Music in the Military: It's about Influence

By Graham, Lowell E. | American Music Teacher, December 2004 | Go to article overview
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Music in the Military: It's about Influence

Graham, Lowell E., American Music Teacher

Music and the military have a long and very distinguished partnership. Many academic articles and much research have been done on this fruitful relationship. There are general assumptions about the mission of music in the military, but they usually are vague. Ceremonies, troop morale and entertainment are the three that most often come to mind. While it is very true these are objectives all military musical units fill, they are only a small part of the mission. While I can speak in general terms about military music with some authority, I am more comfortable speaking about music in the United States Air Force (USAF).

The first paradigm shift is to think of "music" in the military, not just marching bands. As such, one gains a broader view of using music as a tool and not as an end in itself. Music supports the larger mission of the USAF by preserving and promoting our national heritage through a variety of musical products. Team work and communication are keys to success. To be effective and reach the largest audience, all tools of technology and communication must be employed. Each and every performance displays the core values of the USAF--integrity, service and excellence. When one views Air Force musicians in action, these values become immediately apparent.


First, we must establish what music does to make it so effective as a tool of influence. Music surpasses speech by establishing a communicative connection between people that involves the basic senses common to all, without resorting to sounds unique to any one race, ethnic or social group.

USAF musicians connect disparate peoples by establishing commonalities on an emotional level--not intellectual. This is the real strength and reason for music in the USAF. The better the musical product (performance), the more influence is projected. There also is a concept of "transference." Simply put, if one sees and hears a performance (any medium) by a USAF musical organization, the listener will associate/transfer the excellence of that performance with the quality of work being accomplished by the entire USAF. Of course, this concept applies to a variety of situations and work environments.

Many tangible things take place in this process. Certainly, there is enhanced morale of listeners (troops), family and friends that equates to esprit de corps and retention for the USAF. With the "tingle factor" in place (a great performance), music inspires. This inspiration influences parents, relatives and certainly encourages youth to serve their nation. Inspiration takes many forms, but quality leads to trust--"If it is this good, how good is everything else?"


USAF musicians are trusted agents nonverbally communicating the values Americans embrace. They send messages through quality performance and symbols, our flag and the uniform for example, to the world about democracy, diversity and excellence. This ability to project values through music, associated with symbols, strengthens the reputation as a good neighbor that is a respected professional organization responsible for national security. That is no small task.

Let's continue to look at the big picture of what it means to be a member of the USAF Music Program. A member of one of these elite musical ensembles will promote American pride and patriotism, communicate our national heritage and link that to the future. He will represent the highest standards of military deportment and musical performance, which demonstrate personal and organizational integrity and technical competency. A member of the USAF Music Program will be in a synergistic environment that converges the collective efforts of all toward the greater whole while being responsive and sensitive to the individual.

The USAF Music Program hires and trains musicians to provide a broad variety of musical products in various mediums. With those skill sets, the USAF Music Program can respond quickly to various needs and requirements of the customer.

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