Music, Culture, and Society (Or Why You Shouldn't Cut Military Bands)
Military musicians are not a waste of money
Posted Oct 15, 2010
I was saddened to read Walter Pincus's August article in the Washington Post which suggested that the Department of Defense cut military bands.
Not angry, not defensive. Just sad.
I am not an expert in military music. I can't quote the money spent on them nor the number of musicians employed by our military. But I can speak to the history of military music and the invaluable service military musicians provide today.
The intersection of music and military service has a rich history which began in the 16th century, if not sooner. Fife players marched alongside the army, helping to boost morale by playing songs from their homeland during long, arduous journeys. Drummers were also involved, using their beats to help companies march in time for many hours and for long days.
Later on, from roughly the 16th-19th century, military musicians would also be on the battlefield, using music to communicate by cueing drills and military executions.
Today, military bands perform a vital function not only for our armed servicemen and servicewomen, but also for our society. Music plays an important, and often overlooked, function in our culture. Music touches us emotionally, it touches our memories, it helps honor our country, and it helps strengthen our bonds as fellow Americans.
Need an example? Then try to picture the following:
- A 4th of July celebration...without orchestras, bands, and singers playing.
- Parades...without marching bands.
- Military funerals...without taps.
- Official state functions...without the "Star-Spangled Banner."
My grandfather recently passed away. Earlier this summer, I created a mix CD for him. It included his favorite piece (Claire de Lune), some "popular" songs from his teens and early 20s, and, since he served in the Merchant Marines during WWII, the US Merchant Marine Anthem. Guess which was his second favorite song? That's right...the Merchant Marine Anthem. It reminded him of his journeys overseas, brought back memories of his youth, and evoked thoughts of the friendships and bonds he had formed with his fellow sailors.
If that little recorded song helped my Grandpa, can you imagine the honor and happiness other servicepeople and veterans feel hearing "their" music at an event? How can that be a waste of money?
At my Grandpa's funeral, we were also fortunate enough to have formal Flag Presentation with Taps. There was not a single dry eye in the room when the bugler started playing. It was a beautiful way to honor my Grandpa's memory and his service for our country. Is that a waste?
But if Mr. Pincus is so worried about the money spent on military musicians, he needs to be reminded that they don't "just" play music and perform. Military musicians also perform other functions. My sister spent 4 years as a trombonist in an army band in Fort Drum, NY. Yes, part of her job was practicing, rehearsing and performing, but she also did traditional "office work" that had to be done to keep the base running and functional.
Now, I have no doubt that our military music programs will need to "trim the excess," just like everyone else. But it's not fair to our military, nor to our citizens, to suggest that military bands are superfluous and unnecessary.
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