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BHS grad makes music for Marines

Helmet? Check. Assault rifle? Check. Euphonium? Check.

Not all members of the United States Marine Corps have a musicalbrass instrument included in their load out checklist, but forBrookhaven’s Sgt. James Williams, 21, the horn is near the top.

The recently promoted leatherneck from Brookhaven High School’sClass of 2005 just transferred closer to home – to Naval SupportActivity, New Orleans – where he is now a member of his secondservice band, the Marine Forces Reserve Band. As a member of theband of musically talented Marines, Williams is constantlyperforming at events across the country, from on-base ceremonies toparades through the Big Apple.

Williams said the Marine Corps’ bands are like no other. Thereis no room for error; there is only perfection.

“The Marines are very disciplined, and good at what they do,”Williams said. “We’re professionals – we come right out of highschool if we’re good enough and immediately start building acareer. Being in the Marine Corp band is what I always wanted todo.”

The BHS Panther Band member enlisted right out of high schooland auditioned for the Marine Corps Band. After passing the initialmusical test, he was off to Paris Island, S.C., for one of man’sgrittiest tests – the Marine Corps’ 12-week boot camp, where heendured the cold, wallowed in the mud and was certified a marksman,just like every Marine the corps has ever produced.

Upon completion of boot camp, Williams next took combat trainingcourses, further sharpening his killer instinct as a prerequisiteto sharpening his musical ability. The last obstacle he had to facewas the Armed Forces School of Music in Norfolk, Va., where all themilitary’s musicians are put to the test.

There was an audition to get into the school, and audition tocheck progress at the halfway point and an audition to graduate.For an up-and-coming Marine musician, such constant auditioningbefore superior officers was imposing.

“They like to make sure they have the best musicians for thejob,” Williams said. “It was a little stressful – you want to makesure you have the best pieces (of music) prepared. You have topractice, know your music forward and backward, and do the best youcan do.”

Williams’ auditions consisted of his playing a prepared piece ofmusic, sight-reading – playing a never-before-seen piece on the flywith little preparation – and performing scales. For his lastaudition, Williams chose Mozart, scoring a 2.9 out of a possible4.0, besting the 2.7 score required for graduation from theschool.

Only one military musician has scored a perfect 4.0 since 2000,Williams said.

Upon graduation, Williams was posted to Marine Corps Air StationCherry Point in North Carolina, where he joined the 2nd MarineAircraft Wing Band as a lance corporal in July 2006. There he wasintroduced to the consistency of performing – he participated in amyriad of requested concerts, recruiting performances in schoolsand large events like the Columbus Day Parade in New York City. Hewas featured as a soloist in three performances, and has evenserved as conductor on a few occasions.

“A lot more is expected of you as a musician,” Williams said.”You can’t forget to practice. You have to be ready to perform atall times. You go from high school, where you’re learning andpracticing, to the corps, where you’re constantly performing.”

Williams said he hopes to apply for the job of enlistedconductor upon his next promotion. He is also taking steps toprepare for his career beyond the corps, whenever that may come.While in North Carolina, he took online classes from CravenCommunity College, and this spring will enroll in online classesfrom Louisiana State University. He hopes to one day become acollege professor of music.

In the meantime, Williams will be on call to perform wheneverthe corps demands, but he hopes to break the cycle of domesticperformances with a trip to Iraq or Afghanistan.

“The band does deploy, and I would like to deploy,” he said.”It’s like being a fireman and never going to a fire. I would liketo do my part, too.”

Deployment is a scary thought for Williams’ wife, Tabbitha – hishigh school sweetheart and two-time drum major at BHS – but one thecorps has equipped her to handle.

“I like the sense of family you get with the Marine Corps,” shesaid. “Everyone looks out for each other. I’m very proud to be partof the tradition, even if it’s just from a supportive role.”

The Marine’s grandmother, Jackie Williams, swells with pride atseeing her grandson sporting his Marine Corps Dress Blues.

“It scared me at first, but oh gosh, it was a good opportunityfor him to pursue his music and serve his country,” she said.

All three Williamses are thankful that their Marine is nowstationed in New Orleans, only two hours from Brookhaven. It givesWilliams a chance to visit his hometown and keep in contact withhis musical mentors, like BHS Assistant Band Director Gail Freeman,former director Zachary Harris and former Brookhaven Academydirector Cecil Trantham.

“I learned a lot from those individuals about music and theauditioning process,” Williams said. “It’s a little different beingin a professional performing organization, but it helped me forwhat was to come.”

Williams could even perform in Brookhaven. Municipalities andorganizations can request a visit from Marine Corps bands bycontacting the bandmaster. The band may be requested online atMarine Forces Reserve Band’s Web site athttp://www.mfr.usmc.mil/MFRHQ/Band/schedule.asp.