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Never underestimate the Marine behind the musician

Story By Lisa Allen + Photos by CPL Trey Green and SGT Victoria Rushakoff

Celebrating success is one of many things the Marines do well. Looking regal in their dress blues, they’re always itching to strike up the band or the quintet or the jazz combo.

For more than 100 years, the Parris Island Marine Band has been the center of celebrations and ceremonies on the base and off. The band marches in local parades, performs at local festivals and some say, is the official kickoff of Christmas during Night on the Town in Beaufort. Our local traditions start with the Marine Band.

When the band formed in 1917, musicians doubled as marksmanship instructors or close combat instructors. Today, they mostly stay in their lane, playing at up to 40 recruit graduations per year, plus other military ceremonies and events. Of course, if deployed, they’re ready for that too.

So, how does one become a member of the band? Is it a talent discovered during basic training? No. You start off that way, auditioning before one of seven recruiters in order to be accepted into the Marines and the band and drum and bugle corps.

Marine musicians, with the exception of members of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, attend Marine Corps Recruit Training and Marine Combat Training to acquire basic skills as a Marine Corps rifleman.

“The Marine Bands, much like the rest of the Marine Corps, are very competitive,” said Gunnery Sergeant Kristine Shaw, “Not only do we want to ensure that the best Marines are retained and promoted, but we want to be certain that the most qualified musicians are as well.”

The Marines also look for that competitive streak, both with themselves and each other. “We all want to be better than we were the day before,” Shaw said.

Once in, they can spend their Marine career as a musician. Each band has an officer in charge, a warrant officer who also serves as principal conductor.

“Marine musicians, much like other Military Occupational Specialties (MOS), have a unique MOS designator, along with instrumental distinctions based upon what they play,” Shaw said. Instrumentalists can audition for other roles or apply for drum major, enlisted conductor, small ensemble leader, instrument repair technician or band officer.

While only 8 percent of the Corps is female, one in five of the 56 members is female.

The Bluffton Holiday Parade

The Marine Corps has 10 bands, plus “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band and “The Commandant’s Own” Marine Drum and Bugle Corps, the only full-time active duty drum corps in the United States Armed Forces. In addition to the Parris Island Marine Band, the Marine Corps has bands in Quantico, Virginia; two bands in North Carolina; one in New Orleans, Louisiana; three bands in California; a band in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii; and one band in Okinawa, Japan.

Each day is based on the band’s performance schedule, very often weekends, evenings and holidays. Non-performance days begin with physical training and large ensemble rehearsals, followed by chamber ensembles. Other duties include working in the band’s music library or public affairs office, coordinating transportation, maintaining the band’s supply and instrument repair offices or writing correspondence and managing the calendar.

“One of the best parts about being a Marine musician is that there is no typical day,” Shaw said.

Parris Island Marine Band Drumline

At any time, Marine musicians belonging to Divisions and Air Wings might deploy to support their commands in combat zones. All Marines receive extensive additional training leading up to any possible deployments to ensure that they are as prepared as possible for anything they may encounter.

They’re Marines. They’re ready for anything, be it combat or song request. LL