March 26, 2022
By Alaina Uricheck ’24
Teacher, performer, accompanist. These are careers you would expect for a graduate with a music degree. However, several Susquehanna University students have chosen another path and joined the ranks of military musical ensembles.
Airman 1st Class Benton Felty ’17 majored in corporate communications and theatre performance with a minor in business administration. He had a successful career in entertainment until the Covid-19 pandemic ended his “forward momentum.” A tip from a fellow SU music alumnus led Felty to become a proud member of the U.S. Air Force Heritage of America Band, in which his main ensemble is Full Spectrum, a modern rock/pop group focused mainly on community outreach and recruitment.
Felty said his service encompasses “integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do.
“It means pursuing my dream of a steady career in music and entertainment merged with my love of the United States of America,” Felty said. “And it means the stability to have a family, which I’ve only dreamed of in the entertainment industry.”
Felty recently performed a stunning rendition of the National Anthem at a Pittsburgh Penguins ice hockey game. Watch it here.
Musicians serve in all branches of the military, but you do not need to be a member of the armed forces to audition for a military ensemble. If your audition is successful, you will sign your contract for enlistment and receive a projected departure date for basic training.
Unlike his fellow music alumni, retired Staff Sgt. Aaron Fast ’18 came to SU after his career as a musician in the Marine Corps from 1995 to 2006, followed by his service in the Army from 2007 to 2016. After not being in a college classroom in over 20 years, Fast did not know what to expect. But he was pleasantly surprised at how welcoming the SU community was and he graduated with many new friends and colleagues. He went on to earn a master’s degree in music theory and composition and currently works as a composer and researcher.
Working as a military musician allowed Fast to see the world. He travelled to Korea twice, spending two weeks in Seoul for a 50th anniversary celebration of the Incheon Landing and visited the DMZ where he crossed into North Korea. While in Okinawa, Fast visited Iwo Jima, considered a sacred site for the Marine Corps. He was also fortunate to play high-profile events, including the 2004 American Football Conference championship game in Pittsburgh.
“I had such a unique experience as a military musician. I was able to spend a year in Okinawa and while there played on mainland Japan,” Fast said. “But the most meaningful and important musical mission I performed was during my deployment to Afghanistan in 2013 with the 101st Airborne Division.”
Staff Sgt. Julia Amadee ’10 majored in music performance and French and performed as a piccolo player in several Montana orchestras while also working as a youth home counselor before she auditioned for the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.
“Seeing the Corps’ exhilarating performance at the 2015 National Flute Convention in Washington, D.C., and speaking with [my former piccolo teacher] about her positive experience with the group inspired me to apply,” Amadee said.
“Becoming a member of the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps has been a dream come true,” she said. “It has allowed me to combine my love of music with a profession of service to my country in such a unique unit.”
Amadee considers herself a “musical ambassador” for the U.S. armed forces.
“When I interact with audience members after a performance, I try to remember that this may be the first time that they have personally met someone in the military and aim to leave a positive impression,” she said. “I can’t imagine a more meaningful musical career, and I am extremely proud to be a part of the United States Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps.”