They know the US Navy’s “Anchors Aweigh” and the US Navy Anthem popularly known as “The Halls of Montezuma”. They can play “The Army Goes Rolling Along” and the US Air Force theme, sometimes called “Wild Blue Yonder”.
But they also play sentimental jazz standards and traditional American melodies, waltzes and marches performed over the decades.
Formed in Bakersfield in 2014, the all-volunteer Veteran Family Band has performed for years at Pearl Harbor Day commemorations, Veterans Day celebrations, local parades and patriotic holiday events.
“I think we’re down to about eight members now,” said Susan Harlander, director of the veteran family band. “I believe at one point the band was up to almost 20 members.”
Harlander said she would love to have 25 or even 30 musicians, all joining in with the often upbeat selections of songs the band offers.
But without new blood, without new musicians, the group risks disappearing.
As a group of mostly older musicians, often in their 70s and 80s, they have lost cherished members over time to issues such as failing health, relocation and even death.
But those who continue the line do so for those who came before them, and for the sheer pleasure of playing music in front of grateful audiences.
“It’s satisfying to know that people enjoy the music we bring to them,” said band trumpeter Paul Petersen. “I just like to play.”
It would be a shame, Petersen said, not to be able to continue the legacy started by those before him.
US Navy veteran Don Daverin was already 80 when he helped form the Veteran Family Band in Bakersfield in 2014.
With a master’s degree in music, Daverin taught the band in Washington state public schools and had previously played in a similar band in Washington state with about 50 members before forming the local band.
Music has a soothing and positive effect on service members returning from active duty, he told The Californian in 2014.
“We see more and more guys coming back (from the war) with problems,” Daverin said. “Music turned out to be medicine. … It’s beneficial to their recovery.”
The group is made up of veterans and family members of veterans. Harlander said she doesn’t think those requirements are too restrictive because many Americans, even if they aren’t veterans themselves, have a father or uncle, sister or grandfather who served.
But Marc Sandall, a longtime local veterans advocate and organizer of many events designed to honor those who served, said it might be time the group dropped the “family” requirement.
Sandall has invited the Veterans Family Band to events for years, and he said the volunteer musicians provide an invaluable service to the community.
“Before the group was formed, I used canned music,” he said of the songs he incorporated into events, using CDs or other music formats.
“It sounded good, but it was a bit hollow,” he said. “When they started putting the band together, I was like, ‘Perfect!'”
Sandall noted that the town of Clovis, near Fresno, has nearly 100 members in a similar group. They have no prior military service requirements, nor do they need to have a family member who served – a circumstance over which the musicians have no control.
“I believe he can grow. I believe he could flourish,” Sandall said of the local band.
“We need this legacy to continue,” he said. “This music, this sound, it awakens people’s emotions.
“I think it brings people together.”
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.