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Military Band Life

By: Ally Hany Albrecht

A few months ago, I traveled to New York to play with the DIVA Jazz Orchestra. I was hanging around backstage at Dizzy’s waiting to play, and I turn around and see the one and only Amanda Ekery, which was crazy because I hadn’t seen her since we lived in Denton years ago! We got to talking about the amazing El Paso Jazz Girls program and she said that some of you young ladies would be interested in learning what it’s like to be in a military band, and I’d love to tell you all about my experience so far!

Being in the Air Force has been such a cool and unique opportunity. Currently I play trumpet with the Band of the Golden West, where I perform with the jazz band, jazz combo, concert band, and a brass quintet. Stationed at Travis Air Force Base in California, we do a lot of traveling, and I feel grateful to have been able travel to 8 states in the two years that I’ve been here.

As a member of an Air Force band, it’s your full-time duty to play music, so everything you do on a daily basis revolves around performing. On a non-concert day, I usually come to work, warm up on trumpet, go to 2.5 hour rehearsal, then lunch break, and the afternoon consists of more practicing and a little office work, or some combination of these things. There is also time allotted throughout the week to work out and stay in shape, because you are required to meet certain physical requirements at all times. All band members also do an additional duty besides just playing our instrument, but it’s always something related to the band, like booking gigs, marketing concerts and tours, keeping up the music library, etc. We spend a majority of our time playing concerts, or prepping for those concerts, which includes going on tour. We do tour quite a bit; I calculated that in 2018, I was on the road for around 70 days.

My favorite part of the job is that no two weeks are the same; the schedule is always different. Sometimes I go in to work and play a ceremony on base (for a promotion, special guest, etc.), other times we’ll be on tour for two weeks or playing a local concert series where we’re somewhere different every night. I also compose and arrange for the jazz band and combo, as well as have my own (non-Air Force related) quintet.

The Air Force has a very regulated environment, so I feel fortunate to not have to deal with a lot of the facets that I didn’t like about freelancing, especially as a woman in a male dominated profession. I’m fortunate to have worked with a lot of wonderful people when I was freelancing, but there still was unfair treatment. For me, the Air Force has been a very female-friendly and all around supportive environment, and I would absolutely recommend it for any young musicians, male or female.

My favorite moments of my Air Force career so far include:

-Playing to sold out crowds at the Hollywood Bowl with the Los Angeles Philharmonic

-Being able to travel! So far, I’ve been on tours to: California, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Illinois, Missouri, Colorado, and Kansas

-Having my charts played on tour by the Commanders Jazz Ensemble

-Playing music with professionals who are also great people and friends

-Being able to be an ambassador for the Air Force through music

I help with our auditions, and we get all kinds of questions, so here’s some answers to the most frequently asked:

Do you have to go to boot camp or any training?

Yes, you do have to go to 8.5 weeks of Basic Training, but I believe that anyone who is smart and talented enough to win a position in one of the bands will have no problem making it through. It’s definitely not a walk in the park, but with some hard work, you’ll graduate as a stronger individual (mentally and physically) and be very proud of what you’ve done! You’ll also be able to make a bed in less than 30 seconds...

Do you have to have a college degree to audition?

No, but about 95% of the musicians in our career field have a bachelor’s degree, and many have master’s and doctorate degrees as well!

What does the audition process entail?

1. An opening is posted online, and requirements and dates are listed.

2. You send in a resume and recordings of the prescreen requirements.

3. You get invited to come to a live audition, but before you can, you must meet with an Air Force recruiter to make sure you are eligible for enlistment.

4. You audition (at the Air Force Base), which can be a long process. They need to make sure you’re a good fit for a few different ensembles (depending on your instrument), so you will typically have multiple rounds at your audition that could include: classical excerpts and solos, excerpts from jazz charts, improvisation, and playing with a section and/or band.

5. When you win the job, you then go through Military Entrance Processing (MEPs) and once you’ve passed, you can head to Basic Training, then on to your new job!

What is the commitment like?

You have to sign a contract for either 4 or 6 years of service, but after that you are free to leave or to sign on for another enlistment.

Other Questions?

Here’s all the information you need for auditions. It’s always worth checking out the pre-screen requirements, even if it is just to make sure you’re on the right track, regardless of your age! Make sure to check out the FAQ, too!

Other Opportunities

There are a lot of amazing musical organizations throughout the military. Other branches do things differently, so the audition process and daily life could be different from what was discussed above. Please reach out to these organizations separately if interested!

Premier Bands:

Pershing’s Own (Army)

The U.S. Air Force Band

The President’s Own Marine Band

Regional Bands:

Air Force Bands

Reserve Bands (Part Time):

Air National Guard

Ally earned her B.M. at the University of North Texas, where she was a member of the One O’Clock Lab Band (Lab ‘14). She then moved to New York City, where she attended graduate school at the Manhattan School of Music and also freelanced and taught in NYC. She auditioned for the Air Force bands as she was finishing up her master’s degree and got lucky enough to graduate and then ship off to basic training a few months later. Learn more at

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