Soldiers in the Spotlight

Each month we spotlight and celebrate Soldiers for their special contributions to The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” Their roles are all different, and they come from diverse backgrounds, but they are all American Soldiers serving their country through music. Each month has been designated a special tribute or theme, and Soldiers were chosen based on this criteria. We hope you enjoy learning more about these world-class Army Band musicians who strive to inspire, educate, and entertain audiences every day! The opinions expressed in these personal profiles are not those of the U.S. Army.

View Spotlight Archives

February 2017

Master Sgt. Amanda Jury

Master Sgt. Amanda Jury

Where are you from and when did you join the Army Band?

I am originally from Belmont, MA, a suburb right outside of Boston. I spent my entire childhood there and went to undergrad and Masters degrees all in the city of Boston. I did my undergrad at Boston University and my Masters was at New England Conservatory of Music, both in oboe performance. I joined in 2000, so almost 17 years ago! I won my audition as the English horn player with the Concert Band.

And now you’re the section leader and principal, is that right?

That’s right. So I was the English horn player for 8 years and there was a position open for Principal oboe in 2008. I took that audition and won it as well.

Was this your first military audition?

This was my first audition for a military band. I had taken a few orchestral auditions prior to this audition, but not very many. I won this job a year after I completed my Master’s degree. I had a few auditions before that weren’t as successful, but I learned a lot.

What did you do in that year between your Master’s and the Army Band?

My boyfriend at the time, now my husband, won his job with the Army Band first. He had asked me to move to the DC area with him. So, I spent the better part of 9 months freelancing, trying to gain as much playing experience as I could. I taught several students and worked in the office of the Levine School of Music part time, all in an attempt to fill my time with as much work as possible.

So your husband, SGM Michael Jury, won his job about a year prior to your audition?

A year in a half, yes. We were the same age in school, he in New York, me in Boston. Upon graduation, we weren’t quite sure how we were going to find our way to each other. Then he won his job in the Army Band and was very excited about the possibilities that lay ahead. So when he asked if I wanted to move to the DC area, not having a job in Boston, I figured I could go have no job in DC and start a future with him. It was sort of a leap of faith because my entire childhood, my family, my friends and all of my schooling was in Boston. I had a lot of hopes that we had a good future ahead. While I watched Mike work with the band, I became more impressed with the types of opportunities that were presented to him. So 9 months later, a position opened up for Oboe.

That couldn’t have gone any better.

No, it really couldn’t have. The oboe position before mine was 11 year prior. So I felt this pressure that if I didn’t win this job that someone else was going to be sitting in my position for years to come.

So how did you overcome that kind of pressure to win your audition?

I was very passionate about finding work and I also substitute taught elementray school. So I had several things going on to make ends meet, to feel independent, and to have a purpose. After spending 9 months working toward those goals, I told Mike that everything was going to stop, I wasn’t going to substitute teach, freelance or anything. My entire focus was going to be 6 weeks toward winning this job. I practiced every day, ALL day, for 6 weeks and I told him, I wouldn’t be of much use until after the audition, but he was extremely supportive of whatever I needed.

What is your first influential musical memory?

I started playing in the 4th grade, and while my parents were not musicians, nor were they musical, we had a neighbor who was a pianist who led my parents through the ins and outs of a budding musician. She introduced me to the New England Conservatory Prep Division and a chamber music camp in New England that ranged in age from 13 to 80. So it was amatures, but the group that ran the camp was a professional chamber group. They were very special and inspiring musicians. Here I found myself playing in a woodwind quintet with a clarinet player who was a prominent doctor at a hospital in Boston. I always enjoyed the company of older people, looking up to them and learning from them, so that was a big deal for me. Playing music with adults as a 13 year old, I had a sense that I had to be on my best behavior and I was so inspired by the music, I felt like I could do this all day long. I really appreciated being treated like an adult and I felt the sense of collaboration through the music, which helped set a path of discipline and maturity that I fell into pretty quickly.

Did you choose the oboe initially?

Actually, it was kind of by mistake. We had an instrument demonstration by a local high school and they didn’t even have an oboe there that day, only an oboe reed. I think I wrote flute as my first choice, clarinet as my second and I put oboe third because when they played on the reed I thought that the sound was kinda cool. My friend thought so too, and she wrote down oboe so I wrote it with her. The band director saw that and said, “yeah, that’s what you’re playing!”

It sounds like your parents were very supportive of your musical life, despite not being musical themselves.

