Ms. Kochan Joins the Army National Guard Band


Lizzy Wagner

Ms. Michelle Kochan directs the CHS Symphonic Band during class.

Isabell Kopf

Ms. Michelle Kochan, the Chilton Public Schools band director for grades 7-12, recently made the decision to join the Army National Guard Band.

“To be honest, this is something I've been thinking about since I was a sophomore in college,” Ms. Kochan said. “What really sparked my re-interest was, a few years back, I had the 132nd Division Army Band come play with our CHS Jazz Band, and I thought ‘How cool is this? I could do this! What’s stopping me from playing my instrument professionally and having the awesome benefits of the Army?’”

A musician entering the band specializes in one or more instruments, including tuba, trombone, saxophone, keyboard, guitar and others.

Ms. Kochan decided to specialize in the saxophone. “Saxophone was the instrument I specialized in during college and the one I auditioned on for the Guard,” she said. “I’m not trying to pick favorites, but I’m a saxophone player at heart.”

Musicians perform in various ensembles. It is their duty to rehearse and perform as a professional musician within these ensembles of the Army National Guard Band.

“The Guard has a lot of different bands, though: a concert band, a saxophone ensemble, a brass band, even a rock band,” Ms Kochan said. “I’ll get to sing with the Guard a bit, as well, when we feature songs that need vocalists.”

Musicians perform in an assortment of styles, such as marching, ceremonial, concert, classical, jazz, ethnic and popular music compositions. They perform with their specialized instrument or multiple instruments. Within ensembles, individual performances include both solo performances and contributing to a full band performance.

“I believe the duty of a musician in the Army National Guard Band is to serve our country through music,” Ms. Kochan said. “We get the opportunity to play for a myriad of events — even the governor’s inauguration.” Other duties of the musicians include tuning instruments to a given pitch and transposing moderately easy music.

All Army National Guard Band members are required to go through individual training. The length and location of this training is based on instrumentation.

Ms. Kochan will spend about ten weeks in basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and from there she will go to Advanced Individual Training (AIT), which she describes as “basically, Army music school.” Her AIT is another 10 weeks of training in Virginia Beach.

“Training is a bit different for me. I drill every month with the band, which means I go to Madison and rehearse with them,” Ms. Kochan said. “Physical training consists of lots of time spent at the gym, working to make sure I can pass all my physical fitness tests. These tests include push-ups, sit-ups, running, deadlifting — even running the pacer. My middle school self would never have guessed this would be my future.”

Ms. Kochan has been assigned to leave March 30, and is expected to return around mid-August. “Just in time to start marching camp here at school,” she said.

Because Ms. Kochan has training beginning at the end of March, she will be absent for about the last two months of school. During her absence, there will be a long-term sub with a musical background who will teach her classes. As soon as Ms. Kochan returns, she will be back at school preparing for the upcoming school year.

“I’m excited to do something for myself that will better me in literally every aspect of my life,” Ms. Kochan said. “I am a bit nervous for basic training, but I’m also excited to test myself mentally and physically. Although I’m really excited for this experience, I’m also very sad that I’m going to miss the last months of school, especially graduation. However, I am incredibly grateful to work for this school district. Everyone has been so kind and supportive of my decision, and I am so thankful.”

According to the Army National Guard’s website, mandatory eligibility requirements are as follows: being between the ages of 17 and 35, being a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, being at least a junior in high school or having a high school diploma or a GED certificate, achieving a minimum score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test (which assesses academic ability and predicts success in a wide variety of occupations) and meeting the medical, physical and moral requirements.

“At first, I thought I might be the oldest one, and I probably will be when I’m at basic training,” Ms. Kochan said, “but the rest of the musicians in my unit are all about my age or older.”