CONNECTICUT -- Cpl. Aaron Atwood has a quality that cannot be taught, and only inspired – passion. In his hands the French Horn seems more like an extension of himself than an instrument. Fused to his lips, it pumps the blood of his soul on every note as he plays. In his mind, there is only one trajectory for the course of his life; that of a performing artist.
The Marine Corps has served as the vehicle to achieve his life’s goals.
“That’s how I feel,” said the 27-year-old, Danbury, Conn.-native.
Atwood was inspired to his lifelong pursuit of mastering the French Horn at an early age. One day in the third grade at Park Avenue Elementary School, his music teacher gave a lesson on musical instruments. In his textbook a tiger dressed in a tuxedo played a French Horn while two mice in dresses operated the valves. He said the cartoon character captured his interest. The teacher introduced the classes to the various instruments and played all of them for the class.
“Not to long after I heard what the French Horn Sounded like, I went home and said ‘Mom I want to play the French Horn,’” he said.
The French Horn is an instrument, which typically costs thousands of dollars. Laura Atwood, his mother, tried to compromise with her son by allowing him to have a Trombone they already owned.
“Well it turns out I bought him a French Horn,” she said.
“I was stubborn,” he said. “It had to be the French Horn.”
He began private lessons with Marjorie Callahan, who would later become his teacher at Western Connecticut State University.
“When he started he was really little,” said Callahan, a professor of music. “I would say Arron do you know what I am asking, and he would give me these huge wide eyed nod.”
His passion for the instrument never wavered. He continued private lessons on the French Horn throughout school. Atwood found another source of inspiration in the fifth grade on a class field trip to the USS Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex in New York. There, he learned about the United States Marine Corps. He said by the time he entered the 8th grade he decided when he grew up he wanted to be a Marine Musician.
After graduating Danbury High School he traveled to the local Marine recruiting office and spoke to a recruiter. He passed a music audition and entered into the Marine Corps with the military occupational specialty (MOS) basic musician.
He enlisted in the Marines April 4, 2006. He completed boot camp at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C. and Marine Combat Training at Camp Geiger, N.C. Then he proceeded to the Naval School of Music in Virginia Beach.
The school’s instructors taught him to play his instrument at a professional level over the course of six months.
“The school makes you a really, really good musician,” he said. “But nothing beats the actually experience you get playing countless gigs in a professional band.”
He was assigned to the Marine Band on Okinawa, where he spent two years before receiving orders to the Marine Band in 29 Palms, Calif., where he spent the remainder of his enlistment. Atwood preformed with the bands multiple times a day, often for hundreds, or thousands of people.
“The crowds always love us,” he said.
Atwood opted to get out at the end of his contract on April 4, 2010. The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill was available to him, providing him another opportunity to further his mastery of the French Horn.
“I realized, they are actually paying me to go to college, and covering it 100 percent,” he said. “I knew I had to go take advantage of that college degree.”
Atwood attended Western Connecticut State University and earned a Bachelor’s of Music Performance Classical French Horn.
“When I got there, I was like a rock star from the get-go because of how well I play,” he said. “Students took note of how confident I was when I played.”
After completing school, Atwood said he missed the comradery of the Marines. He missed working as a full time musician with a band that regularly preforms for live audiences. However, during his time at college he gained weight, and got out of shape.
When he walked back into his local recruiting station in Brookfield, Conn., the Marines were more than willing to get him back in shape. Atwood spent a grueling year pushing himself to get back within Marine standards, to reenlist. During that time he shed around 70 pounds.
“I basically lost a person,” Atwood said.
“The more he came to the pool functions the more dedication he showed to it,” said Sgt. Philip Barletto, a Marine Recruiter at the station.
Now, Atwood has reenlisted into the Marines and will be joining the Marine Band stationed in New Orleans, La. There he will live his life’s passion; baring his soul on notes from his French Horn for thousands, working as a preforming artist and serving his country as a Marine.