Chief Master Sgt. Jan Duga’s distinguished career in the United States Air Force Band began in 1983. She was the first female tubist to be a member of a United States premier military band. Duga recently retired from the ensemble.
Chief Duga graduated from The Ohio State University in 1980 with a Bachelor of Music Education degree. She continued her education at Arizona State University, earning a Master of Music degree in tuba performance in 1982. Her teachers include her father, Jules Duga, Robert LeBlanc, Raymond Nutaitis, Michael Bunn and Paul Krzywicki. Prior to joining the Air Force, she was a music educator in the Chillicothe, Ohio, public school system.
Chief Duga was featured as a soloist with the Brass Band of Columbus at the 1992 International Tuba Euphonium Conference (ITEC), and also with the 34th Minnesota Infantry Division Band at the 1998 ITEC. She is a charter member of the International Women’s Brass Conference (IWBC) and has conducted and performed in the Joint Service Brass Ensemble at the IWBC conferences in 1993, 1997, and 2001.
Jan with her Lifetime Achievement Award at the International Women’s Brass Conference.
Steven Maxwell: Congratulations on such an accomplished career! You have made great contributions to the brass world and hold pioneer status as a female premier military band tubist. Of what career accomplishment are you most proud?
Jan Duga: I am most proud to have had the opportunity to perform alongside some of the most talented musicians in world. The caliber of their musicianship is what makes The USAF Band one of the most musical organizations of its kind. I’m most proud of having had the chance to tour and share musical experiences with diverse audiences throughout the United States and abroad. What I enjoyed most was simply being visible on stage, and to show that women can attain a position of rank as I have and succeed as a tubist. I was most affected by playing at funerals for the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery.
Jan Duga as a student
Being part of history’s front door ran the gamut, from performing for heads of state and other foreign dignitaries at the White House or Pentagon to representing the United States and the United States Air Force on foreign soil for the 50th anniversary of V-E Day in Moscow, to welcoming back troops from Desert Storm at a ticker-tape parade in New York City, or performing for music industry leaders at major music conventions. I’m so proud to have served my country in these diverse ways.
SM: Before you became a member of The United States Air Force Concert Band, you graduated from Arizona State University with a master’s in music performance and then spent some time as a music educator. Where you looking for a military job at that time? What drew you to the military?
JD: At the time, I was open to any and all auditions. I took the “President’s Own” Marine Band audition while an undergraduate and auditioned for the Columbus (OH) Symphony Orchestra prior to teaching. When I interviewed for the teaching job, I made the committee aware that my long-term goal was to play my horn for a living. They understood and hired me to teach K-12 instrumental and general music. Within a couple months of teaching, The USAF Band position came up and my tape was accepted for a live audition. Once I was offered a position with the Band, I had the school superintendent’s support which allowed me to terminate my teaching contract mid-year to pursue my performance dreams.
I had some friends in some of the military bands and knew the position came with a certain amount of financial security as well as other benefits. I also knew I had the discipline to handle basic training and the flexibility to adapt to different situations.
Duga in a high school orchestra rehearsal
SM: You hold the distinction of being the first female tubist in any of the premier U.S. military bands. Can you tell us a bit about your audition experience and your early time with the ensemble? How did it feel to be the first and to break this barrier?
JD: At the audition, all the candidates were asked to line up in no particular order to play the preliminary round. There were only two people in the room listening and deciding who would advance. Before the second round of the audition, the committee was told there was a woman who had advanced. Not expecting this, they decided it would be best to put up a screen to protect everyone’s anonymity. The screen came down for the final round.
Having had a lot of experience playing with all-male sections, and leading many of them, it never felt awkward. I just came prepared to do my best. It is quite an accomplishment to be the ‘first’ with anything you do. The opportunity was there, I was prepared, and the rest is history.
