For many musicians, finding steady employment is a challenge in itself—but the professionals in the United States military are well provided for and get to do what they love everyday while serving their country. Here are profiles of musicians from the United States Navy, Army, Air Force and Marine Corps.
Photo courtesy of the United States Navy Band
Marching for Life
Name: Master Chief Musician Joe Brown, Jr.
Group: United States Navy Band
Job: Drum Major, former euphonium player
Years: 25 in the Navy, 23 in the band
Trivia: Stood next to Beyoncé backstage at the inaugural ball and was worried he would step on her dress.
After his 50th and final field show as a euphonium player through high school and at Lousiana Tech University, Joe Brown, Jr. ceremoniously burned his marching shoes in the trash and swore he’d never march again.
“I was considered to be the best marcher in the band there, but I had grown weary of marching in halftime shows,” Brown says. “Now look what I do for a living. I march every day of my life.”
Now he’s known as Master Chief Musician Joe Brown—drum major of the United States Navy Band. After Brown completed his undergraduate degree in music education, he went to the University of Northern Colorado for a master’s in music and then began auditioning for military bands.
“I had seen them in concert; I was a good musician, and I felt it would be an exciting career,” Brown says. “And it has turned out to be just that.”
The majority of performances by the U.S. Navy Band are formal ceremonies along with national tours. The band also plays to welcome foreign dignitaries who visit the United States. The arrival of dignitaries from the former Soviet Union’s breakaway republics is one of Brown’s most memorable experiences.
“One at a time the newly formed governments would be welcomed and recognized as official entities,” Brown says. “I had never seen a line of grown men puff up like pigeons and cry tears and tears and tears like you wouldn’t believe. It was the pride that the music was able to bring to them—it was very poignant, and their faces were soaked at hearing their national anthem be formally recognized by the United States.”
Brown’s most common task is running the smaller unit that plays for funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Brown’s responsibility includes fi nding out the person’s religion and rank and deciding what songs to play.
“One funeral I did, there was no coffin— just two urns—and they had two flags,” Brown says. “They folded them and gave them to two little girls. Their mother and father were both active duty service members and had both been killed. It was a challenge getting through that ceremony; the girls couldn’t have been more than 8 years old.”
Funerals are the Navy Band’s most solemn duty. “I think it’s very worthwhile to show not only the family the importance that we place on the service of their family member, but that we also show all Americans what we think of the soldiers’ service to the country,” Brown says. “It can be considered hard emotionally, but the ceremony itself is so dignified and poignant that you’re proud to do it.”
A Privilege and Honor
Brown has performed in almost all 50 states. For him, the national tours are a chance to represent the Navy to people all over the country.
“People don’t get to see the Navy doing its actual job,” Brown says. “But they can see what we do and the professional manner that we deport. They talk to us about how proud they are of the uniform and how great it is that their Navy is performing and doing such a great job.”
Brown is extremely grateful for his career in the Navy Band. “Honestly I just think it’s an honor and a privilege for me to get to serve my country playing music and performing music: two things that are important to me,” Brown says. “I also get to perform alongside and lead some of the very best musicians in the country. It’s a privilege and an honor that I think is just tremendous.”
Leap of Faith
Name: Staff Sergeant Jeff Prosperie (right)
Group: The Hellcats, part of the United States Military Academy Band
Job: Snare drum, percussion
Trivia: Prosperie’s job is the oldest drumming job in the United States, established by George Washington during the Revolutionary War.
For Staff Sergeant Jeff Prosperie, joining the Army has allowed him to have it all: a job doing what he loves, great pay and benefits, and the freedom to be home before the kids get back from school.
“I never thought the Army was for me, but for musicians it’s kind of hard to beat,” Prosperie says. “Honestly it seemed like an answer to a lot of prayers; it was a leap of faith.”
Drum Corps Days
As a percussionist in the Hellcats, a small drum and bugle ensemble that is a part of the larger United States Military Academy Band, Prosperie makes more than he did at his previous jobs as the director of percussion studies at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette during the day and a symphony musician at night.
“I was doing everything I thought I wanted to do,” Prosperie says. “But my priorities changed—I wanted to be with my family more, and I thought serving my country would be a good thing too.”
