If things had gone differently, Billy Berue would be tracking tornadoes rather than trumpeting tunes on his way to Washington, D.C.
“I wanted to be a meteorologist, but as I improved through taking lessons, the trumpet captured my interest,” said Berue, a Wichita State University graduate student in trumpet performance. “Moreover, I received a lot of good opportunities and positive feedback from band directors in high school, which encouraged me to pursue the trumpet as a career.”
In June, Berue will begin an eight-year stint as a trumpeter in The President’s Own United States Marine Band.
The President’s Own — as it’s commonly called — was established in 1798 with a mission to perform for the president of the United States and the commandant of the Marine Corps. It was created by an act of Congress and boasts that it is America’s oldest continually active professional music organization.
Berue grew up in Murrieta, California, and earned his bachelor’s degree in trumpet performance from Arizona State University in 2020 — right when the world was shutting down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“During that time, I struggled financially, as I had lost income from canceled gigs due to COVID-19,” he said. “Although I had initially planned to attend graduate school directly following my undergraduate program, schools were moving online, and I decided that, at that time, graduate school was not for me, as I feel in-person interaction is crucial, particularly in a music degree.”
So, rather than enroll in grad school, Berue decided to wait out the pandemic working in retail and practicing every day after his shifts ended. Eventually, COVID restrictions loosened and “I began gigging again and taking auditions,” he said.
Around that same time, Berue was traveling home from an audition when he received an email from Dr. David Hunsicker, associate professor of trumpet at Wichita State. Hunsicker and Berue were both Arizona State grads, and a former instructor put them in touch with each other.
“He shared the aspects of the program, which included a lot of orchestral experience, like a job playing as second trumpet in the Wichita Symphony,” Berue said. “It seemed like the right fit, so I agreed to make the move.”
While in Wichita
Hunsicker said he was inspired to reach out to Berue because he was looking for “an absolutely first-rate teaching assistant to work with me at Wichita State, especially since this position also plays second trumpet in the Wichita Symphony.”
Berue’s audition materials showed off his superior playing with beautiful sound, and he was very highly recommended. And he came in playing like a professional, Hunsicker said.
“This can be really tricky, because when you play at a high level and you are still in school, you may be resistant to suggestions and disinclined to incorporate changes suggested by your professor,” he said.
Not so in Berue’s case.
“Billy worked on everything I told him to work on. He didn't pretend he already knew everything. This made him a joy to teach. This high level of playing and adaptability made it easy to work with him as a performer,” Hunsicker said.
While he was a student at Wichita State, he said he learned an important lesson about trusting the process and being patient.
“From my undergraduate degree, I wanted to always rush into things that maybe I wasn't ready for just because I thought I needed to do everything,” he said. “I now understand that putting quality work into something yields more long-term results than doing too much at once.”
Making the band
Berue found out about The President’s Own auditions through a link on a musical job board website. He submitted the required resume and supporting materials and was called in for a two day, three-round audition — preliminary on the first day, and semifinals and finals on the second — with about 90 other trumpet players.
“Every round of the audition except for the final round was blind, meaning the committee of musicians is unable to see you, and you’re unable to see them,” he said. “For these initial rounds, you are not permitted to speak with them, and you are required to walk on a carpet path so that they cannot distinguish you based on the sound of the shoes you're wearing.”
In the final round, Berue said, candidates are evaluated on how well they play with other musicians. At this point, he was able to speak with committee members.
“My committee was fairly large with about 20 members,” he said.
In addition to musical qualifications, members of The Presidents Own are also required to pass an extensive background investigation and obtain security clearance. Applicants must pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery and a complete physical examination. All members are enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps for permanent duty with the Marine Band.
When all was said and done, Berue was offered a job playing trumpet and cornet.
Hunsicker said the President’s Own is arguably the best band in the world, and Wichita State is thrilled to have an alum of Berue’s caliber as a member.
“Winning an audition with The President's Own is a fantastic honor. I'm incredibly proud of Billy for putting in the work necessary to win a job at this level,” he said. “He's a deserving player and will have a great career as part of this band.”
Onward to D.C.
Berue will move to D.C. with his wife and two cats in June. He signed an eight-year contract divided into two four-year terms: “The first four years are classified as active service, which is followed by four years of inactive reserve status.”
He said many people with careers in military bands stay throughout their musical careers.
“I plan on staying as long as they'll let me,” Berue said.
He will also continue to work on his Wichita State Master of Music degree while he’s living and working in D.C., and he’s on track to graduate in 2024.
About Wichita State University
Wichita State University is Kansas' only urban public research university, enrolling almost 22,000 students between its main campus and WSU Tech, including students from every state in the U.S. and more than 100 countries. Wichita State and WSU Tech are recognized for being student centered and innovation driven.
Located in the largest city in the state with one of the highest concentrations in the United States of jobs involving science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), Wichita State University provides uniquely distinctive and innovative pathways of applied learning, applied research and career opportunities for all of our students.
The Innovation Campus, which is a physical extension of the Wichita State University main campus, is one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing research/innovation parks, encompassing over 120 acres and is home to a number of global companies and organizations.
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