Robert Waters is a member of one of the National Guard Bands working part time to provide music for military operations, support citizens, and promote national interests at home and abroad.
Waters has quite a background in music, having received both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Maryland. He has performed in numerous prestigious ensembles throughout his career including the Monumental Brass Quintet, Washington, D.C. (founding member), Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, National Symphony, Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, and the 257th Army National Guard Band. His is currently a member of the 440th Army National Guard Band and Liberty Brass Quintet in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Steven Maxwell: What drew you to the National Guard Band?
Robert Waters: To be honest, I discovered National Guard Bands by accident. One day as I was looking for a number in the phone book, I happened upon a listing for the 257 th National Guard Band in Washington, D.C. After several encouraging conversations with a few members of the band and their Commander, I auditioned and was fortunate enough to be accepted. Their brass quintet, which stayed quite busy, had just lost the tuba player, so my timing couldn’t have been better.
SM: When during your career did you become a member of the National Guard Band?
RW: After spending a number of years on active duty, I left the military to teach school. When the opportunity came to join the 257th, I jumped at the chance. Before joining the military, I was making a living as a double bass player in the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, substituting in the National Symphony Orchestra, and freelancing in the D.C. metropolitan area on both tuba and double bass.
SM: How has being a member of a National Guard Band changed you as a performer?
RW: As the leader of the Liberty Brass, a Musical Performance Team (MPT) comprised of brass and percussion players from the 440th Army National Guard Band in Raleigh, NC, my responsibilities now include much more than just playing the notes on the page. This position requires coordinating all aspects of the musical part of ceremonies, special events, and concerts.
SM: Please describe your duties as a member of a National Guard Band.
RW: I’m the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge of the Liberty Brass as well as the low brass section leader, playing both tuba and euphonium. My primary duty, besides being proficient as a performer, is to make sure that we as soldier/musicians are prepared to deliver top-notch support in whatever capacity we’re called upon to serve. While supporting the troops is our primary mission, we also perform concerts in schools and before the general public, and are often called upon to support the Governor and other state officials in a variety of venues.
440th National Guard Band marching in a Memorial Day Parade in Thomasville, NC
SM: How much time do you spend in a musical setting?
RW: On the military side, the National Guard requires 2 full days of employment each month (usually on a weekend) as well as an additional 15 full days per year to earn a satisfactory year for retirement purposes. However, not every duty day involves a full day of rehearsing or performing.
In North Carolina, and I suspect in many other states as well, band members are often called upon to perform for more ceremonies and events than can be accommodated during those time periods described earlier. Over the course of a year, I probably spend an average of two extra days per month performing with the Guard. Next month, for example, our brass quintet is doing a school recruiting tour, so I’ll have the privilege of getting to play a nice mix of quintet music for six straight days, two or three concerts each day.
Brass quartet performing at a general officer’s pinning ceremony, Raleigh, NC
SM: What is the most rewarding part of being a member of a National Guard Band?
RW: To me, there is nothing more rewarding than having the opportunity to support the nearly 12,000 citizen/soldiers of the North Carolina National Guard. We’ve played for ceremonies where the audience numbers are in the thousands, and have traveled to fairly remote parts of the state to welcome home just a handful of soldiers and their families. When a soldier who has just returned from an arduous deployment personally expresses his gratitude to me for helping to make his homecoming special, it does something to me that words just can’t express.
SM: What is the most difficult part of being a member of National Guard Band?
RW: During a time when our nation’s military is undergoing so many changes, I’d have to say the most difficult part of being a military musician is the uncertainty about our future. Just as symphony orchestras have been adversely affected by fiscal matters, so has military music.
SM: What is your day job?
RW: I’m employed full-time as a Basic Skills Instructor at Beaufort County Community College in Washington, North Carolina. The bulk of my teaching involves helping students prepare to earn a GED.
SM: Do you have any advice for musicians who may be interested in becoming a member of a National Guard Band?
RW: I would strongly encourage them to arrange a visit with the National Guard Band they’re considering so they can get a first-hand look at just how the unit functions. Some bands will even allow potential members to rehearse with the band during a drill weekend. The other important piece to consider are the physical training requirements, which in general aren’t overly strenuous for those who lead an active lifestyle.
SM: What has been your most enjoyable piece of music you have played as a member of the group?
RW: There really isn’t one piece that comes to mind, but I suppose like many tuba players, having the opportunity to play regularly in a brass quintet is quite rewarding and enjoyable. For euphonium, almost any Sousa march offers both lyrical and technical challenges, as does much of the standard band literature.
I will say the most enjoyable concert I’ve played was a brass quintet recital during the Christmas season at an old country church. The audience was most appreciative, the setting and acoustics were wonderful, and we had a great time.
SM: What has been the least enjoyable piece of music you have played with the ensemble?
RW: Actually, it wasn’t what we played, but how we were used (one could use a liberal interpretation of “used”). The organizers wanted a band, and they wanted the band to play, but they didn’t want the music to interfere with dinner. So we played outside, but the event took place inside. Some folks discovered they could open their window and actually hear the band, so by the end of the evening, all of the windows had been opened, and when the last note ended, we received an enthusiastic round of applause (though we couldn’t see any of the people who were applauding).
SM: What instrument and mouthpiece do you use to perform?
RW: Since most of my playing is in small ensembles, I recently purchased a Joseph Lidl LCB – 702. It’s a ¾ CC tuba, the first CC tuba I’ve owned. The mouthpiece is a Denis Wick 2SL. My euphonium is a Yamaha 842 with a 53 HL mouthpiece. My favorite instrument, which I use as a member of The Little German Band and Dancers out of Raleigh, NC, is an oval Hermann Schmidt gold brass, six-valved kaiser baritone-a real gem.
Robert Waters’s Hermann Schmidt baritone