But not just anyone can score this gig; Prosperie is one of the most well-known percussion soloists, educators and adjudicators in the country. He is the only person to ever win the “Triple Crown” of snare drum individual competition by taking home the gold at Drum Corps International (while with the Phantom Regiment), Drum Corps Associates and Percussive Arts Society. He now judges the competitions and serves as an on-field judge at DCI World Championships.
“I turned 40 years old when I was at basic training surrounded by all these 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds,” Propserie says. “I drew on my strength from my drum corps days, and that helped me get through it. And then being in shape and running around and maintaining my physical fitness in the Army keeps me in shape as a DCI judge ’cause I’m the guy that runs around the field trying not to get hit.”
Through the Army he became an arranger and instructor for the U.S. Army All- American Marching Band, a national honor band for high school seniors who perform at the All-American Bowl.
“I’m excited about that because I can use my education background, my writing background and now my Army connection,” Prosperie says. “I think it’s pretty cool that it’s all coming together, and I can use that opportunity to teach these kids.”
Prosperie’s regular duties include playing for the cadets as they march in formation to breakfast and lunch, providing a beat for their drills in the afternoons, and participating in rehearsals for various concerts and other special events. He says that the regular inclusion of music in the cadets’ lives helps them to learn they are a part of something bigger.
“Hearing music is part of your fiber— I know that’s part of the inspiration to charge forward when a soldier is fighting and all the odds are against them,” Properie says. “Human beings go to music in a time of struggle.”
The band also plays for funerals at West Point and performs for the community, including the soldiers’ families while they’re away. “For the community people whose husbands or wives are not here, it brings the joy of music to them and brings them a little cheer,” Prosperie says. “The funeral is really important. That’s the last memory that someone has of their soldier and family member.”
According to Prosperie, his military training made his job as a musician even more meaningful.
“I did things I never thought I would do: throw grenades, shoot an M-16, go through a gas chamber, camp in the woods,” Prosperie says. “I felt sad for the other people because for me it was a fun fantasy that I knew I wasn’t really going to be doing, but the other people in my platoon really need these skills to survive. It really helped me to understand the sacrifice when I play at a funeral, knowing what sacrifice they made.”
Honoring With Dignity
Name: Chief Master Sergeant Ed Teleky
Group: United States Air Force Band and Ceremonial Brass
Job: Drum Major of the United States Air Force Band, Musical Director and Manager of the United States Ceremonial Brass, former percussionist
Trivia: Teleky’s son Nicholas was featured as a little kid in the 1994 Santa Clara Vanguard Drum and Bugle Corps show at the beginning of finals.
Perfection is the daily standard when you’re representing the United States military. “I would say having to deal with expectation that everything always has to be perfect, that’s probably been the biggest challenge,” says Chief Master Sergeant Ed Teleky, drum major of the United States Air Force Band and its smaller unit, the Ceremonial Brass. “If something goes wrong, it’s a big deal and it’s huge.”
That’s because every mission done by Teleky and the band is, in fact, a big deal—from funerals at Arlington National Cemetery to arrivals for state leaders.
“The challenge is to keep it all in perspective,” Teleky says. “Most of the missions that we do are live somewhere in the world on CNN. Especially when it’s a smaller country, the playing of the Air Force Band is a big headline for them.”
Some of the band’s previous missions included the arrivals of the Queen of England and the Pope, NBC’s “Today Show” for the Fourth of July, inaugural parades, the opening ceremonies of the World Cup and the New York City tickertape parade for the end of the Gulf War.
“It was kind of neat to do a parade for Desert Storm because the people of New York were unbelievably supportive, and they made the parade about the troops,” Teleky says. “It was one of the most emotional missions I’ve done.”
Of the approximately 200 missions Teleky does with the Ceremonial Brass each year, 150 are funerals. “It’s really amazing the power of music and what it adds to these ceremonies,” Teleky says. “It’s amazing to see firsthand how you’re touching people’s lives in their time of need.”
Teleky received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Juilliard School where Col. Arnald Gabriel, conductor emeritus of the Air Force Band at the time, encouraged Teleky to audition. After finishing his master’s, Teleky immediately went into the Air Force.
“It was an extensive audition process for the ceremonial group,” Teleky says. “There were three different percussion auditions: rudimental, orchestral, and drum set. Forty-nine people auditioned.”
While in high school, Teleky marched in the Garfield Cadets and later worked as a percussion instructor for the Bayonne Bridgemen and Santa Clara Vanguard. He also worked as an arranger and music director for the San Francisco Renegades from 2002 to 2006. Currently, Teleky arranges music for high school marching bands.
