“Be All You Can Be”: The Army Field Band and my 7 stages of grief

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I have experienced the full gamut of the grief experience as this blog post has been brewing inside of me for the past month.  I can remember the first time I saw the posting:

U.S. Army Field Band – Harp/Piano

My heart sank.  Not because I dream of being a military harpist, but from seeing yet another full-time harp position go the way of the dodo bird.  I know that I am not the only harpist out there who has seen this posting and felt this way… I have heard from many of you as I reached out to get opinions, ideas, and suggestions for this blog.  I have my own opinions about this, which have morphed over time and through getting to speak with some of the people directly and adjacently involved with this decision, and we will get to that.  But first I ask you try to see the bigger picture here.  It is easy to be mad at the people who made this decision, to curse the ensemble that would dare do away with the harpist, but I think that there is something bigger at play here in our field: relevance.

Dodo Bird

Dodo Bird

How many of you that teach harp at universities have tenure-track jobs?  Do you remember when a full-time second harpist in an orchestra was a thing?  Heading out for tea?  Don’t expect to see a harpist in most cities… those jobs are disappearing left and right.  I don’t say all of this to be a negative… but rather I hope to bring recognition to the fact that we must fight to remain relevant in a world that is changing all around us!!  This goes hand in hand with my last post and is something that has been plaguing my mind recently.  How do we find a way to ensure that we don’t become old-fashioned; that in 50 years kids will still want to start playing the harp?  I don’t have any answers… yet… but I am hopeful.  I see the good work of harpists around me and I thank my lucky stars to be a part of such a vibrant community, but there is always more to be done.

“Be All That You Can Be”

When I say that I went through the 7 stages of grief after learning about the U.S. Army Field Band position I am serious.  My arrival at ACCEPTANCE & HOPE was aided greatly by the many people who were willing to speak with me throughout this process.  This topic is a complicated one… and I aim in this blog to represent the issue in as clear and un-bias a way as possible.  I welcome any thoughts, feedback, or questions in the comments below or through email at: kfinchharpist@gmail.com.

Stage 1: SHOCK & DENIAL

I was on my way to see a movie when I first came across the U.S. Army Field Band job listing.  My initial thought was: how could this be?  How could they get rid of their full-time harp spot, and where do they think they are going to find this person who will be able to fill the role of concert pianist AND harpist?  I was pretty shocked.  A good friend said to me “The next U.S. Army Field Band job listing will be for French Horn Player/Tornado Chaser?”  Funny, I thought… but this must be a joke.

Stage 2: PAIN & GUILT

This, it turns out, was not a joke.  Stage 2 is probably the stage I relate the most closely to… but perhaps for not the typical reasons.  I have no pain or guilt over the fact that I never auditioned for the job when it was available, or will never have the opportunity now… rather it is for all of the harpists coming out of Bachelor, Master, and Doctoral programs, eyes to the sky and looking to make their print on the world.  I have only been out of school for two years… but that time has taught me more than a few harsh lessons about the reality of being an adult, and the loss of this job a loss for all of us.

The U.S. military is one of the few institutions that provides steady, reliable work for musicians throughout the world.  I have more than a handful of friends who have accepted these positions and continue to thrive through this work opportunity for years, or have chosen to take the 4-year required enlistment time to save money, grow a family, and then go out into the world to shape the minds of young musicians, have outstanding performance careers, and teach at some of the best institutions of higher learning that this country has to offer.  I felt, and feel, a visceral pain at the thought of the harp performance major just coming out of school in the search of steady work only to find what little there once was is quickly disappearing.

Stage 3: ANGER & BARGAINING

I spent a long time in this stage.  This was around the time that I started asking others for opinions regarding this matter, primarily on Facebook and through personal emails.  So many people expressed the same shock and anger that I had felt.  “How could they do this to us?” I asked myself, “Don’t they know how important this job is?!”  Thank you to everyone who fanned the fire in this stage, because without the anger and passion you stirred inside of me I never would have made it to acceptance.  Through this anger I made the decision to attempt contact with the auditions coordinator of the U.S. Army Field Band: MSG James Woods.

