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Document Friday: George Washington says, “Nothing is more agreeable, and ornamental, than good music.”

August 20, 2010

17th Field Artillery Band in France during circa WW1. Via RV Bob on Flickr.

United States Army bands provide music throughout the entire spectrum of operations to instill in our forces the will to fight and win, foster the support of our citizens, and promote America’s interests at home and abroad.”  So says the US Army Band Field Manual.

The 44-page field manual –recently revealed by Steve Aftergood’s Secrecy News– is an interesting read.  It outlines the history of bands in the US Army and instructs how to set up a good gig –through the lens of the Army’s hightly regimented and uniform system.

According to General George Washington, “Nothing is more agreeable, and ornamental, than good music.”  He instructed: “Every officer, for the credit of his corps, should take care to provide it.”  He would appreciate the continued importance of bands in today’s Army.

This manual traces the linage of the army band all the way back to the Assyrians and Babylonians circa 3000 B.C.  In 1777, “the inspiration of the marching band was a significant contribution in the [Continental Army's] victory at the Battle of Bennington” and by 1832 almost all US Army regiments had a band.

The field manual also recounts some recent band success stories:

  • During the 1996 peacekeeping mission in Bosinia, the 1st Armored Division Band was tasked to send the US army rock band “Mo Better Blues” to Camp Uglijevik, where it was ordered to play for a Russian unit stationed there.  The convoy traveled the twisty, snow-covered, mountainous, and mined roads.  Finally Mo Better Blues reached the remote outpost: “The Russians jammed about 200 soldiers into the small mess hall.  Most were conscripts and did not look particularly happy to be there.  The band…played a list of classic rock tunes as well as some country music, and the Russians enthusiastically responded with demands for multiple encores.  The US liaison officer stated that the band had done more for US-Russian relations in 90 minutes than he had been able to do in 30 days.”
  • In 2004, 21 members of the 1st Cavalry Division Band were ambushed while driving to play at the first Iraqi Civil Defense Corps officer graduation ceremony.  A RPG passed between two trucks in the convoy.  The band still played at the ceremony… and its members received the combat action badge.
  • In 2008 the US Army Band participated in the Shanghai International Wind Band Festival.  “Association between the two countries’ bands was initially reserved and withdrawn…However, a positive climate was built by the third day of living and eating together when conspicuous small impromptu Chinese and American music groups began harmonizing.”  Doesn’t that remind you a little bit of the banjo scene from Deliverance?

The field manual also gives some helpful hints as to how to set up a successful gig.  These include: “training as a team,” “preparing for high levels of stress,” ensuring “availability of suitable electrical power,” having acceptable “general living conditions,” storing “multiple phone numbers,” understanding “stage layout,” and never forgetting an “inclement weather plan.”  Good tips, right Workout?

Finally the document shows that even Army bands were effected by the Rumsfeldian attempt to shift to a smaller, more mobile military.  “In May 2006 Army bands created small, flexible, and mobile teams designed to be capable of concurrent performances that reach more Soldiers in more locations globally.”  Probably a good thing to bring more tunes to the world –even to its combat zones– as the below diagram makes crystal clear.

Its hard to explain music.

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