“[My drum corps experience] has been key for me,” Teleky says. “The experience that I’ve had marching has made me really unique and helped me in the military. It’s made the discipline all very, very easy.”
Due to his background in conducting at school and with various high school all-state groups, Teleky rose through the ranks from percussionist to assistant drum major and finally head drum major.
“In addition to just rehearsing the group and making sure we’re ready, there’s a lot of coordination involved with the White House Communications Office,” Teleky says. “I’ve got do site surveys at places before we play to determine where we’re going to stand and the size of the group.”
According to Teleky, the members of the band have a special bond working together under any challenging conditions. “In the Air Force, we call it ‘honoring with dignity,’” Teleky says. “We’re out there marching to the ceremony even if it’s pouring rain; we’re there to provide honors. There’s a tremendous feeling of respect for what we do day in and day out.”
Tip of the Spear
Name: Chief Warrant Officer-4 Brian Dix
Group: “The Commandant’s Own,” the United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps
Job: Director, former contra-bass bugler years: 26 years in the Marines and 23 years in the United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps
Trivia: His most inspiring moment with the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps was the first time he played overseas in the 1986 Sydney Royal Easter Show in Sydney, Australia.
Chief Warrant Officer-4 Brian Dix has a family of 200,000—and they’re all Marines. As director of “The Commandant’s Own,” the United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps, he is part of a brotherhood unrivaled in his lifetime.
“It’s very concerning, it’s very warm, it’s very much like a family,” Dix says. “I know there will never be any ties in our lives this strong except here in the Commandant’s Own. I think it’s better than a family because the Marines have a true genuine concern of the welfare of every Marine that’s around them.”
Dix believes this concern comes from the need for Marines to be highly invested in their performances.
“If a Marine is having problems off-duty, our philosophy is to take care of that Marine at all times because it makes the job so much more enjoyable,” Dix says. “We must be emotionally involved in our daily duties and performance. If the Marine is emotionally involved, the audience will get emotionally involved.”
Members of the Commandant’s Own train every day to uphold all Marine Corps training standards—from physical conditioning to rehearsals to required readings or a trip to the rifle range.
“Six of my Marines have served overseas in some combat capacity,” Dix says. “I’m very proud of what they’ve accomplished and even more proud of them that they’ve all come home safely.”
Some of the Marines stay in the corps for 20 years and retire, while others just do one or two four-year tours of duty before moving into another field within or outside of the military.
“I consider the Marines that come here the tip of the spear,” Dix says. “If they want to go into another field, they’re going to be the best because we train them the best here.
We have former Marines that are doctors, lawyers and public officials. Some become officers and do lateral moves into other fields such as aeronautics, engineering and intelligence.”
Music in Motion
The corps’ main show is the “Music in Motion” program, an approximately 25-minute field show that is performed at various events across the country and world.
Occasionally they combine with the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon and Marine Corps Color Guard to do an hour-long show or do stand-up concerts with additional repertoire. When the groups combine, the larger group is called the United States Marine Corps Battle Color Detachment.
“We never sit,” Dix says. “Each show is a mission to us.”
Flexing Their Musical Muscle
When Dix became director, he made it his mission to expand the corps’ range by incorporating more musical styles.
“Fortunately we’re allowed to flex that Marine Corps muscle a little bit; we’re very diverse in regards to styles of music,” Dix says.
“We’ve taken on a philosophy over the past couple years to perform things that no one else has orchestrated for the marching military or other ensembles. We’re very lucky that we’ve been granted licensing for obscure works that no one else has performed.”
Although the corps and its smaller bugler unit performs for various arrivals, change-of-command ceremonies, funerals and parades, Dix says that performing for an unassuming audience is the most exciting for his group.
“We’re here for the average citizen to project a presence of the Marine Corps,” Dix says. “[The corps members] know how great it is to play for a president or prime minister, but they will remember an audience that they won over and who got emotionally involved with what we were doing on the field.”
About the Author
Elizabeth Geli is an editorial assistant at Halftime Magazine. She has played flute and marched at Valencia High School in Placentia, Calif., and in the USC Trojan Marching Band, where she is now a graduate teaching assistant. She has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism from USC and is currently working on a Master’s in Specialized Journalism (The Arts).