Life of a Military Horn Player
by TSgt Gerald L. Welker Principal Horn, United States Air Force Band, Europe Ramstein AB, Germany
Ever wonder what it is like being a horn player in the military? Gerald L. Welker has offered us a look from the inside. He is principal horn of the US Air Force Band stationed in Rammstein, Germany. I hope you enjoy reading about this sector of horn playing as much as I did! (bvp)
Getting started and which path to choose...
There are a number of jobs that musicians can choose to do. Many of us began playing the horn at a young age, and we all had our ideas of what the future would look like. Would we be a virtuosic soloist? Sit on the stage with a major symphony orchestra? Or, even teach as a professor…passing on our knowledge and love of music to the next generation? These were all possibilities, and they would equal “success” as a professional musician.
I come from a musical family. My father, the late Dr. Gerald Loren Welker, was a graduate of the Eastman School of Music and had a distinguished career as a wind conductor and music educator. My mother, Dr. Leslie Glenn Welker, is a former band director/music educator at the high school and middle school level. Both were my teachers through high school and college, consequently, they fostered my love for music throughout that time.
“that is just what the musicians who can’t win the orchestra jobs do”
Coming up through school, I played with many orchestras, was a guest soloist for numerous ensembles, and had some of the coolest experiences of my whole career. But, money was tight, and I had a family to support…a wife and three daughters. There were options on the table. Like every other musician, I kept my eyes open for any/all possible leads for a full-time job. Then, I saw an opening for a horn vacancy with the U.S. Air Force. I had never given much thought into going into the military band career field, as my ignorance told me “that is just what the musicians who can’t win the orchestra jobs do”. I was going to get the gig…have some stability…do my 4 years…and get out. Until, I played my first performance with the band.
"Wow! I was making a difference. I was home."
We were playing a show in a smaller community on one of our tours. At the opening of every concert, we have the audience stand for the playing of the National Anthem. As we began to play, I looked out into the crowd of about 700 people…most of that small community. In the front row, I saw a veteran, well into his 80’s, tears rolling down his face from the playing of the anthem. Wow! I was making a difference. My job, my uniform, my life is making a difference. That was all I needed. I was home. Anyway, I am now in my 9th year of service and it has been an amazing career thus far. I share the honor of serving along with my sister…MU1 Adrienne Welker Moore, who is with the United States Navy Band in Washington D.C. Being a military musician is a wonderful experience, and I am blessed to do the work that I do.
The Pros and Cons
The Pros -
Performing alongside many wonderful musicians and expanding your horizons…musically. This job allows for the flexibility to experiment with exploring your talents, not only as a horn player, but any other interests you may have. I have done a lot of performing as a vocalist and pianist, and have also had the opportunity to work as an arranger. All in all, it helps you become a more well-rounded, overall solid, musician.
Lots of time for outside gigs. You can still accept civilian orchestra gigs, as long as they do not interfere with your military obligations. So, you have most evenings and weekends free (when you are not touring). That creates a perfect opportunity to still play much of the literature that you love, and continue garnering a steady paycheck.
"They buy you a horn!"
They buy you a horn! When you are hired as a military horn player, the government will purchase you all of the equipment you will need to do your job successfully…a horn, mutes, cases, lubricants, mouthpieces, etc.
Paid vacation. You will receive 30 days paid leave every year of military service.
Opportunity to perform chamber music on a regular basis. In most every assignment, you will be assigned to a brass quintet, woodwind quintet or brass choir. Either way, you have to keep your chops in top working order, as you are considered a solo voice in these situations.
Performing so many different styles of music. I‘ve had the opportunity to perform Classical, Jazz, Rock, Cuban-Klezmar, Latin….You name it, you’ll do it.
Play for many high-profile events/individuals…presidential visits, foreign dignitaries, celebrities, etc.
Get to travel the world and play in some of the most beautiful locations.
The Cons -
"It is really not that bad"
8 week basic military training. I didn’t mind this so much, but for some….it could be a con. It is really not that bad. Plus, after that eight week period, you have a full-time job. Depending on the branch of service, the BMT requirements are different.
Time away from loved ones. Bands do travel a lot. So, if you do have a family, it is at least something to weigh.
Well, if everyone has the same experience as Gerald, I think the pros totally outweigh the cons! Especially if you can make it through the first 8 weeks - HA!
If there are horn players from any of the other branches of the military that have anything to add, please contact us at Siegfried's Call. These insights are not only interesting to us in the civilian world, but, could help some young horn players or those considering a career change make a decision that could change the path of their lives. Thank you to Gerald for giving us such an honest look at life on the inside! (bvp)
Compiled by Barbara Van Pelt, MM Music (horn) Hartt ('87)