I went into our phone meeting ready to give this man a piece of my mind.  I was ready to tell him what a mistake they were making, and how he, personally, was disrespecting the art of playing harp by suggesting that it wasn’t worthy of a full-time position.  Our conversation lead me straight into the next and worst stage…

Stage 4: DEPRESSION, REFLECTION, & LONELINESS

MSG James Woods surprised me from the start.  Throughout our conversation he expressed genuine sadness at the situation in which the U.S. Army Field Band finds itself in making this decision and at the stir it has caused in our community.  He told me that he himself is a trumpet player and that he understands the importance of a job like this to our field.

Colonel Jim R. Keene

Colonel Jim R. Keene

When I asked him about the 2014 posted audition for full-time Harp that was canceled he explained that the decision coincided with the instatement of the new Commander for the U.S. Army Field Band, Colonel Jim R. Keene.  Previously in command at the West Point Academy, Colonel Keene is known for shaking things up, and making changes that often favor audience engagement rather than tradition, as I was told by more than one friend who is in a military band.

Unless, of course, you only play the harp...

Unless, of course, you only play the harp…

Of course, everything is tight right now.  Just like every person, institution, and business in the world the U.S. Army Field Band is expected to tighten their belt in lean times.  MSG Woods explained that they were given a reduced number of billets (or positions that can be filled in the band, regardless of instrument) and the decision to hold an audition for Harp/Piano had come out of a great need for another pianist on staff.  That their current pianist is far over-stretched, having to perform not only with the concert band, but also with the Soldier’s Chorus, as well as fulfilling their extra duties.  Not only that, but the harp is historically under-utilized in this ensemble, often only performing on the opening number on a concert.  Also… did I mention that the ensemble tours at least 100 days out of the year, in this country and abroad?  MSG Woods was also sure to mention that during the summer all concerts are outdoors (a harpists dream).

Our conversation ended with MSG Woods, sadness in his voice, expressing the concern that if they weren’t able to find the right person it was likely that the harp position would be done away with completely. The darkness descends.

Stage 5: THE UPWARD TURN

Missy DunneAfter speaking with MSG Woods I was pretty depressed about all of this.  I was at a point where I no longer thought I would even be able to write this blog, and that all of the time I had invested into research, interviews, and thought had been wasted.  Then along came Missy Dunne.  Missy served as full-time harpist for the U.S. Army Field Band for 14 years, and for that reason has A LOT to say about the job.  When I asked her if she felt the band warranted a full-time harpist she said:

“NO… When we go on tour we play 4 concerts and switch them out every night, there were many concerts where I would only play 1 tune the whole gig!!!!  The band has its own arrangers, but they do not put out good harp parts. I gave them a harp scoring book and tried to help, but I constantly got bad harp parts.  I was given everything from celeste to banjo parts and it was assumed because I play a string instrument I could play guitar parts or what have you. One day I had BOTH parts for Daphnis and Chloe on my stand… so I was supposed to play harp 1 and 2 (in the band key and sight reading) for a rehearsal.”

In regards to the outdoor concerts while the band is on tour, Missy said:

Oh Kristina.. the harp and the outdoor concerts. That’s probably my biggest complaint that I had with the Band. The harp sits on a NON climate controlled truck for the entire tour…. so it bakes in the heat all day long everyday and then continues to bake in the sun when it’s set out at the concert venue. It was always a fight (14 years of the same complaints from me) that the harp shouldn’t and CAN’T be used for the outdoor concerts. The band naturally goes sharp in the heat, and as you know, the harp goes flat. During some outdoor concerts it honestly sounded like I was playing in a different key, the harp was that flat. If I had stayed in the band, I would have come to some kind of agreement with the Command that the harp shouldn’t go on summer tour. It’s not like the National Symphony who keeps the harp in a climate controlled environment and then moves it to a location (under cover) for the evening. The band usually performs in direct sunlight.  I think as the only fixed pitch instrument that has to be tuned, versus percussion instruments, no one really understands other than a harpist. Many times I was asked to take the harp off the truck, put it in the shade and then quickly tune it and move it to the “stage” right before the concert. The section leaders and command staff do NOT have any idea how the harp works and assumes it can just be tuned “really quickly” then moved into the sun and sit for 30-40 minutes before you play and it will magically still be in tune. Tuning with the band was a GIANT issue. The harp always sounded flat and I was looked at like “can’t you just tune it real quick?”, mind you, you are trying to tune while sitting next to 14 clarinets and 7 trumpets blasting away right next to you and you can’t hear the harp AT ALL.”

