MotherJones MA95: Nice Work If You Can Get It

A 1960s counterculture poster reads, “Perhaps the great day will come when we’ll have enough money for our schools and the Air Force will hold bake sales to pay for its bombers.” Don’t hold your breath. While federal support for all arts education, including music, is less than $21 million annually for kindergarten through high school, $193 million of taxpayer money is spent on military bands. The Pentagon is, in fact, the largest employer of musicians in the world, with more than 8,000 on the payroll from here to Panama to Italy to Guam. The four service branches and the Coast Guard spend $25 million more than the entire budget for the National Endowment for the Arts. Premier bands, such as the U.S. Marine Band and the Coast Guard Band, tend to have the best musicians, largest budgets, and nicest perks; band members’ only duty consists of rehearsals, performances, and travel time, so they often moonlight as music teachers or perform in civilian bands and orchestras. Military officials correctly point out that the band budget has been decreasing since 1991. But Lt. Col. Virginia Allen, bands officer for the army, puts the reduction in perspective by noting that no army musician has been handed a pink slip. “Army bands are alive and well,” says Allen. “We’re still hiring. Job security is going to continue to be good.”


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