The Naval School of Music (formerly and still widely known as the U.S. Armed Forces School of Music) is a United States Navy school located at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek–Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The school's mission is to provide specialized musical training to musicians of the Navy and Marine Corps military bands. The school does not provide training for musicians of the Air Force or Coast Guard. The school no longer provides training to Army musicians, although the Army school is co-located with the Navy school and they share facilities.
The Marine Corps was given an allocation for 15 students in 1946 and the first Marine Corps students enrolled in 1947. The school was renamed "U.S. Naval School of Music" to reflect the fact that the school now trained not only Navy personnel but all personnel of the naval service.
In 1950 the Army reached an agreement with the Navy to begin training Army musicians at the Naval School of Music. The first class of 150 Army students began training in January 1951.
On 13 April 1961 the United States Secretary of the Navy announced plans for the U.S. Naval School of Music to be relocated to Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base. On 12 August 1964 the doors to the Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C. were closed, and students enlisted in the Navy band would spend 150 days at the academy, fine-tuning their skills to motivate the nation. USS Caddo Parish and USS Monmouth County proceeded to Little Creek, loaded with musical instruments and Army and Navy personnel. Each ship had a band aboard to play honors as it passed George Washington's tomb in Mount Vernon, Virginia. This was the first time an Army band performed honors on a Navy ship for president George Washington. The ships landed at the base on the morning of 13 August 1964. The school was renamed "U.S. Armed Forces School of Music" concurrent with the move. One of the highlights of the move of the School of Music was the dedication ceremony concert, which included Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra, conducting the School of Music Concert Band.
The earliest formal training for U.S. Army musicians was at the "School of Practice for U.S.A. Field Musicians" at Fort Jay (then known as Fort Columbus), an infantry recruiting post on Governors Island in New York Harbor. A second, lesser known school was established at the western infantry recruiting post at Newport Barracks in Kentucky. Musical training was first held at this location in 1809, but training was not formalized at Governors Island until the mid-1830s. Between the end of the Civil War and the beginning of the 20th century, training was often sporadic and not standardized.
In 1911, Frank Damrosch, director of the Institute of Musical Art (later renamed The Juilliard School), and Arthur A. Clappe, a graduate of the Royal Military School of Music, began a formal school for Army bandmasters at Fort Jay. By 1914, the school had added a course of basic musical training to the program of instruction. The school grew rapidly, along with Army bands as a whole, during World War I.
In February 1920, the Army Music School at Fort Jay was designated a Special Services School of the Army. In September 1921 the school was moved to the Army War College, Washington, D.C. This ended the affiliation with the Institute of Musical Art, which lasted 10 years and provided the Army with many outstanding leaders; among the school's graduates during the Fort Jay years was composer Percy Grainger. The school was closed by the Army in 1928.
The Army re-opened the school and re-established a three-month warrant officer band leader training beginning 10 June 1941 by the Adjutant General and functioned under the supervision of the leader of the United States Army Band. It was originally located in the United States Army Band Barracks, Army War College and subsequently moved to Fort Myer, Virginia. Students were selected from enlisted men who had the following general qualifications:
On 24 July 1943 sites were approved by Lt. General Somervell for two band training units. One was located at the Signal Corps Replacement Training Center, Fort Crowder, Missouri, and the other at the Quartermaster Replacement Training Center, Fort Lee, Virginia. Becoming operative about 1 September 1943, the Adjutant General assigned 20 enlisted men on alternate weeks beginning with the weeks during July and August 1943 who were "earmarked" for the bandsman course. Approximately 160 bandsmen were trained during each training cycle. One commissioned officer was in charge of the course. The training was run concurrently with the regular basic training of soldiers.
The band training units were organized by the Chief of the Music Section, Special Services Division and music officers were placed in charge of each installation. The training program and all curricular material was prepared by the Music Section, Special Services Division. After training what the Army considered to be enough bandmasters, the school was again closed on 1 January 1944. Bandsmen for the Army received on-the-job training for the next several years and there were no advanced-level course for bandmasters or senior enlisted leaders.
The Army began consolidating musical training with the Navy in 1951, but maintained separate, Army-only bandsmen courses at several other locations until January 1956. Since 1956 the Army has conducted musical training only in conjunction with the Navy School of Music. Combined training of music warrant officers and enlisted bandsmen at the Band Training Unit, Camp Lee, Virginia.
The Navy retains control over training and administration and "owns" the curriculum; the commanding officer, executive officer, and training officer (with the exception of one Marine Corps officer) have always been Navy officers. The Army contingent was designated "U.S. Army Element School of Music" in 1951; however, due to recent force-structure realignment, the Army contingent was redesignated "U.S. Army School of Music" in 2005.
In October 2010 the Army deconsolidated activities from the Navy and Marines. Though all three services share facilities, faculty and administration, the curriculum changed to meet the need of a fast-paced Army. The Advanced Individual Training (AIT) was reduced from approximately six months (and in the cases of Army Reserve and Army National Guard personnel: increased from four weeks) to just less than 10 weeks. To fall in order with Army Force Generation (ARFORGEN), a modular strategy to sustaining global commitments, bands organize by small units called Music Performance Teams (MPTs). The teams consist of the command team, the ceremonial unit, the popular ensemble, brass section and woodwind section. Some bands have more MPTs than others to create a larger organization according to deployment needs. Training has begun to move away from large wind ensembles, except for marching bands. Though the concert band is still the choice for large stages, smaller venues of the deployed theaters dictate that smaller groups are most effective.
The concept of the MPT was developed to facilitate transporting musical groups to the patrol bases, forward operating bases (FOBs), Contingency Operating Bases (COBs) — like COB Speicher — and any other troop operated position. The Army bands must fit in convoys of trucks or in helicopters to move through areas of operation to put on shows. An MPT is not a set instrumentation, but a team of instrumentalists and/or singers who are tasked to perform in a certain genre. Army bands deploy genres of American blues, country music, bebop, Dixieland jazz, gospel music, rhythm and blues, salsa music, bluegrass music, rock music or barbershop quartet—and any style that the talent at hand can develop. The School of Music is developing their program to emphasize the diversity of music by training leaders to organize, rehearse and perform in small ensembles tailored to meet the troops' current interests. In this manner, an Army Band is not just the music of John Philip Sousa, but is also today's top 40 in many genres.