To end out conversation, Missy had to say:

The job in the Army Field Band could be the BEST job in the world, as a musician and performer…. yet with the circumstances and complete mis-understanding of the instrument…. it’s not yellow brick road to happiness in employment. There are many challenges and many expectations of the harpist that are just completely un-realistic for even the worlds greatest harpist/pianist… but I doubt there is even such a player.”

It might surprise you that this conversation was what brought me to my upward turn.  Missy didn’t have anything good to say about this job, and perhaps it was for this reason that I started to feel a little better about this job posting.  I wouldn’t touch this job with a 20 foot pole before, and even more so now that I had this information about the requirements and hardships put on the harpist.  Maybe we are losing a job… but who would want to do this anyway??

Step 6: RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH

Armed with this new information I felt I might finally be ready to put something down about this job posting.  I was feeling like the U.S. Army Field Band was maybe doing us all a favor.  I made the decision at this point to reach out to as many harpist/pianists as I could find willing to speak with me in order to put this job into a little more perspective for myself.  Was this job even appealing to harpists who are also pianists?  Missy had revealed the true nature of the job to me, but it was at this time that I became aware of the fact that there might still be that person out there for whom this would be the perfect job.

I heard back from three harpist/pianists who were willing to speak with me about this job opening:

Given the job description and pay is this a job you would have ever considered taking at any point in your career? (Pay is apx. $60k/yearly)

Betsy FitzgeraldBetsy Fitzgerald
“Just out of college, I would probably consider this position because it appears to be a very solid, permanent position that has a great salary compared to my other options. Those options would include gigging (i.e. weddings, etc.), per service orchestra and church work, teaching, etc., income that isn’t completely reliable and consistent. The benefits also seem great, especially the opportunity to fully retire in 20 years with full pension, which would have been around 42 for me.

Now that I’m older and also have considerable knowledge of how the military music organizations work, I would definitely pause before applying. First, it is very apparent that these are two full time positions merged into one, and that it would be a physically demanding job to be switching back and forth from piano to harp. Even with the steady income and benefits, it would be a hardship to be gone on tour so much particularly if I had a family and any outside performance work or teaching I may consider would not be feasible due to the very fluid schedule. I also would worry about the “other duties” assigned, which often turns into a desk job of some sort that takes up valuable practice time.”

Kristen Agresta CopelyKristen Agresta Copely:
“Yes, I would have considered this position earlier in my career, perhaps just out of grad school or in my 20’s. It’s not a job I would relocate for at my current age or stage.”

Jessica Frost BallasJessica Frost-Ballas:
“…In the more rural area where I’m currently living that is a very reasonable salary especially considering the benefits that come with the job. It is possible to make an equivalent salary teaching privately; however, it is not easy. I am very thankful to have large private studio (and great benefits via my husband’s employer) but I know other teachers in the area have struggled to make a living and support a family.”

If the audition tape is due on March 4, is there a reasonable amount of time to prepare the required tape materials on both instruments?

Kristen Agresta Copely:
I believe there’s reasonable time to prepare an audition tape on both instruments, particularly if the musician is actively working/performing with both harp & piano.”

Jessica Frost-Ballas:
I think it’s a doable audition list for someone who keeps their performance levels at both instruments very high (and also has a background in jazz piano). I do play both the harp and piano but they’re not at equal performance levels as I chose to focus mainly on harp in college and I did not study jazz piano at all. Again there is probably a musician out there who is capable of doing all of those things but certainly not as many as those who focus on one or the other.”

Betsy Fitzgerald:
“The time line for the audition tape is not ideal, particularly because of the need to include accompaniments with a soloist. I think it is safe to safe the ideal candidate for this position would be a very strong harpist who happens to also have strong piano skills and I think it would be safe to bet that that person uses those piano skills teaching and maybe playing solo gigs. I doubt they may be actively accompanying and if so, it may not be repertoire that would be right for this audition tape. If it was only a harp audition, I think it would be enough time as those are common things that should be in the fingers of harpists looking for work. For a pianist, I would say that the solos would be easily doable but again, the works with another musician would complicate matters.”

Any other thoughts in general about this audition/job opening?

Jessica Frost-Ballas:
“I feel like there are plenty of very talented pianists who will be unable to audition as they don’t play the harp and plenty of talented harpists who will be unable to audition as they don’t play piano. I’m sure there are musicians who could do both but they’ve definitely narrowed the applicant field.”

