Music majors march into military bands
Majoring in music can sometimes seem limiting.
Students in the Moores School of Music can major in performing arts and go on to play in the Houston Symphony, or go into music education to spread their knowledge of and love for the subject. But some would say music majors have limited career choices.
It was great change of pace to see how one man, a sous chef at Harrison’s Landing in Corpus Christi and a trombone player of 15 years, was able to break out of the stereotypical music box and transform not only himself but his entire career.
Daniel Gomez, 25, has been married for three years to his wife, Celia, who also plays the trombone.
They are young, they are musical, they are nearly $5,000 below the poverty line and they are not alone.
According to The Federal Poverty Guidelines of 2013, the American poverty line stands at $11,490 for a single adult and $15,510 for two adults’ combined income.
With finances so low and his musical American dream seemingly unattainable, he was struck with an idea that would soon change his life, and he wouldn’t have to give up his dream of playing the trombone to do it.
Gomez joined the Marine Corps and began the long struggle to be accepted into the Marine Corps band.
Joining the military for a musical career is a new atmosphere, one many music majors never even consider. Gomez never thought twice.
Having been involved with Drum Corps International for three years, it was natural for him to jump into a physically, mentally and emotionally demanding future.
It also has more than just musical benefits.
“As a college graduate, I have a lot of loans that I have to pay off,” Gomez said.
The military offers a secure paycheck with benefits — exactly what Gomez and his wife need.
The Marine Corps isn’t the only branch with a musical future. After basic training and acceptance into the Air Force Band, recruits become Technical Sergeants.
The Air Force musical website claims “with basic pay and the housing and food allowance, a Technical Sergeant with dependents, living off-base, will earn $61,838.88 annually, of which $34,025.28 is tax-free. A Technical Sergeant without dependents, living off-base, will earn $54,386.88 annually, of which $26,573.28 is tax-free.”
And take a look at the Navy band, which offers naval basic pay. The Navy Band website says that “a musician first class with dependents and living off-base will earn $64,656 annually, of which $36,372 is tax-free. A musician first class without dependents and living off-base will earn $56,628 annually, of which $28,344 is tax-free.”
That’s a fantastic option for the music major who feels financially trapped.
The Army offers even more financial compensation, and states on its website that its musicians are considered active-duty soldiers.
The average active-duty soldier can receive nearly $99,000 in Army benefits and compensation pay packages.
Marine musicians like Gomez also have nice pay, since the Marines advance all new recruits to the pay grade of E-6 with the rank of Staff Sergeant, which guarantees them between $28,285 and $43,808 based on experience, according to their pay chart.
With such a great opportunity to advance in life, receive good benefits and have a secure paycheck in an era of roiling economic turmoil, it seems natural that UH would push musicians closer to such a career, but this isn’t the case.
In fact, many musical college graduates never put any consideration into a military musical program.
As a flautist, I was completely amazed by the amount of compensation with military music programs. I had never heard anyone talk about such a career path or heard it advertised, and I played with the Spirit of Houston Marching Band for a full year.
With so many perks, it is tragic that Moores doesn’t advertise the program’s benefits. There is no mention of a military band career at all on the University-run website.
Until the University of Houston can advertise more options, like a military music program, musicians will remain unaware of what they could offer to the greatest country in the world and what that country can offer them in return.
Opinion columnist Rachel Lee is an English sophomore and may be reached at [email protected]