A few years ago I was in Louisville to give a presentation and happened to catch the US Army Field Band in concert. Excellent from top to bottom, the band served up a wide range of music that was as top-notch as it comes, as is the case with all military bands. It was a totally enjoyable experience.
Last week, Republican congresswoman from Arizona Martha McSally attacked the Air Force's bands before House Armed Services Committee, according to the Washington Post. In her words, "We have hundreds of people playing the tuba and clarinet. If we really had a manning crisis, from my perspective, we would really tell people to put down the tuba and pick up a wrench or gun."
She went on to describe the bands as a waste of taxpayer money, but she's not the first to take that stance. It's been going on since almost from when military bands were first created.
The fact is that the military bands are one of the largest employers of musicians in the country, and most of those employed are elite in that they've previously trained at conservatories and colleges and must pass a rigorous audition to be accepted.
And the bands work a lot, with the Air Force bands alone logging more than 1600 performances per year ranging from official military functions to concerts to community outreach programs.
As Colonel Larry H. Lang, the commander and conductor of the United States Air Force Band points out, "Unless you reduce the strength of the army by that amount, you haven't saved any money; you just turn them into something else, and end up contracting what they did," he said. "And you find out they did a lot."
This is just another attack on the arts, and hopefully one that won't gain traction. The way the military misspends money, especially the Air Force, the band should be the least of their worries.