Jan Duga dots the “i” as the first female member of the tuba section in The Ohio State University Marching Band, September 1979
SM: You achieved another first during your time at The Ohio State University. As a member of The Ohio State University Marching Band, you were the first woman to dot the “i” in the on field script “Ohio” just six years after women were permitted into the band. Can you tell us about that experience?
Jan: Trying out for The Ohio State University Marching Band was one of the most grueling things I’d ever done. And, by the way, you try out each year. No one is grandfathered into their spot after their first time making it. It’s that competitive. There were two parts to the tryout…a musical audition and a marching audition. I knew I could pass the musical part, but handling a 32+ lb sousaphone day-in and day-out was a little more challenging. I had played in my high school marching band and was quick to memorize the drills and music for the shows, so having that experience worked to my advantage. I also had a goal and a positive attitude to keep me going.
When the results were announced near the end of the tryout week, one returning member shook my hand and said, “You’re breaking a lot of tradition.” I took that as both a compliment and a challenge. I was to be part of a great team, and I knew that I’d have to continue to do my very best to measure up if I was to succeed. I persevered and was a four-year member, a prerequisite to becoming an “i-dotter.” Being the first woman in the sousaphone section put me in a great position for becoming the first woman “i-dotter.”
USAF Band tuba section, c. 1987
SM: How did you begin your musical training? Did you have a musical family? What age did you begin playing tuba?
JD: I grew up with a father who played tuba with the Columbus Symphony for a few years in the early 1960s, and he gigged around town playing in pit orchestras for several musicals that came through the area. I learned the words to these musicals by the age of three and sang them with my mother. We were always going to concerts. After playing for a couple years I would go with my father and play on his local union band rehearsals and concerts. The experience I got reading all that concert band literature really set me up for success in my future.
I was nine years old and in fourth grade when I started playing tuba.
SM: What drew you to the tuba?
JD: When it came time to choose an instrument, I wanted to play something different and be unique, so I chose the tuba. Everyone else wanted to play the flute or clarinet. The fact that the tuba was accessible in my house also played into my decision. I never was pressured into playing it, though. It was something I chose and had my parents’ complete support. At the first day meeting with the band director, I brought in a tuba mouthpiece, which surprised her. After successfully trying me out on several other instruments, she agreed to let me start on tuba, knowing that my father could help me with more specific skills.
USAF Band tuba section poses in front of a B-52
SM: During your accomplished career that included solo performances at international conferences and years of service with The United States Air Force Concert Band you must have had many professional highlights. Could you tell us about your most memorable experiences?
JD: Beyond those I’ve already mentioned I would include the Band’s stellar performance at the 1992 ITEC in Lexington, KY. Not only did I get to solo with the Brass Band of Columbus on a separate concert, but the Concert Band’s gala performance was nothing less than outstanding. I’ve had the opportunity to perform with numerous guest artists and for foreign band leaders, extending our diplomatic outreach to strengthen nation-building. I’ve also enjoyed giving clinics to young students on what it’s like to be in a military band. Each of the Band’s six performances at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic has been memorable. This past December’s performances capped off my 30-year career and set the musical bar for the rest of the week’s performances.
SM: What advice do you have for students interested in auditioning for a military band?
JD: Learn the literature. Listen to as many recordings as you can. Play as musically as you can. Just because it’s a military band doesn’t mean your playing has to be rigid or sterile. So many students I’ve talked with think that if you have the notes down technically perfect, then you’re good to go. Yes, you need to pay close attention to rhythmic notation and time, but that’s only half the battle. Audition committees want to hear someone who grabs their attention, and the candidate’s musicality is that additional necessary element. Practice playing with good tone, intonation and dynamic range. Sight-read everything you can. Play in small ensembles to learn to play in tune and in time, to pass musical lines from one instrument to another, and to make better musical phrases.
SM: Now that you are retired from the military, what do you plan to do in the next chapter of your life?
JD: I will of course continue to play and teach. At this time, I’m still investigating other options and am keeping an open mind as to what the future will bring. Stay tuned.