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Military Mama Spotlight: A Day in the Life of a Navy Band Member

How many people actually get to say that they have their dream job and are doing what they love? I’m not talking about people who enjoy their job. I hope there are plenty of people like that. I am talking about the people who have a passion and get paid to do that passion. Jenny is one of those people.

Musical Background

Chief Musician (MUC) Jennifer Stokes is a member of the U.S. Navy Band, but her story starts long before she joined the military 10 years ago. Jenny began piano lessons around four years old and continued until she was 20.

Jenny grew up in St. Louis and played clarinet in sixth grade. She didn’t enjoy being one of so many students who played that instrument. [Side note: I was in sixth grade band with her and played … the clarinet!] She remembers asking her dad, “What’s that weird long instrument I see when we go to the symphony?” By seventh grade, she had switched to the bassoon. She studied privately through junior and high school and took every opportunity she could to play with different ensembles.

Jenny received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in Bassoon Performance from the New England Conservatory of Music. From 1998-2008, she and her now-husband Greg lived, taught, and played music in Austin, Boston, Chicago, and New Hampshire.

Navy Band visits Denton, 2019. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sarah F Blecker.

Enlisting in the Navy

“I did things a little backwards, as do most of the people in military bands,” she said. “In the premier military bands, you have to win the audition FIRST, and then join the service. In October of 2008, I won the bassoon audition with the United States Navy Band, one of two premier bands in the Navy. After the audition, I was interviewed to be certain that I had a history that would be acceptable for service in the Navy. Then I enlisted. The fact that I completed boot camp still surprises me sometimes!”

A Day in the Life

A unique aspect of the Navy Band is that they have permanent duty status in Washington, D.C. Jenny has worked at the Navy Yard for 10 years and will continue to be assigned there for the duration of her naval career. However, they travel as part of their job and have been all over the U.S. They play a month-long tour every year covering different parts of the country and she has played in 44 of the 50 states. Jenny has also traveled with the band to Quebec, and next year they plan to play in Norway and Singapore in addition to the regular national tour.

Jenny says there isn’t a typical day in the Navy Band, but the majority of what she does is play the bassoon. She generally performs with the Concert Band one or two times per week. She is also in the Woodwind Quintet and performs regularly with other chamber ensembles. In addition to playing her instrument, Jenny has many other responsibilities — she has worked in the supply office, on the auditions team, as the command’s educational liaison, and as the coordinator for base-wide blood drives that occur five times a year.

Career Highlights

There are two events that stand out to Jenny as highlights in her Naval career. The first was playing a reception with the quintet at the residence of Vice President Joe Biden. He and Dr. Jill Biden introduced themselves to them, and it really felt like a celebrity sighting! The other highlight comes up so often when asked this question, but she says it is worth repeating because it is so truly impactful. At the end of every concert, they play, “Armed Forces on Parade,” a medley of all the service songs of the military. All veterans are invited to stand during their respective song. Seeing the proud faces stand in the audience as they sing along, and the WW2 veterans sometimes struggling to stand and receive a salute from the band’s Commanding Officer is an emotional experience.

Photo by Senior Chief Musician Adam Grimm

Family Life

Jenny and Greg have been married for 13 years and have been together for 19 years! Greg is a saxophone player and teaches elementary school band in the DC area. They have two daughters: Anna, 9 and Elizabeth, 7. Anna has played flute for over four years and is joining the school band this year. Elizabeth played trumpet for about a year at age 5, but then had all four of her front baby teeth fall out (not from the trumpet playing!) and she had to take a break. She is starting up lessons again with a trumpet player in the Air Force Band.

As you can imagine, being an active duty mom comes with its challenges. Travel is a big one.

“It’s really hard to leave the kids behind for up to four weeks at a time. I truly believe that is made up for with the highlights. I love being an “atypical” active duty sailor. Between being a musician, which many people don’t realize is a real job the Navy offers, and my personality, which differs from the generalizations of the military that society tends to have, I love being able to break that stereotypical mold and show people that there are all types of people in the military. All of us do different and important tasks that contribute to our nation.”

Advice for other Military Moms

“It can be a struggle, that’s for sure. Mothers who deploy have a special challenge that I can only imagine. My advice is to seek all the help and advice you can get from your co-workers and the military. As the years have gone by, I’ve been so amazed that the Navy really does have a service for almost any issue ​you may have. Suicide prevention, exceptional family members, financial planning, medical services, education… the list goes on and on. We are so lucky to have all these services available to us.”

{Feature image photo credit: Senior Chief Petty Officer Stephen Hassay}


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