Today is July 21, which is my very last day as an active duty sailor for the United States Navy. I've been serving for five years and one month, the majority of that time being the principal horn player for the United States Pacific Fleet Band in Pearl Harbor Hawaii. I decided to leave the Navy nearly a year and a half ago, and I am so excited to get started on a new career in new music and independent horn playing. I wanted to write this post as a means to share what I've done as a horn player (and more) in the Navy, what I'm proud of, and some thoughts on military music. To be clear, I cannot cover everything.
Serving in The Harbor Brass Quintet with Chris Bettler, Alyssa John, Michael Edalgo, and Jonathan Holladay has been the greatest musical period of my life. We had some incredible members at other times (Luke Reed, Dakota Keller, Ivan Vasquez, Dan Honeycutt...) who all contributed at different times, and every one of those members taught me so much about... everything. I caught lightning in a bottle with this group, and if any of them feel half as good about me as I feel about them, it'll be the highest compliment I've ever received.
We toured Alaska three times and performed all around Hawaii. We completed recording projects, participated in festivals, and did masterclasses for college students. I went with an early version of that group to East Timor. In addition to the brass quintet, I also served as a soloist for the brass ensemble, played so much in the wind ensemble, did caroling in weird ensembles, performed at the Midwest conference, and got to do a ton of teaching in masterclasses around the world. I have performed far more than 500 times with the Navy band, and I couldn't be more happy with my playing. It wasn't all roses. It rained, it got hot, I got two separate lip injuries, and sometimes no one showed up. I got sick on EVERY TOUR. When it's all counted for, I loved it.
I was lucky enough to serve as the principal photographer for quite a while. I got to see incredible musicians perform and take pictures of them. What's not to like?
The folks who talk about brother/sisterhood in the military aren't lying. I grew up as LGBT in Virginia. It was mostly fine, but I never understood what people mean when they talk about "Brotherhood". My time in the boy scouts was filled with bullies. My early tennis career was less fun because of toxic masculinity in teenagers and the culture.
My time in the military has been so different, and has given me the opportunity to work with brilliant and wonderful people who are kind, thoughtful, and filled with energy for what their job ends up being. Those people come in so many forms, be they stunning players, keen leaders, warm teammates, or fierce advocates. I have grown through working with musicians who are far better, wiser, and stronger than I am, and I feel that I have grown through mentoring those who are not quite where I am yet. I've seen different styles of leadership and had passionate disagreements with people who clearly have a heart in the right place.
I've made so many friends that I will keep forever. Thank you all. So many people let me express myself through selfies, so here’s a slideshow:
I was proud of much of my work with the US Navy, but I was most proud of my advocacy work in sexual assault. For two years I served as one of the United States Pacific Fleet's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Victim Advocates, attempting to be a guiding force for not only victims of sexual assault to navigate a complicated healthcare and justice system, but as an advocate in the prevention front.
I viewed my role as a cultural agent working to avoid a sexually violent workplace. It was hard. In addition to my direct work with survivors of sexual assault, I spent many days (and nights) involved in investigations, reporting practices, and in meetings with members of leadership in the band and beyond to target unhealthy cultures in the military. I threw myself into this work.
I made some positive changes, and failed to make a dent in other areas. The failures are loud in my mind but there are a few changes and impacts that I feel may stick for some time and help some people. I still have nightmares sometimes, but I'm getting a lot better.
I was able to serve as the music education outreach coordinator for two years. During this time, I was able to increase the music educational outreach footprint of the band by 400%- an effort that had been supported by leadership at the time. New leadership changes impacted that goal, but hundreds of kids got to work with military band members during that time, when they otherwise wouldn't. During the pandemic, I started the Navy's first online education program, reaching hundreds more students with individual masterclasses from some of our band members. On tour, I got to teach even more. It was an absolute joy.
There is so much that happens in the military that is unseen. I have seen many friends work tirelessly, far beyond their paygrade to complete a task meant for someone far outranking them or for a much larger team, without any training. That work, in my opinion, largely goes unrewarded. The number of people who have been unrewarded for incredible work is staggering, probably beyond my knowledge.
One example of measurement's importance is the last award I got in the Navy, my "end of tour" award. My Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, awarded after five years of service mentions my work as a photographer and the year I spent counting trumpets in the supply shop. I was most proud of my work as a sexual assault victim advocate.
Why is it not listed on my award?
"It's hard to provide numbers for that, Brian."
Military music, in my opinion, holds the greatest artist opportunity that the musical world has ever seen. They don't have to sell tickets. Yes, they have a clear directive from a funder, and they have to hit their metrics. That being said, the military music programs are gifted with a clear mission and a near-unlimited amount of resources with which to execute. So many in the field understand that opportunity and work tirelessly to achieve it. I will continue to root for and support those people. Thank you for your service.
The reality is that there are some events that made me embarrassed to put on the uniform. It's possible to look at military as a net-good, but when problems hit so close to home it became impossible for me to look beyond what I perceived as complacency. When I would ask leadership what they were doing about these things, the answer was always the same: We're doing all we can.
Some leaders do all they can. Some don't. Thank you for your service.
I'll always be a veteran, and my five years with the Navy will always be an experience that I draw on to inform my decisions and to better teach my students. I'm so excited to finally be in Melbourne, Australia to chase an independent music career. I want to write for dancers, do commissions, teach students, play in an orchestra, do my solo show, and play in the pit orchestra. I want to do it all, and I'm hungry for even more than that. Please stay tuned with what I do over the next 3 years!
For now though?
I'm going to go play horn and make sounds with my computer.