Alumni Profile: Bob Bean '86 Keeps Military Time

Danielle Dreilinger
December 3, 2008
Bob Bean accepts the Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year award in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Along with the trumpet, Bean plays the EWI (electronic wind instrument) in the 215th.
Photo provided by the subject
Photo provided by the subject

Most Berklee students have one principal instrument. Bob Bean '86 had two: the trumpet and the M-16.

Nearly 30 years after he first enlisted in the U.S. Army as a musician, this alumnus, 47, still plays with the Army National Guard's 215th Army Band. Though the commitment takes up only a tenth of his year, it defines his life.

Berklee has a long connection to the military. The 215th has two current students and three alumni, Bean said. Greg Badolato, saxophonist and Berklee's assistant vice president for international programs; Larry Baione, guitar professor; and Ken Pullig, chair of the Jazz Composition Department, served in military bands during Vietnam.

They were motivated by necessity. "We were all being drafted," Badolato says. "It was highly competitive" to get into the bands, because depending on your assignment, it might keep you out of combat.
But Bean felt a call to service. He became interested in military bands playing with the Drum and Bugle Corps as a child. In 1979, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines.

Tone-deaf soldiers who made fun of the musicians soon learned they were far from pushovers, he says. When the rankings came in at boot camp on Parris Island, "the first guy was a bandsman, and I was number two." Even now, band members face yearly tests of their soldier skills—so Bean has to keep up with that M-16 practice.

When he finished the physical training, it was on to armed forces music school and then the Washington D.C.–based Drum and Bugle Corps. They performed over 300 times a year, traveling half the time. It was "a really sweet gig," Bean says.

After his tour of duty, Bean came to Berklee. "I wanted to pursue a career in music," he says. "It was the ideal choice."

He focused on electronic music and arranging, experiencing some culture shock at how laid-back people were. He loved the opportunity to play in a wide range of ensembles, learn many genres, and train for the music industry.

Still, he couldn't resist the bugle call. Playing music with a band of brothers simply felt more meaningful to him than any other endeavor.

Bean and the 215th perform "What's Going On"

He hasn't traded away variety. The 215th includes eight small groups—a Caribbean ensemble, a small jazz combo Bean leads, and a rock band, to name a few. He sometimes plays the EWI (electronic wind instrument).

Despite audiences' appreciation for the music itself, "We know they're not clapping for us. They're clapping for the soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan," Bean says.

The 215th performs at State House functions, parades, sports games, and funerals for veterans.

That is "probably still the most important thing I feel I do," Bean says. "It comes straight from my heart."

The army recognizes his dedication. In April 2008, Bean won the biggest honor of his life: Senior Noncommissioned Officer of the Year.

"It was a very special moment for me," Bean says. "I don't think I'm all that great of a musician!"

According to commander Jim Girard, Bean won because he was, in fact, "an excellent musician" and a good soldier: "He is a quiet professional, and always performs his mission in an outstanding manner."

Girard adds that he's "always impressed with our Berklee-trained musicians."

They include Jordan Lenhoff, a member of the 215th and a fifth-semester drummer. Before coming to Berklee in 2006, he served in Iraq entertaining the troops. "They appreciate it because it's tough out there," he says. "It was more than entertainment. It was a stress reliever."

Perhaps he'll follow in the bootsteps of Bean, who is eligible to serve for another 13 years. Given his passion for the 215th, there's every reason to think he might see out the long tour.

"Music goes far beyond ourselves. Music has a mission and this mission is honorable," Bean says.

The 215th performs "America"