Performing with Honor: Military Bands Inspire
On Veterans Day 2013, Army bands across the United States will perform nearly 50 concerts, from Oregon to Boston. Other ceremonies will be enhanced by musicians from the Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard.
While these musicians are helping recognize and honor military veterans, today we also wanted to salute the valuable contributions these music groups make to our nation.
Growing from Historical Roots.
American military bands started in colonial times, often leading columns of marching troops into battle. While that battlefront presence diminished, military bands today continue to enhance special occasions and ceremonies: command changes, visits by foreign leaders, funerals, promotions and other events.
Public concerts, including at sporting events, civic gatherings or schools, also serve an important public relations function – reaching a civilian population that may have no other direct contact with armed forces personnel. Military band outreach in schools includes offering master classes and other educational opportunities.
Today the five primary U.S. service branches together field 146 bands: 104 Army, 17 Air Force, 14 Navy, 10 Marine Corps and 1 Coast Guard. Many National Guard units also maintain bands. Their combined annual budgets exceed $380 million.
Saluting the 257th Army Band, Washington, D.C.
Four years ago, we visited this band’s headquarters. At that time, the unit had 51 soldiers, up from 17 in 2001. Officially recognized as The Band of the Nation’s Capital, the 257th is one of the busiest National Guard band units in the country due to the strong military presence in the D.C. area.
All members of the 257th play in the Concert Band, but they also break out into more than a half dozen Music Support Teams to meet the various smaller performance requests they receive. These teams included a stage band, woodwind quintet and a tuba euphonium ensemble.
Feeling the Budget Pinch.
Like other areas of the military – and indeed the entire country – bands are facing budget pressures today. Many outreach efforts and performances are being cancelled. For example, the Omaha World-Herald reported last month that a 26-year holiday tradition of downtown concerts by the Air Force’s Heartland of America Band will end this year due to federal budget cuts and sequestration rules.
Military bands are being challenged to do more with less. Forming smaller ensembles like Music Support Teams is one way to accomplish this.
Because of the dignity their music and presence provides at so many different events – inspiring veterans, active military members and the general public alike – we hope that military bands continue to play an important role in our nation’s future.