US Army Strings
A child of one of our friends is considering leaving a section-violin job in a 15-week season orchestra (in a very expensive city) he recently won and join the US ARMY Strings as a violinist.
His parents are quite concern since joining the Army was probably not a career they had in mind for their son.
I actually went and took a look at the roster of the violin sections the US Army Strings and it is very impressive. These are fine musicians with degrees from Julliard, CIM, NEC, IU, Rice and others. The Concertmaster made his solo debut with the Philadelphia Orchestra at 13!
I wonder if anyone here can share some prior experience as a violinist in the US Army Strings.
As far as I can tell, the military orchestras posted to Washington DC (like the US Army Strings, which are part of Pershing's Own) are comprised of very fine players who pretty much settle here permanently. They seem to have enough time to freelance, teach, and take other engagements, and eventually they put in their 20 years and "retire" into the other local symphonies, often as principals. Anyone auditioning should think of this as similar to winning a job with other full-time professional symphonies of national stature.
The audition was done in the summer. Going on information provided by the parents, the kid got the job, which pays about $65k a year and provides an annual paid leave of 30 days.
I doubt there's a stigma. A gig is a gig. The military has a huge amount of money. If they didn't have any of their professional musical groups, the savings wouldn't buy them one F-35. Not even close.
That's a great gig. Lydia is right; winning a job in the Army Strings is absolutely comparable to (and just as hard as) winning a job in a civilian orchestra with equivalent pay. Plus your friend will be eligible for military benefits.
Thank you all. I will tell the parents to let the kid “be all he can be” in the army.
BTW, my impression is that getting a job in the US army strings ( or other military ensembles) is likely easier than that in orchestras of comparable compensation and job security. The US citizenship requirement (and security clearances needed for playing in the White House) is not insignificant. It effectively makes the job “merely” nationally competitive rather than **internationally** competitive.
My cello teacher had spent WW-I (yes world-war-one) as a cellist in an Army "band." He went on to play with the Minneapolis, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta Symphonies (that I know of). He was an alcoholic, which accounts for his moving around and eventual failure as a professional symphony player. But even when I knew him, more than 30 years after WW-I, he was a fine cellist capable of enthralling an audience with a fine concerto performance (as long as he was kept away from drink all that day by a chaperone).
Daniel Majeske the former Concertmaster of the Cleveland Orchestra (before this current one who’s on his way out), was in the US Strings. My good buddy from Juilliard is the current Principal Cellist of the group.
David, you may be right to some degree, but it's probably worth thinking of it in Mary Ellen's phrasing of comparable pay. At that point in the pay scale, you're generally looking at less truly international competition (i.e. fewer people who aren't already permanent residents or citizens).
There are enough truly fine and highly trained string players in the U.S. who were born here so that subtracting international applicants from a $65K gig is not going to make winning the audition appreciably easier.
"Surely you did not mean to imply that U.S. citizens as a group are less qualified than international applicants"
I still don't think the odds change all that much. 1/50 versus 1/60 is not a big difference. I think you overestimate the percentage of international applicants at a given audition.
In the military you get paid even if you aren't playing, which is more than just about any civilian orchestra, with excellent benefit AND pension not to mention absolute job security, which just about any other musician would envy. Having served myself for 27+ yrs in the Canadian military, I would certainly give it a high recommendation. Too bad the CAF band doesn't have a strings unit/section like the US Army.
I have not heard of any stigma. I have heard of generous benefits, including assistance in acquiring a better instrument.
They don't have to get out when they've put in their 20. There are folks in their 50s, I believe. Although it seems common for them to get out younger, since they've earned their pension and can go on to win another position.
"In the military you get paid even if you aren't playing, which is more than just about any civilian orchestra"
“One thing to keep in mind, it's a 20-year term if he's an enlistee (mentioned above). If he's in his 20s, that means he'll be in his 40s when he needs to move on”
There are chances for a second career and pensions, yes.
Just as a point of information, musicians in the military ensembles are non-commissioned officers. The conductors are officers. Make of that what you will.
Former Army here: Don't forget that first and foremost, you are a soldier and will be treated as such if needed.
In the UK the military schools of music also provide the highest level of professional teaching and training.
Lasley, very helpful information! I will let the parents know.
To Duane's point, there is a difference between the "regular" military ensembles (and the reserve ones), and the "premier" military ensembles. The premier ensembles have a totally different process and enlistment contracts. As far as I know, their contracts specify that they can only be assigned to that ensemble and that ensemble will be in a specific location, and they join at the E6 level rather than as privates. They generally don't have non-musical military duties at all. (The Marine's President's Own doesn't even do boot camp.)
As a Navy veteran I can add that I knew a lot of the people in the various "ceremonial" details that were headquartered in DC. The various service bands and orchestras are all stationed there although in my day, they did travel to perform at various functions around the US.
One of my very best friends (french horn) has won positions in two different military branch ensembles. There are definitely pros and cons. The pros are many -- they paid for her to get her doctorate, she is provided with housing and day care, the pay is good, and plenty of time for family, freelance, or teaching.
We have a good friend who spent 27 years in the Army band as a bassoonist. It's one of the best gigs going for musicians, as far as I can see. Pays well, gives you lots of time for your own activities on the side such as teaching of other musical activities (our friend even went to law school at night), plus you get a good pension if you retire from there. There are downsides that people have identified, of course, but what musician job does not have them?
I don't know about the US military, but most likely it is very similar to the Canadian military where one signs up for an initial short term contract, 3yrs of service for NCMs, then given an option for 10yrs followed by 25, and finally to compulsory retirement age of 55, so it's not like you're signing your life away. Like any contract, early termination has consequences/penalties (such as pension reduction), but it is still possible to quit your contract early. My recommendation is to clearly understand the terms before signing up. As for recruit training (aka boot camp),just go with the flow, everything has it's reason, which may not always be apparent.
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