Drop and Give Me Twenty...Reeds! Tips on Winning a Military Job

By Jonathan Yanik

Musician 1st Class Jonathan Yanik, the Navy Band's principal saxophonist, is in demand across the world as a performer, teacher and guest clinician. Yanik has been a soloist with the Navy Band on more than 100 high-visibility concerts in 25 states. He has performed with such varied groups as the National Philharmonic, UrbanArias, Inscape chamber orchestra, Doc Scantlin's Imperial Palms jazz orchestra and the Navy Band Saxophone quartet. 

A highly regarded teacher and guest clinician, Yanik has presented classes at the Midwest Clinic, Brevard Music Festival, University of Georgia, University of Louisville, University of Tennessee, Penn State University, Texas A&M, University of Mississippi, and Youngstown State University, as well as many others. 

Yanik earned a Master of Music with the highest honors from the University of Michigan, where he studied classical and jazz performance with Donald Sinta and Andrew Bishop, and a Bachelor of Music Education with high distinction from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music where he studied with Otis Murphy. 

What advice do you have for students preparing for auditions? 

Johnathan Yanik: This question could be an entire article or lecture in and of itself, and I find most of the masterclasses I give many people have this question. I’ll try to give the reader’s digest version.

 First of all, if you want to get a job in a military band or orchestra, it is very important to seek higher education on playing your instrument- either college/university or a variety of consistent gigs, so that you start to master your instrument. These auditions are very competitive!

 Usually, you’ll need a resume and sometimes a recording of yourself before you audition, so make sure you keep yourself up to date on both of those. Once accepted for an audition, you’ll get a packet of audition materials including excerpts, required solos, and sometimes a list asking for scales or other etudes or other technical exercises you’ll need to present.

 On all your audition materials, I cannot stress enough that you need to learn these INSIDE and OUT. I’ve sat on the other side of the screen judging at many of these auditions, and it sticks out very clearly when someone doesn’t have a good internal tempo, good articulation, rushes/drags either whole phrases or just a couple notes, is out of tune, etc. Learn the required materials slowly and thoroughly while getting lessons and recording yourself. It’s amazing how things you didn’t think were wrong are when you listen back to a recording; it’s both the most humbling and helpful thing you can do to improve your own playing! I always recommend practicing in small sections through a day. I’ve found three 45 minute sessions is better than 2-3 hours all at once. Your brain has more time to process this way.

 On the day of the audition, come in and warm up ignoring anyone else around you. There are always people trying to intimidate others, don’t worry about anything but yourself and your execution. It’s ok to be nervous, if you’ve performed these enough in front of people you’ll be ready to play them at the audition.

 If you don’t get accepted the first, second third….etc. time don’t give up. Record your audition rounds, listen back and see what could be improved. The more you do the better you’ll be next time, as getting used to the whole experience can usually help on the mental side of things. TAKE EVERY audition for a job you think you might want, especially if playing for a living is your goal. Good luck!

What musicians have been the biggest influences on your playing over the years? 

Johnathan Yanik: First and foremost, the most influential for me in my professional career are both of my collegiate teachers- Dr. Otis Murphy, saxophone professor at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music and Donald Sinta, professor emeritus at University of Michigan. I am so, so fortunate to have studied with these two titans of the concert saxophone world, and I owe most of my success to them and their teaching.

 As far as a few of the musicians and artists that are not my teachers that I like to listen to and emulate are as follows in no particular order- Jean-Yves Fourmeau, Claude Delangle, Timothy McAllister (Classical saxophone), Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Garrett, John Coltrane, Chris Potter, Michael Brecker, (jazz saxophone), and a multitude of bands ranging from early western music to popular artists around today in the pop, rock and funk world. {I’d be happy to talk music with anyone over a beer or two!}

What is life like in a military band?

Johnathan Yanik: I am so honored to serve in the United States Navy Band in Washington, D.C. It is a great group of musicians and people. As the U.S. Navy Band, we get the chance to support some of the most important members of the Armed Forces and other high-level government officials on a daily basis through high-profile ceremonies in the Washington, D.C., area. In addition, we perform public concerts all around the United States and occasionally abroad, play outreach concerts in schools, and, most importantly, give final honors to fallen heroes as they are put to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. 

 My primary mission as a saxophonist in the Concert and Ceremonial Bands of the U.S. Navy Band is, of course, to play music. But as part of a military band, I also have other jobs known as collateral duties which we all take on in order to help keep the organization running smoothly. I serve as the head of the band’s recreation committee which hosts social events and other morale-building activities. In addition, I am an assistant fitness leader, an assistant librarian, a member of the saxophone quartet, an assistant for planning our great annual International Saxophone Symposium during which we host hundreds of saxophonists and guest artists, a member of the music copy team and an assistant narrator for the Concert Band. I do a lot more than just play saxophone, and it adds to my commitment to the organization and the U.S. Navy. 

 It is a very rewarding gig and also is one that I feel very strongly should be valued highly by younger musicians and those looking for a career in music. These bands are world-class in their musical talent and are a blast to play in while serving your country. We make a living and earn great military benefits (health care, housing stipend, etc.) all at the same time! As I said in the audition question above, TAKE EVERY AUDITION you can for these bands. It truly is a special gig!

How does equipment factor into your playing, and what is your current setup?

Johnathan Yanik: In my experience, having great equipment makes a big difference in how students and I perform. I’m a huge advocate of finding the right setup! Feeling comfortable while playing and finding the sound you want is paramount for any musician on any instrument and also is a huge boast mentally in improving self confidence in your performance! As a saxophonist or clarinetist, taking the time to find the reed to mouthpiece combination for each style of music so that it feels GREAT to play is something that can pay huge dividends when you get out in the real world and need your instrument to sound amazing under any condition!

 Vandoren products have undoubtedly helped me in my career. I use mouthpiece’s like the AL3 for alto saxophone, which to me is unquestionably the best classical saxophone mouthpiece on the market with 3.5 Vandoren traditional reeds, S27 on soprano with traditional 4’s, T20 on tenor with 4 traditional reeds, and the B27 with 4 traditional reeds on baritone. I even use Vandoren mouthpieces on clarinet, including the M30 with 3.5 V12’s. For jazz and popular music, I use Java’s and red box java’s as well to get the appropriate sound for those styles as well. I would not be where I am without the aid of these products on a daily basis, and I’m so proud to be part of the Vandoren team!

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