Updated: Jan 5
By Lt. Laura Garofalo, Youth Program Liaison, U.S. Coast Guard Recruiting Command
I was afforded the opportunity to interview Senior Chief Musician (MUCS) Mark McCormick and Musician First Class (MU1) Nathan Lassell, both of whom are part of the Coast Guard Band stationed at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Although the band is housed at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, it is not made up of cadets. It consists of 55 enlisted members E-6 and above who dedicate their career to performing. Among the 55 members, there is one vocalist, MU1 Megan Weikleenget, who was specifically chosen for her versatile vocal abilities. There are two officers who serve as Director and Assistant Director, both of whom are prior enlisted musicians.
Coast Guard Band members do not attend boot camp like their fellow enlisted shipmates. Instead, they must apply and audition for the band through a rigorous, highly competitive process. The Band is one of five congressional bands in the United States and demands top level musicians due to the level of exposure and publicity they receive. Once selected, musicians are brought into the Coast Guard at the pay grade of E-6 or MU1 and attend a two-week indoctrination course to learn about Coast Guard history, rates and ranks, and customs and courtesies.
Below is the interview conversation I had with MUCS and MU1:
LT Garofalo: What prompted you to join the Coast Guard Band?
MUCS: The Coast Guard Band was a great fit in that it afforded me many great musical opportunities.
MU1: Growing up in the D.C. area, I was exposed to many of the service bands from an early age. My teachers were all members of the service bands, specifically the Army Band, and encouraged me to do something I am passionate about. I knew it would be a great job with stability.
LT Garofalo: What instrument(s) do each of you play?
MUCS: String Bass and Bass Guitar
LT Garofalo: Prior to joining the band, what was your musical background? I noticed on the band website, college or a degree is not a requirement, but did you attend college?
MUCS: I have a BA in music and two master’s degrees in music. Each member in the band is very highly-trained. We go through a rigorous audition process. A couple of the MUs have PhDs.
MU1: I have been playing music since age four. My mother was a musician, and I learned various instruments—violin, piano, trombone, and tube, before focusing seriously on percussion in high school. I hold both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Music Performance.
LT Garofalo: How often do you travel?
MUCS: We have had little to no travel throughout the pandemic, but typically, the group travels 40-60 days per year. In summer of 2012, we traveled on an Ops Sail for the commemoration of the War of 1812.
MU1: Sometimes we go out for cutter dedications, which are usually about four days; and sometimes we are gone two to three weeks for concert tours.
LT Garofalo: What was your most significant/memorable performance to date?
MUCS: In 2008, our world tour. The band went to Japan for ten days, and then spent another ten days in Taiwan in 2011. The audiences were fantastic—we played for full concert halls. Our Jazz Group also went to Sun Valley Jazz Festival in Sun Valley, ID.
MU1: Five years ago, on the Fourth of July, the band was able to perform alongside the New York Philharmonic to a large, enthusiastic crowd, allowing use to spread goodwill and demonstrate the excellence of the U.S. Coast Guard.
LT Garofalo: Is it difficult to advance as a MU?
Both: YES! Because we come in at a high rank—as a directly procured petty officer, it is difficult to advance. The band members are great people to work with, so people don’t leave often. In order to advance, someone must leave or retire.
LT Garofalo: Are there other MUs outside of the Coast Guard Band?
Both: Yes, there is a Warrant Officer Musician at the Coast Guard Academy that works with the cadets and oversees the five academy bands. Training Center Cape May employs a Chief Musician who holds the position of Ceremonial Section Chief in charge of the Cape May Band, Cape May Color Guard, and Cape May Honor Guard. Recruits at Cape May can be part of the band while going through basic training.
LT Garofalo: What are three key items for future musicians who may be interested in becoming part of the band?
Both: First, become familiar with the type of music the band plays. Second, seek out a private teacher for your instrument. Third, stay in touch with the band, its schedule, and what other events it may be involved in.
The Coast Guard Band played a concert in Philadelphia where USNSCC Cadets ushered for the concert and the band recognized them during the performance. MUCS McCormick and MU1 Lassell, who also both serve as the Public Affairs Officers for the band, provided the following words of wisdom for any sea cadet who desires a military career and is passionate about playing an instrument:
“You are already involved in a great organization! Explore your opportunities! Don’t hesitate to contact the Public Affairs Office for any/all of the branches about careers in military music. Be patient; musicians develop their abilities over long periods of time. Audition for community events; audition for college. Play music as a supplemental to your main course of study. Your career options are wide open!”
For more information about the Coast Guard Band, including performances, visit: https://www.uscg.mil/Community/Band/.
-Lt. Laura Garofalo