Alabama Symphony as personal highlights.

Her time in central Texas provided rewarding experiences, but she also felt professional challenges shared worldwide. After spring break of 2020, Sgt. Dailey innovated her teaching methods by leading flute pedagogy on paper towel rolls. Not ideal for a driven educator and flute fanatic. “I had to figure out how to make a virtual flute pedagogy course effective, informative, and memorable. Without instruments available for students, I had to get creative to give them the tools they would need to teach their first beginning flute class. Through it all, the students impressed me with their determination and engagement.”

Although their second run in Waco had its ups and downs (“College students babysitting my kids while I taught was not a sustainable life,”) Cara and her husband remained set on one mutual goal: to be musically employed at the same time and place. Motivated by her love for wind ensemble music and her admiration for military bands, she worked focused practice sessions in-between the hustle and bustle of freelancer-life, teacher-life, and domestic-life. The hard work paid off, earning her a seat in the Concert Band flute section of The United States Air Force Band in Washington, D.C.

Since joining the Band in 2021, Sgt. Dailey has accumulated several musical highlights and endless rewards. Not only was she delighted to work with guest artists such as composers Christopher Tin and Andy Akiho and piano soloist Michelle Cann, but she continues to maintain her connection to the vibrant flute world. “I love talking with band directors and interacting with students at our performances. I enjoy being part of the educational outreach team that creates opportunities for the band while on tour. It’s truly an honor to interact with the music educators who start us on our musical paths.”

There is no singular path to a position with our nation’s premier military ensembles. Sgt. Dailey’s journey is one of many. Thanks to the support of her family—her husband (now teaching and loving his position at a nearby middle school) and her growing family—she is honored to represent our active-duty Airmen around the globe and to realize the dream of achieving a career in music.

Music.af.mil/USAFBand

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