Betsy Fitzgerald:
“I think it is very rare to find someone that excels at the same high level on both harp and piano. Many years ago, I would say I kept my skills at the same level but as you age and prioritize your life, you must find a life/work balance and you will be required to choose where you spend your time. I do know that in the working world, it not uncommon for a job description to be altered when a specific candidate is in mind. I am not sure if that is the case here but it certainly makes me wonder due to the tight time line and the specific requirements for both classical and popular/jazz experience on the piano.”

Kristen Agresta Copely:
“In general, I have always been excited about opportunities to play both harp and piano! I would definitely audition for this if it were at a different point in my life/career.”

Step 7: ACCEPTANCE & HOPE

This brings us to the final stage in the grief process.  If you’ve made it this far in the blog (I know this is a lengthy one…) I hope that you have come to the same conclusions that I have:

  1. It’s truly a shame that this position be combined with piano, and they will likely have a great deal of trouble trying to find the perfect person for the job.
  2. The vast majority of people in and around the U.S. Army Field Band are just as bummed as we are about this turn of events.
  3. This is a crazy job that would require the most flexible, patient, willing human on the face of the planet…
  4. Although it is likely that this whole debacle will blow up in their faces, I honestly and genuinely hope that it doesn’t.  I hope that there is a person out there who reads this blog and thinks: “I could do that!”
A possible solution?? Its a piano? NO! Its a harp? NO! Its a Euphonicon!!

A possible solution?? Its a piano? NO! Its a harp? NO! Its a Euphonicon!!

I have hope.  MSG James Woods was sure to mention that it would only be a few more years before the Command was rotated again, and that perhaps the next person might re-instate the harp as a full-time position.  Whether that happens or not it is our job now to ask ourselves: where are the jobs going?  What can we do to make ourselves valued more?  What can we do on a day to day basis to insure that we remain relevant in this ever-changing world?

Harpists are some of the most creative people that I have ever come in contact with (we have to be!)… and it to us all that I issue the challenge of finding a way to engage more with our communities, and fight to keep our craft as alive and vibrant as it is today for future musicians and audiences.  Like I said at the start of this blog, I don’t have any answers… I am seeking to start a discussion, and spark the flame of creativity, entrepreneurship and hope in our beautiful, diverse, and vibrant community.

Do you have thoughts on this U.S. Army Field Band posting?  Comment below and keep the conversation going.

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Miami based Dr. of harp, gown-addict, lover of bulldogs, and fitness enthusiast.

8 Comments

  1. I was the harpist with the West Point Band for two enlistments in the late 80’s. I actually won the assistant principal flute job right out of undergraduate school, and began taking harp lessons on an instrument the band owned that no one had played on for over 20 years, and within a year or so was playing some intermediate literature with the band with the help of weekly harp lessons from a great local teacher and hours of practice, in addition to my flute practicing, on a daily basis. I remember being in college and wondering why there were always openings in the service bands, which led me to believe that they were probably not ideal jobs for musicians (high turnover). What I can tell you is this:

    There are many fine musicians in these groups. My fellow flutists and my woodwind quintet that I played with were some of the most talented musicians I ever had the chance to work with. That being said, there was a lot of “dead wood” as well…players who were looking to scoot by with as little effort to maintain their musicianship as possible, put in their 20 – 30 years, and start collecting their pensions. The good players sought each other out, and did chamber music concerts to keep their playing sharp and enjoy performing good literature well.

    The conductors ranged from absolute idiots with no business being in front of professional musicians to dictators, both benign and grotesque. The conductors do not have to audition for the premiere bands like the musicians in the premiere groups so. They get bounced around from line band to office job to premiere band based on their rank. Their bosses are not musicians; they are armed services personnel, and as long as the band sounds decent, is not fat, and keeps their shoes shiny, that’s as far as their concern extends for the quality of the performers. I remember getting yearly performance appraisals, and noting that about 5% of the rating was based on musicianship. The rest was based on how cheerfully the “soldier-musician” did menial tasks like mopping floors and raking leaves, completed Army correspondence courses, and helped with office tasks. I was told that things like chamber music concerts were something selfish that was done for one’s own self, and if I really wanted to help the organization, I could help plan the Christmas party.

