ST PETER, Minn. --
Gustavus Adolphus music performance major and Marine enlistee, Jessica Backes, performed her senior recital alongside the 2nd Marine Division Band Woodwind Quintet, Sunday, April 15, at the Christ Chapel in St. Peter, Minn.
The Marine Corps has always prided itself with recruiting only the best and brightest young men and women to join its elite force. It is the rare musician who has the talent and determination required to become a Marine.
Backes, a flute player, expertly rose to that challenge and celebrated her accomplishments. She leaves for Marine Corps recruit training in July.
“I decided I wanted to be a Marine because I knew the [Marine Corps] family would push me to be a much stronger, more confident, grateful and creative musician and person,” said Backes. “I knew the lifestyle would stretch my boundaries and limitations, causing me to grow and push past my own self-imposed limitations. It also made me proud, knowing I would be lucky enough to be able to give back to my country and community by doing what I love - music.”
Backes, a St. Cloud, Minn., native, was heavily involved in the arts while growing up. She began playing flute 10 years ago in her middle school marching band and her passion for music has grown ever since. After graduating from Technical High School in 2014, she continued her musical career at Gustavus Adolphus College as a music performance and Spanish major. She will graduate this Junewith honors.
Staff Sgt. Timothy Meulemans, a Marine Corps bandsman and recruiter for Recruiting Station Twin Cities, first discovered Backes at Gustavus during a Wind Orchestra concert in 2017. She was playing solo background music at the reception.
“I knew after just a few notes that she was the type of player we are looking for in the Marine Corps Band,” said Meulemans.
Once Backes decided she wanted to be a Marine, she began the audition process. Determining if an applicant is musically qualified for the Music Enlistment Option Program, (MEOP), consists of completing a screening form about their musical experience, a video submission of prepared excerpts and a live audition. They must also complete the physical, mental and moral military screening tests required of all those wishing to join the armed services.
“Finding a musician qualified to play in the Marine Corps Band is not an easy task,” said Meulemans. “During my 10 years in the Marine Corps Band, I have seen the level of musicians we are selecting grow immensely. In the past, many of the musicians coming into the Marine Corps Band were the top musicians graduating from high school. Today, I see many more college students and graduates joining and the performance level of the band reflects.”
Meuleamans, however, had no doubts Backes would survive the audition. He isn’t worried that she will become successful in the Marine Corps.
“Jessica is going to make a phenomenal Marine musician,” said Meulemans. “She has an unprecedented drive to accomplish anything she decides to do. She already exceeds the physical fitness qualifications required of a Marine and is pushing her musical expertise to the next level. And on top of everything, her character is unselfish, humble and appreciative. She is one to make the most of, see the best in and enjoy every situation. These will make her a solid, motivational leader others will want to follow as she quickly moves up the ranks.”
All musicians entering the Marine Corps Band must complete basic training and earn the title of Marine and complete Marine Combat Training to learn basic infantry skills. These are skills are required of every Marine. Marine Musicians then move on to the School of Music Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-FT Story in Virginia Beach, Va., for six months of musical training to further develop their musical skills. Following the School of Music, theyare stationed with one of the 10 bands throughout the United States and Japan.
For the final song of the recital, Backes performed the Marines’ Hymn. It was her first performance with a Marine Corps Band and a fitting tribute to her future family.
“I chose to end my recital with the Marines’ Hymn after attending a performance by the Marine Band, New Orleans last fall,” said Backes. “Watching the Marines stand and play the hymn from memory, while seeing some teary-eyes audience members, made me stand taller myself. The Marines’ Hymn honors all who have served, are serving currently and will serve. It is an honor to be able to end my recital with the piece that embraces that tradition and connection.”