CMU alumna performs at former President Obama’s departure ceremony

Central Michigan University alumna Brooke Emery began her professional music career at CMU — mastering the clarinet for her undergraduate education. Since graduating in 2001, Emery has become well-established in the performing arts industry.

Emery is now playing her wood-wind instrument with the United States Premier Band in Washington, D.C., and performed at former President Barack Obama's departure ceremony on Jan. 20, inauguration day. 

The premier band clarinetist discussed her experiences and the value of her CMU education with Central Michigan Life.

CM Life: When did you discover your interest in playing the clarinet?
Emery: I began playing the clarinet when I was in seventh grade at West Intermediate School in Mount Pleasant. My teacher, Lynnada McNabb, was a clarinetist and CMU School of Music graduate. She instilled a love of music and inspired me to be quite disciplined in my dedication to the instrument.

What are some of your hobbies?
I am an avid reader. The latest book I finished yesterday was "Station Eleven" by Emily St. John Mandel, a really fascinating (book) imagining what the world would look like after a global pandemic, seen through the eyes of actors and musicians.
I'm also a runner. I have completed several marathons and love yoga as well. I have three children, Norah, 10, Leroy, 7, and Marlo, 5, so I have less time for hobbies than I used to.

What made you choose CMU for your education?
CMU has an excellent Music Education program, and though I ended up in the field of music performance, my undergraduate degree is in education. I love teaching and thought CMU would provide the highest quality training for that pursuit.

In what ways did CMU prepared you for your after college life?
My collegiate undergraduate years were some of the most challenging times of my life when it came to time management. Like many students at CMU, I took a full class load and worked a part-time job all the way through college. At the same time, my instructors in the music department were really wonderful about pushing me hard and pressing me to seek as many performance (and) teaching opportunities as I possibly could — both inside and outside the confines of CMU. At the time the balance often seemed impossible, but I often reflect on how grateful I am that I did that. As I moved forward on to my Master's program at the University of Cincinnati, and then into the Air Force, it became clear to me that the experience (at CMU) often gave me an advantage.

Which professors do you remember the most?
I have fond memories of the wonderful professors in the music department — (especially) my teacher, Dr. Kennen White. 

He was certainly the most influential mentor during my time there. He was such a champion for me — seeking out opportunities and consistently providing sound advice, while still expecting me to chart my own course. He was a role model for me when it comes to professional behavior as well. When I attempt to resolve conflicts, especially when I am playing chamber music with a small group of individuals, I often wonder what he would do and try to emulate that — even 15 years after graduating. Aside from that, he is just an absolutely stunning musician. CMU is so lucky to have him on their faculty.

When did you become a member of the U.S. Air Force?

I auditioned for the band while completing my Master's Degree at the University of Cincinnati in 2003. My job is a Permanent Duty Assignment, which means I will be assigned to the U.S. Air Force Band in Washington, D.C. for my entire career.

Has the U.S. Air Force Band always been something you had hoped to be involved in?
I had not seen military service as part of my future when I was growing up or during my time in college. However, as it became time for me to look for employment, the military bands became very appealing. Now I am nearly 14 years into my career, and I have no regrets. It is a wonderful thing to be able to work as a musician and serve my country, honor our veterans, inspire people to a heightened sense of patriotism and impact our country's global relationships in a positive way. It's pretty amazing what the band can do in all of those areas.

What is it like to be a part of the U.S. Air Force Band?
What I love about serving in the band is that our job is constantly changing. I am a member of the Concert Band, which is the largest of the six groups (the air force calls them "flights") in the Air Force Band. I am primarily involved in many large-scale public outreach events. We play concerts all over the country during our tours twice a year — connecting people with the military who may not otherwise have a connection. In the summer we play several concerts at various landmarks in (Washington, D.C.), including the Capitol building itself. We also produce numerous recordings and we frequently augment the mission of our Ceremonial Brass by playing at funerals in Arlington National Cemetery — laying to rest our fallen heroes. Large-scale events like state funerals, inaugurations, and White House arrival ceremonies for foreign dignitaries pull members from every group together as one to accomplish the mission.

What does it mean to you to be able to play during Obama’s departure ceremony?
It is a huge honor. At these events, the band and Honor Guard are there representing the excellence of the 680,000 active duty, guard and reserve airmen serving all across the globe. To be able to stand in representation of them at these high-profile functions is deeply humbling and gives the job a great sense of purpose.

Are you a Trump supporter? And does that impact you as a member of the air force band?
I will answer these two questions with one statement: Though each of us in the military hold our own personal political viewpoints, once we put on the uniform, we in the band are just like the rest of the 680,000 (people in duty) we represent. We have taken an oath to serve whomever the American people elect. The inauguration is an event our service has participated in for many years — way back before we were the Air Force. I have been honored to march in the past three inaugural parades and will be honored to participate in the inaugural events of this week — as well as President Obama's departure ceremony. The honor I feel will be (in) knowing I am representing the excellence, service and integrity of my fellow service members.