    We did a lot of marching, as the Band was there to support the corps of cadets. The hottest and coldest I’ve ever been in my life was doing a cadet march in during August, and sitting in the football stands for Army-Navy in Philadelphia in December, playing the Army fight song and Alma Mater.

    Don’t expect to be playing great literature. You may do an occasional serious piece of music, or an opera overture transcription, but it’s mostly marches, patriotic pop tunes, and schlock, to keep the audiences happy. The big event of the year was the 1812 Overture on Labor Day weekend with real cannons. No one came for the great music…it was the loud boom they wanted to hear.

    The daily level of ridiculousness (mostly from terrible leadership) that I had to bear just came to be too much for me, so I left after my second enlistment. How many musicians do you know that give up a full time paying gig without any other job to go to? I was glad I made that choice, although I had a number of colleagues stick it out for 20 years or more, but the stories I heard through the years would make may jaw drop every time. On the upside, I completed two graduate degrees (music and business) while stationed with the Band with the Army covering 90% of my tuition, and I learned to play harp as well. So, I definitely made good use of my time while I was there.

    So, for any musicians considering joining any of the premiere (Army Band, Army Field Band, West Point Band, Navy Band, Air Force Band…) bands, whether they be a harpist or a wind player or vocalist, I recommend that you go in to the experience with your eyes wide open, and know what you are in for. Most of these also require two months of basic training with high school graduates who have little discipline or work experience, so that is a difficult eight weeks. But, for those players who can let a lot of things roll of their backs, can perform in less than ideal circumstances (heat, cold, wind, humidity), it can be a good way to make a living as a musician, and collect a modest pension after 20 years. It was certainly a memorable 6 years, and I am still in contact with many of my former colleagues.

    • Brian! Thank you SOO much for your comment!! Hearing from people with real experience playing in these bands is so immensely helpful for young harpists looking to fill these positions! I agree that it is important to go in, as you said and Missy alluded to, with your eyes wide open. It certainly seems that military bands might be a good opportunity for someone looking to further their education, save money, or have some school debt payed off… but doesn’t provide the most exciting musical experience!!!

  2. Adrienne Knauer on

    Kristina, thank you for your article. It is obvious that you took a lot of time to do research and get references on the Army Field Band Harpist/Pianist job. With that being said, I’d like to respectfully disagree with you on some key points you made, and at the same time, open up the very important discussion of the lack of harp jobs in the present day.

    We live in a time when entrepreneurial skills are a necessity; we cannot sit around idly waiting for a job to appear. However, these skills aren’t being taught in higher education. I say that as a general statement because I obviously can’t speak for every college or university (if there is one out there though – please shout it out to the harp world). My question is, why aren’t we learning marketing, entrepreneurship skills, advertising, public relations, website building, etc. with a college degree?

    When you stated, “I felt, and feel, a visceral pain at the thought of the harp performance major just coming out of school in the search of steady work only to find what little there once was is quickly disappearing” – I completely agree! To me, THIS is the key issue that seriously needs to be addressed if we want to fight to stay alive and relevant.

    You asked, “Don’t they know how important this job is?” We are not entitled to jobs, and we need to shift our thinking from believing we are owed a job to figuring out how to create jobs. Being musicians, we are creative by nature, so why not use that creative force as a catalyst for change in an industry that is lacking jobs? I completely agree with your statement, “We must fight to remain relevant in a world that is changing all around us.”

    On another note, maybe instead of throwing our hands up in the air exclaiming, “How could they do this to us?!”, we could take this as a sign that there is a demand for piano. It would behoove harpists, whether young or old, to become proficient. It can always supplement someone’s private teaching studio because there will always be a demand for piano lessons.

    To address your concern when you asked if the audition CD deadline and audition requirements were fair and reasonable – when the Metropolitan Opera hosted an audition for the principal harp job last year, did anyone say, “Wow they’re asking for way too many excerpts.” Or for that matter, for any job? If you aren’t able to play the repertoire requirements in the allotted time frame, it may just not be the job for you.

    Your article left me confused. You said, “If they could even find a person who could do both” to “I hope there’s a person out there who thinks ‘I could do that!'” All I got out of the article was a deep discouragement for any qualifying harpists to apply. You asked, “Who would want a job like this anyway?” The answer is – anyone who is qualified and wants it bad enough.

