Effort to Restrict Military Band Performances Criticized

WASHINGTON — Military band performances are about more than music, according to the President and CEO of John Philip Sousa Foundation in the wake of a House vote to limit spending on military bands.

The amendment attached to the House defense spending bill would restrict military bands from social performances such as Fourth of July celebrations.

“One has to understand why there’s music in the military to begin with — and it’s not to provide entertainment. That’s a very, very poor misperception about why we exist,” said U.S. Air Force Colonel Lowell E. Graham, retired.

In addition to his current role with the Sousa Foundation, Graham served as commander and conductor of the U.S. Air Force Band from 1995-2002.

He said he believes military musicians projecting excellence, integrity and service can act as a mechanism to help change, stabilize and continue culture.

“The band is not an end in itself, it is a tool to send those messages,” Graham said.

The Congresswoman who sponsored the amendment to restrict military bands from social performances is a retired United States Air Force Colonel.

“In my 26 years in the military — I used to be at Christmas parties with the wing commanders and the generals and we would have active-duty military entertaining us. And it bothered me then,” said Rep. Martha McSally, R-Arizona, on the house floor before the measure was passed.

“It will inform the military, Congress desires them to use defense dollars on defense,” McSally said while criticizing $437 million spent in 2015 to support bands in the U.S. armed forces.

“While our communities certainly do enjoy being entertained by our military bands, they would, I think, prefer to be protected by our military,” McSally said.

It’s not clear whether McSally’s measure will survive a House-Senate conference committee working on a final defense bill. There’s no similar measure in the Senate.

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