ESCONDIDO, Calif. – The lights in the auditorium began to dim until the low mumbles of the audience ceased. The large red curtain on stage rose slowly, revealing dozens of Marines in their dress-blue uniforms, instruments in hand.
Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Tracy Martinez, the 1st Marine Division band conductor, stood in front of the band at the 73rd anniversary concert at Escondido, Calif., Jan. 31. He led the band through each song, ensuring that the sound flowed with swift precision.
Martinez, a native of Newbury Park, Calif., is responsible for much more than turning the spirit of the Marine Corps into music. He is a professional warrior first, always prepared to answer the call of his nation.
“I deployed to Iraq with the band in 2003 and was part of a heavy machine gun platoon,” Martinez said. “The band’s job is to entertain people, but the Marine Corps’ job is to protect the nation. The band shares that goal, too.”
Martinez emphasizes the band’s importance of contributing to the Marines not only through musical gifts, but also through physical training and discipline. The band members constantly train, whether it’s qualifying at the rifle range or running fitness tests. They are held to the same standards that make Marines the nation’s force in readiness.
“A lot of people separate the band from the rest of the Marine Corps and put us in a different category,” Martinez said. “The band is full of regular Marines and has some of the most qualified in the Marine Corps.”
Martinez, who earned a master’s degree in music education from Boston University, said he didn’t join the Marine Corps with intentions of joining the band. But after his recruiter discovered that he was a skilled saxophone player, Martinez auditioned for the spot and eventually changed his contract.
Almost two decades later, Martinez has held a variety of positions in the band, from saxophone instrumentalist to instrument repair technician and now as conductor.
“Gunnery Sergeant Martinez is a great conductor and a professional with an extensive history with music and the Marine Corps,” said Lance Cpl. Gregg Alvarez, a trumpet instrumentalist with 1st Marine Division Band. “He holds himself to a high standard and makes sure we all do the same.”
Martinez practices for hours each day, both individually and with the band. Being musically proficient and performing hundreds of times a year is only half his job, he said, but he knows he must be ready to deploy into a combat zone.
“Deploying as a band member is unique, because we put our instruments down and everything else we train to do comes into play,” Martinez said. “The band is full of fantastic musicians, but more importantly, it’s full of fantastic Marines.”