    One of your last points was, “This is a crazy job that would require the most flexible, patient, willing human on the face of the planet.” Yes…it’s the military. It will surely be different from any other harp job out there. My point is, it’s one thing to make assumptions about a job you’ve never worked at – it’s another to air negative opinions about it like saying, “I wouldn’t touch this job with a 20 foot pole.”

    Whether we agree or disagree I’m glad you opened the discussion and my hope is it sparks a deeper and more wide-spread awareness of the lack of harp jobs. This doesn’t have to be an inevitable fate – we can change it! There’s a quote from a book called “Changing The Rules: Adventures of a Wall Street Maverick” – “If you can’t play with the big boys’ ball, start your own game.” Let’s start our own bands, our own orchestras, duos, trios, anything! And let’s hold higher education to be responsible in preparing us to be qualified and ready for any job – whether it’s as a freelance harpist maintaining his or her own private studio or as a principal harpist of a band or orchestra. As soon as we start feeling entitled to jobs, that is when they start to unapologetically disappear.

    • Adrienne, thank you for your comment! I cannot tell you how refreshing it is to have an honest discussion with someone. I cannot agree with you more that students come out of degree programs under, and in many cases un-prepared for the reality of life as a musician.

      Its funny because I am 100% on the same page with you. I think in the situations where you heard discouragement or negativity in my article it was because that was the emotion that I was experiencing at the time when I was researching and writing this article. The article actually came out WAY more positive than I expected it to when I first set out on this post (which was brought to me by a colleague who encouraged me, as did many others, to eviscerate the military for this terrible thing they had done to our community).

      I choose to speak with as many people as I could on this topic in order to gain a more broad base of knowledge around the topic. In asking if the repertoire requirements were reasonable I was hoping to gain a practical understanding of the undertaking. I have taken auditions and am well aware that any audition takes a lot of work. I am not suggesting in this article that the work wouldn’t be worth it, possible, or reasonable for the right person to learn in the time given.

      I strive in all of my articles to represent myself in the most honest way possible. I am sorry if my words about my personal feelings regarding this job offended you. My goal with this article was to put as much information about this posting out there as I possibly could in the hopes (as I said in the article) that maybe it might help the AFB find that perfect person. While at the same time I hoped to create a realistic picture of what this job might entail for the harpist who thinks they might be ready to make this kind of commitment. I believe that every person has the right to an opinion, and I was only attempting to express mine.

      Again I agree with you that the issue of higher education not preparing musicians for the real world… I was in school for a very long time, and only having been out for about 2 years, this fact is very very real in my life. In fact I remember the moment the thought “My $300,000 education didn’t prepare me for my life in anyway” went through my mind. Whether that statement is true or not is not the point though. Although I agree with the sentiment of holding higher education responsible for this lack of preparation, I am perhaps not as hopeful about the reality of an outcome from that. I think that, as has always been the case, our job as musicians is to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and make a life for ourselves. Yes the schools need to adapt to the times and change their offerings to prepare students more, but it is also our responsibility.

      I do so genuinely appreciate your thoughts on this. I believe our thoughts on this might align more than you might think! Hope you are well and are having a wonderful week!

      Sincerely,
      Kristina

  3. Kathleen Matthews on

    I know I’m two years late to this party, but it seems to me that the transport / tuning issues that Missy referred to could be solved with a carbon fiber harp.

  4. Hi Kristina,

    Thank you for writing this article. I happened upon it quite by accident. I was looking for a picture of the Army Field Band to add to another article and your blog post popped up. I enjoyed reading your article.

    First of all, I think you need to know the history of the harp position at The U.S. Army Field Band.

    For years — actually, decades, ever since the beginning of the existence of the Army Field Band — the Band owned a harp but it never had a harp player. The Army Field Band’s harp was loaned out on a permanent basis to The U.S. Marine Band “The President’s Own” in Washington, DC. That way, the Marine Band could keep one harp in their rehearsal space at Marine Headquarters at 8th & I Streets SE in Washington, DC and another locked in a closet at The White House. That way, they didn’t have to transport a harp every time one was needed for a performance at The White House.

    My wife, Master Sgt. (Retired) Jan Holland, was a clarinetist and percussionist in the Army Field Band who had taken harp as a minor instrument as part of her bachelors or masters degrees at the University of Michigan (GO BLUE !!!) in Ann Arbor. Somehow, she convinced our colonel to talk to the Marine Band colonel to get our harp back from them.

