High School band director credits Corps for success, motivatioon

11 Sep 2003 | 9th Marine Corps District

More than 200 years of Marine Corps music has entertained the world, yet it's not just anyone playing the music.  It takes a certain type of individual to join the elite Marine Corps bands.
"The Marine Corps band has a high level of musicianship," said Ben Baldwin, band director at Lansing Everett High School.
Baldwin is a former Marine who had spent a few years playing in a Marine Corps band and performing duties as a rifleman.
"Being with them for four years gave me great knowledge and experience," said Baldwin. "I went (into the Corps) when I was 17, and was thrust into a situation of constantly being on the road. I got experience in how to lead and how to be self-disciplined, which is the biggest thing that got me through college.
"I had low grades in high school and didn't have the discipline to get good grades in college, but the Marine Corps helped instill determination to get the job done, whatever it is," said Baldwin. "There is no excuse to not accomplishing a mission. It carries over from the Marine Corps, to college, to being a band director."
Having been in the Marine Corps, Baldwin has developed his musical skills more so than if he had remained a civilian and gone to college.
"College music has a focus on jazz, classical, or something specific," said Baldwin.  "However, the Marine Corps has a taste of the full spectrum - marching, jazz, chamber, concerts, Dixieland, rock, pop, country - whereas many band directors are only able to focus on just one or two areas they're good at."
Baldwin, a Sterling Heights, Mich., native, now has 100 students under his leadership as band director.  And, he says, those students immediately pick up on the fact he was a Marine.
"They notice it.  There is an immediate level of respect from them towards me and, in return, from me to them," said Baldwin.
Baldwin points out that not only is a Marine bandsman one who plays music, but also one who carries a rifle.
"When you're a civilian going in, you don't believe that you'll serve as a rifleman," said Baldwin. "We support a very important function in the Marine Corps. We would take time out of hectic schedules to train for combat. You learn quickly in the band that you're a rifleman first. Most Marine bandsmen will tell you that they're proud to be a rifleman first."
Ready to play music and trained to fight, these riflemen have a specific and needed function in the Marine Corps.
"We fill in as the rear guard defense and serve as security for the base command," said Baldwin. "In Desert Storm they served as security for headquarters."
There are limited seats for Marine bandsmen, and not everyone who applies is afforded the opportunity to enter the Corps, according to SSgt. Timothy W. Otis, Musician Technical Assistant.
"It is very difficult to get into the Marine Corps band program," said Otis, a Roseburg, Ore., native.  Otis auditions brass, woodwind and rhythm instruments for assignment to one of 12 Marine Corps bands.  "In order to be granted an audition, the applicant needs to pass the screening by local recruiters and the placement director." 
Auditions consist of performing scales, demonstrating rudiments and rhythms for drums, playing a prepared solo, and sight reading music chosen by Otis.
"There are 200 applicants who are screened to take auditions per year," said Otis. "Out of these, there are 80 to 100 auditions, which 40 to 50 people will pass. After all is said and done, only about 30 people from a 12-state region will become Marine Corps musicians each year."
The benefits to those who are accepted to the program can be impressive.  Marine Corps musicians have an opportunity to receive additional formal musical training throughout their career at military music schools.  And the cost of private lessons, taken through an accredited college, is covered under the Tuition Assistance Program.
"The experience was wonderful, and it was four years of awesome memories and stories. That was the best move and best decision I've ever made in my life," said Baldwin.
Whether serving on the front lines of battle or on a stage in a concert hall, Marine bandsmen have a tradition to uphold, as they one are part of America's oldest professional musical organization.
"Anybody considering making a commitment (to the Corps) will find that it's a great experience and what you get from the Marine Corps is unimaginable," said Baldwin. "With four years or 20 years, you'll come away as a better person and more prepared to face any trials in life. You'll be a Marine the rest of your life."

9th Marine Corps District