Yes, they had no musical talent whatsoever. But both my sister and I were quite talented at an early age. She sang and played the flute but didn’t wind up going into music. My parents were thrown into this world that they knew nothing about but were delighted by it as much as I was. They came to every single concert and drove me to every lesson. They learned quite a bit about the classical world through my experiences.

Now that you’ve been in the Army for nearly 17 years, what does it mean to you to be a soldier?

I think that, particularly in the Band, we have an amazing gift to be able to tie together the extremes of emotions. From mourning a fallen soldier to the celebration and joy of Military service.

What’s your most memorable moment in the military?

It was very early in my career, about 9 months after I joined the band was September 11th, 2001. We had our annual trip to go to New York and that changed from a showcase concert to a ceremony at ground zero. I remember arriving there still able to see the smoke rising from the fallen buildings. All of the rescue workers paused and faced us as we played God Bless America. I actually didn’t play a note because the oboe is not a ceremonial instrument. I stood there holding a clarinet. But just being a part of the formation, I realized that music is more than just playing the perfect notes in the practice room. It’s bigger than me, and I had been searching for that.

What was it like being in the Band during that time?

Pretty much like everyone in the country, it shook us to the core. I was actually in Arlington National Cemetery, part of the Band escort on a full honor funeral when the plane hit the Pentagon, only a quarter mile away. We saw all the smoke coming out of the Pentagon, and it was shocking. We found ourselves down at the Pentagon the following week making ID cards for the rescue workers, doing anything we could to help. It was a quick introduction that the impact of my job can have. While I don’t perform many ceremonies, when I can fill in, I find that the most meaningful moments within the band are when I’m not even playing a note.

So International Women’s Day was March 8th, what does it mean to you to be a woman in the military and the band?

I am very proud of my service in the band and in the Army. I think it’s important for my two daughters to have a role model to look up to. They see me put in countless hours in preparation for work. I think I show them the importance of work ethic, dedication and responsibility to the people I work with. I delight in telling people about my job because they think it’s pretty cool. Also, I am a running coach and mentor for “Girls on the Run” which is a transformational physical activity based positive youth development program for girls 3rd-8th grade. The program teaches life skills through dynamic interactive lessons and running games. The program culminates with the girls being physically and emotionally prepared to complete a celebratory 5k running event. The goal of the program is to unleash confidence through accomplishment while establishing a lifetime appreciation of health and fitness. This is my 5th season as a coach and both of my daughters are in the program. It is a wonderful way to meet the physical fitness requirements of my job and have a way of connecting with my daughters at the same time.

It must be interesting to watch your daughters grow around two military parents in comparison to your own upbringing which didn’t include the military so prominently.

They were born into the Army Band family, and they love it. They’ve come to work all of these years for various concerts, to see their dad play at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers or working in his office for Operations. It’s all they’ve ever known. And all of my friends are in the Army Band, so they think everyone is in TUSAB. They think that every day at work is a fun day, which is a wonderful perspective to have.

Is there any advice you’d like to give to aspiring musicians?

When I first came to town I took an audition for the Annapolis symphony for second oboe, which I won. I kept that job for about 15 years. When I came to town I sent my resume to different orchestras, asking if I could play as a substitute with them. The Annapolis symphony called me shortly after they got it and told me that they had an audition in two weeks. I felt a little bit lost without a reason to practice. From that audition, I won a lot of confidence. After that I took the freelance showcase audition, which is a way to gain freelance work in the DC area, and I got work with the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra and National Symphony Orchestra from that audition. So for any young players, take as many auditions as you can. I certainly didn’t do well on my first audition, I needed several to learn from before I figured out how to win one.

February 2017

Staff Sgt. Christopher Watkins

Staff Sgt. Christopher Watkins

Where are you from originally and where did you go to school?

I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. I did my bachelors degree at LSU, and I studied with four different teachers: James West for two years, then I studied with Brian McWhorter. Jeff Kay for a year and Brian Shaw for my final year, who is the current teacher. At Manhattan School of Music, I studied with Mark Gould.

Were you looking at military band jobs before your Army Band audition?

My dad was a band director so the top dream job was always a military band for me, not orchestra, even though the schools were orchestral based. My goal was to be in a premiere military band. I started auditioning for bands in grad school and just lucked out when I got this job. I probably took 6 or 7 auditions before I won this one.

Were they auditions in general, or band auditions?

I had only taken band auditions, I had zero interest in orchestral auditions.

Do you have any prior military service in your family?

Not my immediate family. My grandfather was a Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Army.

Did that have any impact on your goal of joining a military band?