    Jan took harp lessons on her own as an adult at the Peabody Conservatory of Music and with the famed instructor Jeanne Chalifoux to include going to harp camp in Maine. After studying and practicing on her own, she started playing with the band and, even as a budding harpist, the colonel was pleased with her performance.

    When she retired in 1997, the thinking in the Band leadership was, “my God, we need to hire a new full-time harpist.” One came from Eastman and did a standard three-year enlistment (I believe) and left. Chief Warrant Officer Missy Dunne was the second harpist following Jan, I believe, and she left to become an Intelligence officer. If I’m not mistaken, the Army Field Band is now on their third harpist after Jan.

    When Missy left for officer school, the Army Field Band was without a harpist. So they hired Jan as a defense contractor (not that different from Boeing aerospace) to go on the road and do a 40-day concert tour as a DA (Department of the Army) contract civilian at age 63. I do not know what the status of the current harpist is if she’s planning on staying or leaving.

    So Jan, quite literally, created something out of nothing by developing the harp slot. And that slot had to come from somewhere. I’m not exactly sure but I think they eliminated one trumpet slot to create the harp slot but don’t quote me on that. In her retirement from the Army, Jan continues to perform as a freelance harpist in the Baltimore-Washington area.

    While there is stability in performing in military bands, there also is a cap in terms of advancement. These are enlisted positions in all military bands. In most other fields of endeavor, college graduates are most often commissioned officers. So Missy Dunne and I both did something quite unique that rarely takes place in the Army Field Band. We both left the Band in mid-career to become officers.

    After touring with the Band for several years and earning one enlisted promotion, CWO Dunne left the Band to go to warrant officer school and become an Intelligence officer. She has had several choice assignments overseas serving in U.S. embassies. I became an officer with 12 1/2 years of enlisted experience as a bandsman through the Direct Commissioning Program (I did not go to Officer Candidate School, ROTC or West Point) and initially became a personnel and human resource officer. After completing a masters degree in conducting and passing the Army Band Officer conducting audition, I served as the commander of staff and faculty and later as director of evaluation at the Armed Forces School of Music where we train musicians for organizational or “line” bands in the Army, Navy and Marines combined (these are not the premier bands like the Army Field Band, the West Point Band or other military bands in Washington, DC). By doing this and becoming a commissioned officer, my retirement is about $1,000 a month more than my wife’s who retired as a musician from the Army Field Band for the same amount of years.

    A general once said to me, “There are two kinds of veterans — those who never want to put the uniform back on again and those who never want to take it off.” I, obviously, fall into the latter category since I continue to serve in my retirement from the U.S. Army in the Maryland Defense Force (MDDF). The MDDF is the state guard that supports the National Guard mostly for disaster relief and recovery but we have the MDDF Band where I play trumpet and electric bass guitar. I now consider sounding “Taps” for military funerals and commemoration ceremonies as “sacred duty” and have probably performed that duty more in the MDDF than I did when I was enlisted in the U.S. Army. From time to time, Jan has performed on harp with the MDDF Band as an extra player and last week she performed for the MDDF Dining-Out on Veterans Day.

    With civilian professional musical performance jobs getting more and more scarce, I’m seeing more and more college graduates serving in line bands than I did when I started my enlisted career in the 1970s. No longer is the Army looking for the 18-year-old high school graduate as the prime candidate for division, organizational and posts bands. Now, I’m seeing college graduates and even DMAs performing as E-4s (two pay grades below the base pay grade of the Army Field Band and the West Point Band) with routine assignments in Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

    I would argue that your research about the harp position in the Army Field Band is incomplete without an interview with the creator of that position, MSG Jan Holland. I will send you her email address offline.

    Sincerely,

    Rick Barnes, PhD

    Captain (Retired), U.S. Army
    U.S. Military Academy Band, West Point, NY, 1973-74
    The U.S. Army Field Band, Fort Meade, MD, 1975-86
    Eastern Sector Headquarters, U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command, Fort Meade, MD, 1986-88
    Armed Forces School of Music, Naval Amphibious Base (Little Creek), Norfolk, VA, 1988-94

    Major, Maryland Defense Force
    Public Affairs Officer
    Maryland Defense Force Band, Camp Fretterd Military Reservation, MD, 2012-present

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