JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM — Very few people have the privilege of being able to list professional musician as their job title. Even fewer can say that they are an officer in the United States Navy. Lt. Kelly Cartwright, fleet bandmaster, U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLT), is one of just a handful of people that can claim both of those titles.
The Carmichaels, Pennsylvania native enlisted in the Navy in 1999 and spent the first 11 years as an oboist and saxophonist before earning a commission in 2010 through the Limited Duty Officer program.
“My relationship with music has evolved over the years, making the transition from player to conductor, and now with nearly a decade as a Navy bandmaster, it continues to evolve,” said Cartwright. “My time assigned to the Navy Office of Community Outreach helped me to look at bands from a big Navy perspective.”
As fleet bandmaster, Cartwright and the PACFLT Band provide musical support for official Navy functions, both local and forward-deployed outreach, morale and retention programs, and Navy recruiting initiatives. The band covers an operational area of 100 million square miles with an average of 600 annual engagements, and with only 42 members, versatility is essential to mission success.
“You name it, we play it,” said Cartwright. “We have the traditional ceremonial and marching ensembles you would expect from a military band, groups that play all varieties of popular music — everything from rock to K-Pop, a 40-piece wind ensemble, and also small groups that play jazz, classical, Broadway, and everything in between.”
Cartwright talked about seeing firsthand the impact that the band makes while supporting missions like Pacific Partnership, the largest annual multilateral humanitarian assistance and disaster-relief- preparedness mission conducted in the Indo-Pacific.
“Internationally, music is a powerful tool that brings people together,” said Cartwright. “It may sound cliché, but music is truly an international language that allows us to understand one another without speaking a word.”
Cartwright mentions that while the band is just one of many outreach tools at PACFLT’s disposal, it also functions as so much more.
“It’s how we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, how we recognize our veterans’ service, and how we connect our Navy to the American public,” said Cartwright. “Around the world we help assure our partners and allies of the United States’ commitment to them.”
Cartwright added that balancing the artistic side of playing in a professional band with the requirements of serving as a military officer presents unique challenges, but at the end of the day, the Sailors she serves with and the people she has the opportunity to connect with are incredibly rewarding.
“Music has always been and will always be part of me,” said Cartwright. “It’s a lifelong pursuit you never finish because there is always more you can learn.”