Armed Forces School of Music: Then and Now

Story Number: NNS030702-06Release Date: 7/2/2003 10:47:00 AM
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By Connie Brown, Naval District Washington Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Armed Forces School of Music has trained many talented musicians over the years. In the process, the school has also experienced challenges and changes.

In a recent lecture at the Navy Museum June 17, Dr. Patrick M. Jones, associate professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and chief of the Air National Guard Bands, highlighted changes experienced by the Armed Forces School of Music over the years.

Jones, a graduate of the Armed Forces School of Music, shared from his personal associations, as well as information he gleaned from recent research toward his doctorate dissertation. Little is currently published on the subject, and some of the information Jones shared contradicts a few commonly-held views surrounding the history of the school.

According to Jones, women and African-Americans were involved in the military band field earlier than some believe. Jones displayed photos and news clippings that supported these facts.

"In the 1970s, the Navy admitted women in the band field ... and Sheila Peacock received a lot of attention (as the first)...," Jones said. "In reality, there were five women Army band members in the 1950s."

Jones shared little-known facts about minorities in the military band field. He displayed a photo of an integrated tuba class taken in 1918. This photo calls into question the commonly held belief that Augusta Adams was the first bandmaster of a military band with African-American members. The photo raises questions about when the Navy first had an integrated band.

During his lecture, Jones chronicled other changes experienced by the Armed Forces School of Music. In a later interview, Jones explained that the school of music was an adjunct of the Navy Band in the time leading up to World War II and was located at the Washington Navy Yard. Eventually, the school moved to Anacostia, to a building designed for it. The school had a recording studio, broadcast studio and an instrument repair shop, as well as other specialty rooms. During this time, the school became known as the Navy School of Music and was sometimes called the "poor man's conservatory."

The school of music first came under the command of a musician when it moved to its current location at the Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va.

About the time the school moved, the Navy School of Music became known as the Armed Forces School of Music to better reflect the fact that it was open to members from other military units. Currently, the school has students from the Navy, Marine Corps and Army, said Jones.

Over the years, the program offered by the Armed Forces School of Music changed from a two-year program to a short program, said Jones. Lt. Cmdr. George N. Thompson, executive officer of the school of music, who attended the lecture, said Jones brought up interesting information and perspectives.

Thompson commented on the training provided by the school today. "Our basic music course is approximately six months," said Thompson. "They receive training in harmony, theory, ear-training, as well as concert band and jazz ensemble, small chamber ensembles, military drill and contemporary music styles, such as, pop, rock, jazz and Latin.

"We have prerequisite requirements," continued Thompson, "and each person must audition to get into the school .... Each service has its own recruiting processes, and once they've enlisted, they need to meet the requirements (of the school)."

Thompson said that prospective students often audition for the school prior to enlisting in the military. After boot camp, they attend the school and then are sent out to fleet or military bands. Thompson said there is room for more musicians.

The Armed Forces School of Music is located on the Naval Amphibious Base in Norfolk, Va. For more information on the Armed Forces School of Music, go to or call (757) 462-5109.

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