It was more my dad than my grandfather. Growing up, if my dad was working on the Hindemith Symphony in B-flat, or Persichetti Symphony for Band, preparing for high school band festivals, he would listen to all the military bands to get an idea of sound concept. So I heard military bands on the CD’s they released for years, maybe beginning in elementary school.

You’ve had those sound concepts in your ear for a long time! What is your earliest musical memory?

Hanging out at my dad’s high school rehearsals, usually concert band. I remember going to those rehearsals and thinking, “man, these dudes can play!”

What made you choose the trumpet?

My dad was a trumpet player, even though I never heard him play since he stopped right after college, I was familiar with that instrument. I think I may have told him that I wanted to play the trumpet before fifth or sixth grade band. So he gave me a trumpet mouthpiece and I did nothing but buzz the trumpet mouthpiece for a year before I played a note on the trumpet. I don’t remember how I sounded when I started but my dad said that when I started playing, that I never made a bad sound.

Did you play any other instruments growing up?

I started off playing piano in elementary school, but I don’t play anymore.

So, how long have you been in the Army?

I just came up on 4 years last month.

Why did you decide to become a professional military musician?

I started off wanting to follow in my dad’s footsteps and become a band director. So when I was at LSU I was an education major and then I realized that I got into music because I enjoyed playing the trumpet more than teaching. I didn’t think about playing professionally until my senior year in undergrad, which is kind of late since that’s when I really began to practice. But I didn’t really know much about how to make a living as a professional musician, let alone as a military musician. Then someone came and spoke to us from one of the bands, maybe West Point, and it became clear that you can make a living as a military musician. And that’s when I switched from education to performance.

Did you win your job right out of school?

I didn’t win right after school. After I graduated from Manhattan I was in New York for maybe a year, and then I moved back to Atlanta where I was teaching and freelancing, and also practicing hard trying to get out of Atlanta. I think I auditioned for every single band leading up to this one.

How did you do at the other auditions?

I was a finalist for all of them except for the Marine band.

What does it mean to you to be in the Army?

It’s a humbling job. It means I play Taps frequently for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. It is the last musical statement that their families will hear to remind them of their loved one. It’s very special and it’s an honor. I try not to take it for granted since I’ll play Taps three or four hundred times a year, but every time is a very special moment.

Is there any event that strikes you as memorable in your time with the Army Band?

Occasionally, I stand in a spot where I can see the next of kin and I can see their emotions begin to pour out, especially after they hear the first note of Taps. It puts into perspective what you’re doing, and it’s very special. We’re not here to play for ourselves, we’re here for them. I’ve felt personally affected from playing Taps a few times over the years.

Do you have any advice for aspiring military musicians?

After all the practicing, start taking auditions! I didn’t realize how the audition process worked until I began physical taking auditions. I went to my first one with a lot of confidence, knowing that I was going to be highly competitive, but I ended up not being very successful. I thought I played well, but it was more humbling than I anticipated. My advice is to just start taking auditions, and try not to get discouraged.

Can you tell me any stories about your time in the Army?

Last year I played a solo with the band that was written for my Dad by James Curnow. They were good friends, and he wrote a piece for my Dad for his retirement entitled Nexus for wind band and percussion. I played the premiere with James Curnow conducting a few years ago and then I played it with TUSAB on the President’s Cup concert last year. That was a special moment for me. As a band director, the DC military bands are IT! You’re a super star if you make it here. So my dad’s always bragging and proud of that and it was nice to bring that piece to the band and play it here.

I’m assuming your dad got to attend the concert.

You know what, he did not because the flights were delayed! But my mom was there. So now I have to do it again!

You seem to always have a positive and good natured attitude about things. Do you think that’s helped you in your career?

I’ve always been laid back and try to go with the flow, stay positive and have a happy attitude about life in general. Whenever you can have positive thoughts, it makes life easier. Our life is what our thoughts make it. If you have a positive attitude and positive thoughts, you can’t really be in a bad mood. It makes the work environment more fun.

What does it mean to you to be African-American in the Army Band?

I feel like I can be a role model for aspiring African-American musicians. There aren’t a lot of us here and I go out and try to be visible in this job. So when there’s a black family in the audience I feel like they would have some sense of pride to see someone like them in the band. That’s how I feel, but I’m sure that pride exists whenever some minority group is being represented in any organization. I try to carry myself well, since I represent more than just myself. It gives me the extra motivation to stay at the top of my game and stay sharp.

January 2017

Staff Sgts. Drew and Paige Fremder