Coast Guard Considering Moving Band to Nation's Capital

Coast Guard Band (U.S. Coast Guard photo)
Coast Guard Band (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

NEW LONDON -- After calling the Coast Guard Academy and New London home for the past 90 years, the Coast Guard Band could be leaving.

The Coast Guard is exploring the possibility of relocating its 55-member band to the National Capital Region -- Washington, D.C.

Vice Adm. Charles D. Michel, the vice-commandant, has set up a working group to begin gathering research into "the costs and logistics of a potential relocation," according to a prepared statement from Lt. Cmdr. Dave French, chief of media relations for the Coast Guard. That research, which the Coast Guard is calling "pre-decisional," will "help inform our decision-making process," French's statement said.

This is not the first time that the idea has surfaced. In 1976 and again in 1981, the Coast Guard considered relocating the band. The second instance resulted in a petition drive to keep the band in New London.

The Coast Guard, which has only one official band, is the only branch of the Armed Forces without a band in Washington. The band is housed in Leamy Hall at the academy, which has dealt with space constraints for years. Four years ago, the academy attempted to buy half of Riverside Park to expand the campus.

While it's still very early on in the process, French said, "we will use a group of key stakeholders to review this matter. We hope to have more insight by Spring 2016."

Liz Donovan, spokeswoman for U.S. Rep Joe. Courtney, D-2nd District, said that Courtney's office was aware of the potential relocation "to better align with other service bands all currently headquartered in the Washington DC area."

"Congressman Courtney values the role of the Coast Guard Band in serving as an ambassador not just for the service but Connecticut as well, and will remain actively engaged with the Coast Guard as this review moves forward," Donovan said in a prepared statement. "He feels strongly that any decision related to the band's future must be fair, transparent and serve the best interests of its members and their mission."

French said the Coast Guard will conduct a thorough review of the research produced "and follow our prescribed process for any organization change that is warranted."

"This process will ensure internal and external stakeholders are engaged and advised as required during the decision making process," he said.

As is true with all U.S. military bands, the Coast Guard Band, which was organized in March 1925 and based in New London ever since, performs its concerts free of charge. The band has performed all around the world and was the first American military band to perform in the former Soviet Union, its website says.

The band performs several concerts locally, including its annual outdoor rendition of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" with cannon fire on Labor Day weekend.

The full 55-member ensemble plays about 20 concerts a year that are open to the public. During the school year, there's a full band concert every month and two at Christmastime. Several are children's concerts programmed to educate and entertain local students.

Within the band, there are smaller ensembles such as the Dixieland Jazz Band and the Saxophone Quartet that perform at various local functions. Those smaller ensembles, through the Community Outreach Initiative, go out to schools within a 20-mile radius of New London, as well as in the St. Elizabeth's Hospital area in Washington, D.C.

The audition process for the band is rigorous and highly competitive. Auditions attract top talent from across the country, and at times have resulted in no one getting the job. Sometimes there has to be a second call for auditions.

Band members are enlisted members of the Coast Guard, and they must meet the service's physical fitness qualifications and be capable of obtaining the required security clearance. Those entering the band enlist at the rank of petty officer 1st class for a four-year enlistment.

Many of the band members also play with the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, the Hartford and New Haven symphonies and others. Caleb Bailey, the new executive director of ECSO, said that seven to 10 musicians, or 10 percent of those who play with ECSO, are members of the Coast Guard Band.

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