Military Corner by Steven Maxwell
A Chat with Lauren Veronie of the U.S. Army Field Band
Steven Maxwell : Can you tell us about your early musical influences, even before you began playing the euphonium?
Lauren Veronie: My earliest musical influence was the radio. My parents mostly listened to country and whatever kind of soft romantic jams you might find on the late-night Delilah show. I really started listening to music around the same time the CD player was invented. My first CD was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. I listened to it over and over until my mom cut it up into tiny pieces because she found out it had the f-bomb in the lyrics.
SM: Did you hear much live music at a young age?
LV: Not really. I grew up in a small town outside of Houston, but my family never took advantage of big-city musical opportunities until after I joined the school band. Once I became interested in learning music, I dragged my family to concerts, begged them to take me to see Canadian Brass, and had them running me all over the place experiencing live music.
SM: How did you begin your musical training? Did you have a musical family? At what age did you begin playing euphonium?
Rehearsing for the 2014 Presidential Inaugural Parade. Photo by John Altman
LV: I took a few years of piano lessons as a kid, but quit to do Tae Kwon Do with my brother instead. In sixth grade, I was able to join the school band. My mom really wanted me to play the flute, because she thought it was pretty and dainty. So I picked the euphonium.
I come from a big Cajun family, and music in the form of singing and dancing was an important part of having a good time together. Even though my parents didn’t know anything about music, they encouraged and supported me in countless ways.
SM: What were some of your most inspirational teachers throughout your studies? What specifically did you learn from these teachers that helped you in the military bands?
LV: Two early influences were my high school band director, Wendy Marquart, and John Ware, whom I studied with privately from middle school until college. They both had high standards and expectations, and made sure I worked on the fundamentals of playing. They were always passionate about making good music. They took it seriously and encouraged their students to work hard to serve the music. I think that’s one of the biggest lessons a young player can learn.
My biggest influence as a player is Dr. Brian Bowman. I studied with him for six years and I could write a book about all the things I learned from him. My favorite lesson, and one that continues to serve me well in my job, is to always be a positive ambassador for the euphonium-take the time to talk with people and share your passion and enthusiasm. Every time I solo with the band and have audience members tell me what a treat it was to hear the euphonium for the first time, I think of Dr. Bowman and am proud to be advocating for the instrument.
Chatting with audience members after a concert in Potsdam, NY. Photo by Rob McIver
SM: What drew you to the military?
LV: A paycheck? No, it really is an amazing way to make a living. I was 15 when I learned it was possible to play in a band for an actual grown-up job. That sounded like the sweetest idea ever. I later heard the U.S. Coast Guard Band and the U.S. Air Force Band in concert and was encouraged by early mentors like Bob Daniel and Jan Duga. I’ve been a soldier-musician for five years now, and representing the U.S. Army through music is immensely gratifying.
SM: Can you describe for us what the audition process was like for you? Do you have any advice for anyone interested in taking an audition? What was your practice routine like during your preparations?
LV: The Army Field Band requires a taped submission and resume. Upon receiving an invitation to the live round, I had a few weeks to prepare a new packet of music. Of course, most of the music isn’t really “new” to anyone who’s been taking auditions. The Army paid my travel expenses, and I had to meet with a recruiter and do a physical to make sure I was eligible to join the military. The first round of the live audition was behind a screen. The panel asked for a prepared solo, half of the excerpt packet, and sight-reading. The screen came down for the second round, so I performed for about ten strangers. They were hard to see because they were wearing camouflage. I later learned it was the tuba and euphonium sections, a trumpet player, a trombone player, a saxophone player, and three conductors. The panel heard the rest of the excerpt packet and I played the beginning of Holst’s 1st Suite with the band’s euphonium player. The panel conducted an interview immediately after I finished playing. There was a third round at my audition, where they asked me and one other candidate to come back and play some excerpts again. After deliberating, they came down to offer me the job, and then I fainted. Not really, but it was a very surreal, exciting moment.
I actually auditioned for the Army Field Band twice. At the first audition, I made it through three rounds, and they declined to hire anybody. I had come so close, and I was really hungry for it. I practiced many hours per day for both auditions, but I did two things differently for the second that I think made the difference: I recorded every practice session, and I did mock auditions with as many people as possible. I had a note pad and would analyze my practice sessions as if I were teaching myself a lesson. I played and recorded those excerpts so many times. Then I went around to a bunch of professors at North Texas and asked if they would listen to my excerpts. I played for two conductors, most of the brass professors, and even the Professor of Jazz Trumpet. I went back home to Houston and took lessons with my former teachers. I made my mom listen to me play in my audition outfit. Her main feedback was, “it isn’t ladylike to stand with your legs apart in a skirt.” I learned something from each person, and the extra preparation paid off.
