FORT SILL, Oklahoma (July 15, 2021) – A talented instrumentalist, Spc. Allison Wollam practices and refines her art as a member of the 77th Army Band here.
A portion of that art is in the energetic form of John Philip Sousa marches, which she has memorized ready for the frequent times the band plays these military standards.
“Something musicians always assume about Army music is all we do is play marches, but one thing that gets overlooked is the opportunity to try new things and to focus on the things you really love and cultivate that into something beneficial to the entire unit,” said Wollam, a flutist. “There’s a lot of opportunities to try just about anything you’re interested in. And the best part of it is the stability it offers that is not always afforded to (civilian) musicians.”
She experienced that instability as she set forth to create a career in music. Having completed her bachelor’s degree in flute performance, she went after an advanced degree and a job teaching music at a university.
“My bread and butter was teaching private lessons, but I also played in a lot of different ensembles,” said Wollam, who worked on her master’s degree in flute performance at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. While there, she accepted a teaching fellow position job instructing jazz saxophone players.
“To complete their degree requirements, saxophone players were required to learn the flute and clarinet,” she said. “It was my job to help them bridge the technique from saxophone to flute as they aren’t similar.”
With her master’s degree in hand, she then took a lecturer job at Northeastern State University in Taliquah, Oklahoma, to pay for her doctorate. Competition between music majors is so high that she said a doctoral degree is required to teach college courses.
But school came at a high cost requiring Wollam to self-promote her talents as a teacher and performer. December gigs could garner her $5,000, but after the New Year, the few performances might bring in $200.
A steady stream of green came when her husband accepted a job in Pennsylvania. With a baby on the way, Wollam decided to enlist in the Army National Guard and was asked to join the 28th Infantry Division Band in Torrance, Pennsylvania. This job enabled her to raise her daughter and continue her career in music.
But, her marriage ended in 2018 and part-time Guard work wasn’t enough to support her. Weighing her options, she knew her doctorate would take several years to complete as would starting up her own music business again. So, Wollam went on active duty with Fort Sill being her first assignment.
“Active duty offered the opportunity to do everything I loved and just do it in the Army,” she said.
Gone were the days of having to market or self-promote her skills. “All of that is done for me, and all I have to do is show up and play.”
Although other assignments, such as Joint Base Lewis McChord, Washington (JBLM) or Virginia Beach, Virginia, are more likely to be the ones Soldiers request, Wollam has enjoyed her time here.
“Lawton, Oklahoma isn’t a destination place, but it ends up being this diamond in the rough as far as opportunities are concerned,” she said.
Those opportunities included mastering other instruments and playing in concert, marching, and jazz bands and small group ensembles that featured various genres of music.
She also developed a class and toured local colleges and universities teaching music students a master’s level course on the flute. The outreach also provided an avenue to sell the idea of a career as an Army musician.
“I didn’t expect to have the opportunities to do the things I enjoyed doing as a civilian,” said Wollam. “I figured I’d just end up playing flute and piccolo and ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ … and ever.”
As for her soldiering duties, Wollam believes there’s a lot of overlap between the two professions with accuracy critical in both. Because of that, band members are constantly striving for perfection. This also translates to additional recognition as she said many band members have won various warrior competitions.
But then training has always played a big role in the Army.
“This is the only job I’ve ever had where I’ve been paid to practice,” she said of her daily schedule that includes rehearsal time. “It has made me a better musician in that I can get really structured time that I don’t have to find myself or fit into my day.”
Wollam has many years of experience and growth ahead of her that will begin in November when she moves to her next assignment at JBLM. Ultimately she hopes to become an instructor at the Army School of Music at Joint Base Little Creek-Fort Story, Virginia, and pass on her knowledge to the next generation of Soldier-musicians.