Military musician

Wednesday, January 30, 2013 - 19:00
Chugiak grad serves country with his trumpet
The U.S. Air Force Band stands at parade rest during preparation for the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade. The USAF Band and Honor Guard held rehearsal at Joint Base Andrews, Md., on Jan. 11.

Ten days ago, Technical Sgt. Brian Stiles marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to celebrate the swearing in of President Barack Obama in front of thousands of spectators as a member of the 2013 Inaugural Parade in Washington, D.C.

Just another day of work.

Stiles, a 1993 Chugiak High graduate, is a trumpeter in Ceremonial Brass — one of six United States Air Force bands.

He wasn’t the only one with ties to Eagle River marching in the parade. Stiles was joined by former Gruening Middle School student Bennett Hoback, who rode with Culver Military Academy’s Black Horse Troop.

The Jan. 21 event marked Stiles’ third Inaugural Parade.

“I knew what to expect,” he said. “I can play the day through in my mind before it even happened.”

Ceremonial Brass performs at about 1,000 ceremonies each year, Stiles said, about 90 percent of which are funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. Some of the more notable funerals he’s been a part of included President Ronald Reagan, President Gerald Ford and Sen. Ted Stevens.

“That was a nice thing to be part of being from the state of Alaska,” he said of the service for Stevens, who served in the U.S. Senate for 40 years.

Though he’s played in front of high-profile dignitaries — including Queen Elizabeth II, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and even Obama — the Inaugural Parade was different because it’s an event specifically for the president, Stiles said.

“The whole day is to honor him,” he said.


‘Honored, lucky’

This year marked the 16th Inaugural Parade that Ceremonial Brass has marched in, Stiles said. He doesn’t take the three he’s participated in for granted.

“I feel very fortunate to have done those,” he said. “A lot of those are important parts of history.”

The same goes for his job.

Though he’s appeared on The Today Show and played the national anthem before New York Mets and Yankees games, Stiles said he doesn’t let his high-profile gigs go to his head.

“I feel very, very honored and lucky to have this job,” he said. “A lot of people would do anything to have my job.”

The latter is something he never wants to forget.

“I always have to constantly remind myself what I’m doing and how fortunate I am to be part of that,” Stiles said. “Not a lot of people get to do what I do.”

Stiles is one of 38 members in his percussion and brass ensemble. Being accepted is no easy task.

A military band position opens about once every six months to a year, he said, and as many as 100 musicians try out for the one and only spot.

During auditions, the judges and musicians never meet face to face, Stiles said. Each performer plays concealed behind a screen and is evaluated solely on ability.

Most aspiring military musicians are offered a position one out of every 10 auditions, Stiles said.

And Stiles doesn’t expect that trend to change anytime soon.

“I’ve been here for 10 years now and people just keep getting better,” he said. “If I had to take an audition now, who knows if I would get the job.”

Stiles was more fortunate than most when he auditioned for Ceremonial Brass a decade ago.

In just his third audition, Stiles was one of three trumpet players selected from 45 candidates because the military had an increased demand due to a rise in funerals for WWII veterans. Stiles said he plans to stay with the band for at least another 10 years.


Musical family

Stiles hails from a musical family.

His mother taught classical music at Eagle River Elementary for more than two decades.

“I was always around music,” he said.

Stiles picked up his first trumpet in fifth grade. He continued to play throughout middle and high school and joined the marching band at the University of Idaho, where he earned a music education degree in 1997.

Three years later, Stiles graduated from the Yale School of Music with a master’s in trumpet performance. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in brass pedagogy from Indiana University.


Passion for music

Stiles has always been passionate about music and knew he wanted to pursue a career in the field.

“I always knew I enjoyed music,” he said. “That’s what came the easiest.”

But, he said, getting to where he is now was anything but easy.

“I was not a natural by an means,” Stiles said. “I worked extremely hard.”

While his job allows Stiles to perform at the country’s more glamorous events, like the inaugural ball, he never forgets who he’s representing.

“I serve my country by playing music,” Stiles said. “It’s always an honor to do any ceremony that we do.”

With funerals serving as a majority of those events, Stiles’ day to day is anything but glamorous.

“It’s always a good reality check to remind myself why I got hired,” he said. “We’re there for the families.”

That means playing Taps multiple times a day in front of grieving family members.

“That’s why I got hired, to play 24 notes,” Stiles said. “But it’s a very important 24 notes.”


Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or [email protected].

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