by Erik Franklin
When I first won the position with the US Army Field Band, I was apprehensive about shipping off to Basic Combat Training for 10 weeks! Forget apprehensive, I was just plain scared. I wasn’t in the best shape physically, and I certainly did not want to spend all that time away from my instrument getting yelled at with a bunch of total strangers!
Long story short, I had a fantastic time at Ft. Jackson!! I mean, it was miserable, with lots of running, push-ups, waiting in the cold and in the rain, schlepping around an M16 rifle everywhere I went, eating terrible food with a quickness like no other, the list goes on...
But I did learn several things about myself that made the experience unforgettable. Besides having my dream job, I now have a new outlook on life, what it means to be a citizen, a soldier, and a musician. The armed forces aren’t for everyone, sure, but I think military bands are a great way to serve our country doing what you love...that will be for another blog post—I could write about that all day!
In Basic, we learn about the seven Army values: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage (LDRSHIP - if there’s one thing the army loves, it’s acronyms!). We all developed a deep personal relationship with each of these values, but the three biggest qualities that I took away from BCT are duty (discipline), integrity, and personal courage. These inform my lifestyle now as a soldier-musician, and they have improved how I approach music.
These two ideas are separate, but related. In BCT, we were always doing things that no normal human would ever want to do. Waking up at 4:00am to make your bed and go outside (in January) to work out was not ever high up on my bucket list, but somehow we all managed to do that for 9+ weeks straight. We also had to keep our sleeping area clean, often taking shifts waking up in the middle of the night to mop the floors, clean the bathrooms, sweep the stairs, etc. These were our duties, and we fulfilled them completely every time (at the risk of being “smoked” by our drill sergeants). At first, fear of the Drill Sergeants is the prime motivator, but eventually, you develop a sense of pride and accomplishment when you carry out these not-so-glamorous duties.
Now that I’m out of BCT, physical fitness and musical maturity are skills that I have to maintain constantly. I still hate-love running, but I get out there and hit the pavement several times a week, making sure I am ready to meet the physical fitness standards that the army requires. Practicing is something that we all have a love-hate relationship with. Some days, some weeks, all we can think about is the next time we get to practice, the next time we get to make music. Other days or weeks, we dread having to put in that time. Having this sense of duty to maintain my chops constantly and improve myself musically keeps me working hard at the clarinet, even on days when I don’t want to. There is no Drill Sergeant here in my face to practice daily, but I have that need within me to fulfill all my duties, thanks to the Army.
One of my Drill Sergeant’s favorite things to say was “Do the right thing, privates!” I’ve always thought of myself as a person with integrity, and I don’t think I was ever without it. BUT, doing the right thing 100% of the time is harder than it seems, and sometimes we don’t even realize that what we are doing isn’t completely right. How many times have we cut corners? Even in everyday chores, like washing dishes or folding clothes...I bet we have all put them off for too long, did a sloppy job folding our clothes, letting things slide. This is what my Drill Sgt. was talking about. Everyone is good at doing the right thing when it comes to big things, but we make excuses in our head for letting little things slide.
I have caught myself doing this when I play or when I practice. I still have to work on it, because I think we are all a bit lazy by nature...but holding myself to a high standard, always trying to “do the right thing” has helped me to be a better player and a better colleague.
Most of the activities we did in BCT do not translate directly to music or playing an instrument, but the idea of facing your fears is something that we all dealt with at some point in BCT, and we have to face fears, large and small, throughout life. One of my biggest fears was (and continues to be) heights. Well, we had no shortage of opportunities to get over our fear of heights in BCT! 50ft rappelling walls, ropes courses, Jacob’s Ladder, it’s all pretty scary!! But you have to do it, you have to! I am still scared of heights, but I know that I can deal with them if I need to. I never thought I would be able to do something like army-crawl on a rope or climb Jacob’s Ladder...I still have no interest to seek that out (!!!), but I now have the confidence and the courage to take on my fears!
Stage fright is one that we see a lot in our business...people get nervous to play from memory, to play a solo, to play for a big crowd, etc. I don’t think I’ll ever not be nervous, but I know that I have the courage to face any of those fears.
My dad, a retired Command Sergeant Major in the Army, told me before I left for basic that it would be “the best thing I’ve ever done that I never want to do again”! He was half-joking, but I think he nailed it. It’s miserable, and that’s intentional. But when you get over that, the things you learn are invaluable, no matter what profession you pursue. I’m not planning to go back to Basic Combat Training again in this lifetime or even the next, but I’m glad I did get to do it once, if only to make myself a better musician and a better person!