Rod Mason - Music Director, Australian Defence Force Academy Band, ACT

Rod Mason
'I am a soldier first and foremost, but the day-to-day focus is music. There are highly specialised soldiers who are trained to go into life-threatening environments.'

Rod is the music director of the Australian Defence Force Academy Band, and the project and recruitment manager for the Australian Army Band Corps. He is a saxophonist, an ensemble clinician and a music industry project manager. Rod has produced numerous recordings designed to assist the community, including a jazz recording raising funds for the homeless and an Australian history audio CD.

In January 2008, Rod was awarded with the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for meritorious service as the Australian Defence Force Academy Band Sergeant Major and as a member of the Australian Army Band Corps.

What sort of band is the Army Band?

The band is a 35-piece 'symphonic' band, which can play a wide range of styles of music. It's made up of woodwind, brass, percussion and modern rhythm sections. The Army Band is highly adaptable and can break down into a variety of different ensembles, including a jazz big band, rock bands, woodwind and brass quartets, a marching band, jazz combos, choir and even folk groups. We also have lighting and sound engineering specialists. Since we manage all administrative aspects of the band ourselves, we also have musicians who double as music librarians, music arrangers, clerks, logistic coordinators, public relations officers, recruiting officers and even graphic artists.

What sort of events do you play at?

The majority of the work we do in the Band Corps supports the local community. We might play at anything from a typical ceremony on ANZAC day, to a fundraiser for the local hospital, Jeans for Genes Day or a Red Nose Day activity. Each state has an Army Band who travels around performing at a huge variety of different events. For example, the rock band may go on deployment to places like East Timor or Bougainville, where music is actively used to help bring peace and harmony to the area. We also go on international tours to countries in Asia, Europe or the United States supporting ceremonial activities.

How does someone become a member of the Army Band?

There are two ways of becoming a member of the Australian Army Band Corps. Most musicians who join an Army Band have already completed a degree or diploma, or are professional musicians who can read music. After passing an audition and completing their Basic Military Training, these professional musicians can join an Army Band. Alternatively, and this is the way I did it, you can audition to study at the Australian Defence Force School of Music (DFSM) and develop your skills to meet the professional entry standard. The good news is that your training doesn't have to stop there   I have since attained four diplomas of various kinds, involving project management, personnel management and music ensemble performance, all paid for by Defence.

What are the perks for a musician working for the Defence Force?

Where do I start? With the provision of professional quality instruments, travel opportunities and education subsidies – you just can't beat this job. I think one of the biggest perks is the great wage, and on top of that Defence offers subsidised housing, subsidised housing loans, and free dental, optical and medical care to keep you operationally fit. I can also pursue my other music performance interests – I still do a fair bit of gigging in Sydney, as well as teaching and conducting music workshops.

Any drawbacks?

Absolutely. Like any job, there are drawbacks. You can be called in for a job at the last possible minute, which means you may not know what you're doing from time to time, or you might have something planned for weeks in advance but have to scrap it at the last minute because a job suddenly comes up.

Where are you based for most of your work?

I work in the ACT during the week for the AFDA and get home to Sydney at weekends to do the odd gig with 'Big Toy', one of Australia's top corporate bands, and to spend time with my family.

Do you have to be involved in the military aspects of the army?

The Defence Force is essentially a reflection of the wider community but on a smaller scale. There are so many professions in Defence   dental technicians, chaplains, doctors, nurses, IT specialists, psychologists and musicians (just to name a few), but we are also cross trained in military skills. I still need to do weapons handling and fitness tests a couple of times a year, to make sure that I maintain the required level of military proficiency.

I am a soldier first and foremost, but the day-to-day focus is music. There are highly specialised soldiers who are trained to go into life-threatening environments.

Why did you receive your OAM?

I received that award for my development of some projects that elevated the image of Defence whilst helping a section of the community in need. I've been fortunate to be the producer and project designer of a number of recordings, including 'Camouflage Exposed' that raised money for Sydney's street people and was nominated as 'Best Australian Contemporary Jazz Album 2002'. I've also written and produced an educational CD that discusses the history of the Australian Defence Force.

What has been your biggest career highlight?

There are a lot of them, from performing in the Sydney Opera House, to flying over the treetops of Bougainville in a chopper and landing in the jungles to play some reggae for the locals and witnessing the joy on their faces.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to do the same sort of things as you've done?

I recommend getting the best education in music as possible, whether formally by getting a degree or by gaining performance experience. Do plenty of practice and listen to a wide range of music. To a certain degree, you have to be physically fit. Don't look upon the basic military training as a negative. It can be an amazing step in your life, which teaches you to really understand the meaning of teamwork. Don't be afraid to go and check out a military band and speak to some military musicians to find out what the workplace is really like.

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