News Stories

Inspirational mission, artistic excellence draw talented musicians to serve

By Air Force 2nd Lt. Christina Muncey | Defense Information School | October 03, 2016

FORT MEADE, Md. --

When she was around 7 or 8 years old, Army Staff Sgt. Selena A. Maytum, a special band musician assigned to the U.S. Army Field Band here as a French horn player, went with her parents to a concert by the President’s Own U.S. Marine Band. It was after that concert that Maytum became very interested in the French horn, according to her dad. From that point, Maytum always knew she would have a career in music.

As a child, Maytum wanted to be a band director like both of her parents.

“By the time I was 12 or 13, I was going to do what mom and dad do, done deal,” Maytum said.

Maytum received her Bachelor of Music degree in music education and a Master of Music in horn performance with a minor in wind conducting before teaching high school for four years. She then decided to pursue a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in horn performance, which led her musical career in a different direction.

After auditioning for various positions across the country, Maytum was offered a job with the U.S. Army Field Band. Like so many other educated musicians, Maytum said she decided to use her musical gift in service to the United States.

The mission of the Army Field Band is to serve and inspire the American people by telling the Army story and honoring soldiers and veterans at home and abroad as the musical ambassadors of the Army. Because the Department of Defense is the largest employer of musicians in the U.S., many musicians find themselves playing in a band with one of the five services.

While a degree in music is not required to be selected for  the Field Band, it certainly helps. According to a 2014 report from Military One Source, only 6 percent of the total enlisted force has a bachelor’s degree and less than 1 percent has an advanced degree. Maytum, who hopes to be awarded her DMA in December, said she believes up to three-quarters of the Field Band has a master’s degree and around 12 members have their DMA.

Army Staff Sgt. Andrew F. Emerich, a special band musician assigned to the U.S. Army Field Band as a percussionist, has a similar background to Maytum. Both of his parents were once rock musicians, and they gave him his first informal training when he was 5. While Emerich began his college education thinking he would pursue a degree in medicine, he soon changed his focus to music.

“I switched to music performance because it was what I really wanted to do,” Emerich said.

Emerich has a bachelor’s degree in music performance and a Master of Music in performance. Like Maytum, Emerich was working on his DMA when he won the audition with the Field Band, but unlike Maytum, Emerich decided not to complete his DMA once he got the job.

What is it that drives so many musicians, many of them educated at universities and conservatories across the country, to turn to the military for employment?

For Maytum, it’s the mission.

“I love the mission of the Army Field Band,” Maytum said emphatically.

For Emerich, it was the opportunity to be a performer and play in a variety of musical styles.

“The unique playing requirements of my position immediately appealed to me – I could use both my classical training and my drum set experience in one job,” said Emerich. “It’s almost impossible to find such a job in another ensemble.” 

The Army Field Band spends more than 100 days on the road, traveling the country sharing the Army story with Americans where they are. There is a meaningful relationship that is forged between the musicians and the audience through the course of a concert, and through that relationship the audience feels more connected to its military, just because the band played a Billy Joel song, Maytum said.

The responses from the audience are one of Maytum’s favorite parts of being in the Field Band, although being able to work with musical and professional soldiers is another perk. She said one of her first memories of joining the Field Band was of the welcoming and professional soldiers who were on hand to greet her.

Being a member of the Field Band is not without its challenges, however. Those 100+ days on the road every year pose difficulties for not only the soldier-musicians but also their families. Maytum has found a way to remain productive, however, despite days that keep her on the bus for more than 10 hours.

“I move into my bus seat,” said Maytum. “A lot of us bring whatever we’re working on. I’m working on my dissertation, so I bring my laptop. People bring books. We have people working on musical arrangements. They’ll bring music software and a couple scores and be doing musical arrangements for the band.”

Talented and educated musicians from a wide variety of backgrounds, like Maytum and Emerich, decide to join the armed services for a variety of reasons. While she did not think her musical journey would lead her to the Army, Maytum said she is proud to be a soldier. She believes things work out for a reason and that this is the right path for her.

“I’m proud of my job. I’m proud of my unit and of my colleagues,” said Maytum.