Saturday, June 11, 2011

U.S. Military Band Clarinets (June 2011 column)

The United States military employs more musicians than any other organization in the country.  According to a recent NPR feature on military bands, the U.S. Army alone employs an estimated four to five thousand musicians!  Since so many of these musicians are clarinetists, we decided to dedicate this column to some of the online resources created by U.S. military bands and their clarinetists.

Full-time orchestral position openings are few and far between these days, so military bands are a popular option for clarinetists looking for a professional performing career. While the audition process for the premier bands is just as rigorous as that for orchestral positions, military band positions are more numerous and provide more financial stability.  With some of the best orchestras in the country cutting pay, canceling concerts, and engaging in tense negotiations with musicians, many top performers in the U.S. are turning to the military bands first, lured by steady funding and perks such as student loan repayment. Clarinetists in these bands perform constantly with concert bands and chamber ensembles, and contribute greatly to music education efforts across the country. They are featured in several videos and websites that we’d like to encourage our readers to explore.

U.S. Army Field Band Educational Videos
The U.S. Army Field Band produced a series of educational videos in VHS format, presumably sometime in the 1980s (original publication date unknown).  These videos are now available online through the Field Band website, including a series of four videos called “Improving your Clarinet Section”. In the videos, members of the Army Field Band Clarinet Quartet discuss the use of clarinet quartets to develop musicianship in band programs. The videos include discussion of appropriate repertoire for each grade level, with musical excerpts performed by the Army Field Band Clarinet Quartet. Band directors and clarinet teachers will love the tips on embouchure, tonguing, phrasing, blending, balance, jazz style, and more.  This video series is a great resource for learning about different levels of repertoire for clarinet quartet and musical concepts that can be taught with each piece.

U.S. Military Bands on YouTube 
There are many military band performances available online that feature clarinetists. The “usarmyband” YouTube Channel features an Army Band clarinet ensemble performing “Let’s Dance” (think Benny Goodman, not David Bowie!).  We also enjoyed a medley of klezmer tunes played by Tom Puwalski accompanied by the U.S. Army Field band, and a 1960 recording of Harold Malsh playing Bassi’s Fantasy on Themes from Verdi’s Rigoletto with the United States Marine Band.

To see the clarinet section of the U.S. Army Band in action, check out their 2009 performance of Clarinet Candy in front of the U.S. Capital building in Washington, D.C.  Aimed directly at the entire section performing standing up, this YouTube video captures the agility, precision, and fast fingers of the clarinet section, including footage of the principal clarinetist realizing that each member of the clarinet section behind him has sat down and gradually dropped out of the music. This moment of surprise is caught on camera as he turns around to see his all of his colleagues seated, leaving him to finish off the piece as the last clarinetist standing. Check out our “Military Bands” YouTube playlist to watch these videos and more.

Clarineticus Intergalacticus
Kristen Mather’s newly formulated blog, Clarineticus Intergalacticus, has made its own niche in the blog world by highlighting the careers of clarinetists in military bands.  Already starting off the year with twelve entries as of February 2011, her blog is not limited to writing about the clarinet in the armed services, but also includes various topics of interest and educational resources.  As a military musician herself, Mather has been a clarinetist in the West Point Band since 2007 and also performs with the chamber ensemble Quintette 7 (featured in a February 2011 post on our blog), which includes members from the West Point Concert Band and the West Point’s Field Music Group, the Hellcats.
Starting off with a list of questions sent out to clarinetists within the various Army bands, Mather has already begun to gather a handful of interviews of clarinet players, some of which hold positions in the West Point Concert Band and The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own.”  The interviewees answer candidly to questions about their favorite memories of basic training, the average work week, and the weirdest thing they do at their job, sharing their personal experiences as clarinetists in the military bands.  We found ourselves wishing for a post containing Mather’s own responses to the list of questions she poses to her colleagues!
Another category on her blog includes “What am I Listening to Today.”  In these posts she features videos of groups or performers that have sparked her interest.  Wandering away from the mainstream musical path, Mather writes about music involving the clarinet in a variety of musical contexts.  Her recommended artists and ensembles to date include jazz clarinetist Anat Cohen in the Choro Ensemble, the Claudia Quintet with clarinetist Chris Speed, and Turkish music featuring the gypsy clarinet sounds of Hüsnü Şenlendirici. Offering a sample of her musical tastes as a musician who makes a living performing concert band repertoire, Mather opens her readers up to possibly new and unfamiliar music or unknown artists.  Although Clarineticus Intergalacticus is a relatively new blog, it is a must-read for any clarinetist interested in pursuing a career in the military service bands.  

Have we missed anything?  Let us know about military band clarinetists in the U.S. and other countries by e-mailing us or leaving your comments on this post.


Christopher said...

This link includes the West Point Band YouTube channel: See several Quintette 7 videos here as well as the Concert Band performing Washington Post March. You will also see numerous drum videos from the Hellcats. Note the other military YouTube sites in the Friends and Subscription sites at this link. Best. SGM Chris Jones, West Point Band.

Terri Martin said...

I have my grandfather's Pruesser clarinet that was issued while in the Army 1900. LP No. 106. I am trying to find out information regarding value, etc. Please advise a web site or book on subject