Class Notes Profile: Band Leader

Capt. Kenneth Collins commands the nation’s musical ambassadors

Kenneth Collins “Our official assignment is to provide musical support for the President of the United States,” says Capt. Kenneth Collins, commanding officer of the 174-member U.S. Navy Band. “It’s a patriotic thing. We take enormous pride in what we do.” (Image by Adam Grimm)
Capt. Kenneth Collins commands the nation’s musical ambassadors

Forget the flags and fireworks; no national event in our nation’s capital is complete without the musical accompaniment of the U.S. Navy Band, whose commanding officer since 2015 has been Capt. Kenneth Collins, MMUS ’09. Under his direction, the band has performed at the inauguration of President Donald Trump, as well as the funerals of President George H.W. Bush and Sen. John McCain.

The captain caught a first glimpse of his future as an undergraduate. As he was about to graduate from the University of Nevada in 1989, the Navy Band came through Reno on a concert tour, and the young percussionist was quickly hooked. Soon he found himself in a fleet band in Guam, playing for everyone from visiting dignitaries to villagers. Collins came to the U of I to earn a master’s degree in wind band conducting. “I was attracted by the University’s great tradition, and I was in no way disappointed,” he says. “I learned so many different approaches and techniques.”

 That versatility helps Collins with the 174 musicians in the Navy Band, who comprise not only the concert orchestra, but a choir, a rock band and the Defense Dept.’s only country and western bluegrass band.

 On those rare occasions when the Navy Band has an open position, it holds national auditions. “We get applications from 70 or 80 musicians, among them graduates from Eastman, Juilliard and the other great music programs,” Collins says. Once accepted, most remain for a 20-year career.

Collins stresses that it’s more than the job that keeps the musicians in the service. “It’s a patriotic thing. You’re offering your talent to your country.”