Lauren warms up before a concert in Lancaster, PA.
SM: When did you begin to take auditions?
LV: I started taking auditions as a sophomore in college. I auditioned for the U.S. Marine Band, the U.S. Coast Guard Band, and twice for the U.S. Navy Band before landing my gig with the U.S. Army Field Band. Each experience was unique and extremely helpful in my development as a player.
SM: Could you describe what a typical day is like for you?
LV: I have two types of days-at home and on tour. When I’m at home the band usually rehearses five days a week from 9:30 am to noon. The rest of the day I work on collateral duties, practicing, exercise, or whatever else I need to get done.
On tour, a typical day is: wake up in hotel room, work out, eat crappy hotel breakfast (if it’s free), pack up belongings, load the bus, drive to the next town, check into hotel room, practice a bit, grab early dinner, load bus, drive to venue, play concert for patriotic Americans, drive back to hotel, beer. Repeat for 30-40 days. It’s all very glamorous.
SM: Some of the readers may not be familiar with differences between the United States Army Field Band and other the premier military bands. Could you explain the difference and what duties may differ from your ensemble to the next?
LV: The U.S. Army Field Band has a unique touring mission. We work for the U.S. Army’s Department of Public Affairs and are known as “The Musical Ambassadors of the Army.” We tour an average of 100-120 days each year, performing concerts in the smallest towns as well as the biggest cities. Our sister organization, The U.S. Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” serves the Military District of Washington D.C. and has a ceremonial mission that includes playing funerals at Arlington Cemetery and performing at various military events around the Capitol. While the other military bands also play concerts and occasionally tour, the main job of my ensemble is to take the music to the people. In the past five years I’ve performed in all of the lower 48 states except South Dakota. I love traveling, and can’t imagine a better way to make a living.
SM: What is your typical touring schedule like from year to year?
LV: The United States is broken into five touring areas, which we rotate between each of our three yearly tours. We generally do 30 to 40-day tours in the spring and the fall and a 15-day tour in the summer. On average, we hit all 50 states every 2.5 years. 2013 has been an off year, as we had to cancel our last three tours due to Sequestration. We hope to be back on the road very soon. In the meantime, we have been doing local concerts within driving distance of our home base, Ft. Meade, Maryland.
SM: What kinds of things have you found yourself doing differently, stylistically, playing with the ensemble?
LV: In my band, the euphoniums are almost always asked to play with no vibrato. I have my own personal opinion about this, but any ensemble is a group effort and I expect to make some compromises. On any given day I might play anything from Grainger to Lee Greenwood. It’s important to be adaptable and always be listening for style.
Lauren rehearsing a solo with the U.S. Army Field Band Brass Quintet
SM: What has been your most enjoyable piece of music to play with the group?
LV: That’s tough. I love the big orchestral transcriptions with fun euphonium parts. I like new, original works for band, and I enjoy backing up a soloist when they are really good. I still get misty-eyed from time to time while playing the Armed Forces Salute for Veterans. If I had to pick just one, I’d say Claude Smith’s Festival Variations…if the conductor takes it fast enough.
SM: What has been the least enjoyable piece of music you have played with the ensemble?
LV: Anything the audience isn’t feeling. There’s nothing worse than a bored crowd. A piece of music might be perfect for the Midwest Band & Orchestra Clinic, but absolutely bombs in small-town Nebraska. I think, to some extent, you have to give the people what they want. You can only open ears to new music if you meet people half way by also playing music they can relate to and enjoy. Smatterings of applause and deafening cricket sounds make me squirm.
SM: What other type of playing do you enjoy outside of the military bands?
LV: In addition to performing with the Concert Band, I’m also a soloist with the U.S. Army Field Band Brass Quintet. The group occasionally plays sextets and special arrangements that include me. I love playing chamber music and try to learn new pieces for regular chamber recitals whenever I get the chance. I do a fair amount of teaching and soloing outside of the band, and I even get the occasional gig. I just played a wedding with a tuba quartet. If you know someone who needs romantic tuba at their wedding, give them my number.
SM: What is the make and model of your instrument? Is there a standard make/model for the ensemble?
LV: I play a Willson 2900S. My section-mate plays the same model, but it’s certainly not a requirement for the job. Provided there is funding, the band lets you order any type of instrument you want to play.