Rarely does an Army musician come back to the same unit, but Warrant Officer 1 Richard Townes is the exception to the rule.
A trombone player with a 2009 degree in trombone performance from Indiana University, Bloomington, Townes was a member of Fort Sill’s 77th Army Band in the years 2013-2016. During that time he handled public affairs for the band, served as drum major on various occasions, took a couple lessons in conducting from a Cameron University faculty member and tried his hand at the baton. He’s done a lot of independent study on conducting since, but still considers himself to be in the early stages of his conducting career.
Now he’s back as the new band commander — conducting, handling administrative chores and leading the band members who serve as Army ambassadors to the civilian world.
Townes has been in the Army about 11 years.
“It was really nice to come back. We’ve got a home in Lawton and I was driving past and saw the Polo Field, and it just felt like I was coming home again,” he said.
He and his wife, Kyle, have four children that she home-schools full time. When they left here in 2016 they went to the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. Townes said he and his wife talked frequently about how much they missed Oklahoma, Lawton, Fort Sill and the whole community. They’ve been very active in the community and they do Awana at First Baptist Church of Lawton.
Kyle is musical as well. She studied vocal performance before switching majors halfway through college to become a choral educator. She taught choir for a number of years in Virginia.
Townes’ parents were not professional musicians but they did support and encourage his interest in the field. His father was and still is a pastor in the Lutheran Church, so there’s a strong musical heritage there. His mother was a very talented bassoonist who studied at Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts for a year in high school.
Townes said he started studying trombone seriously in sixth or seventh grade. Brookings, S.D., where he grew up is home to the state’s largest university, South Dakota State, and he was fortunate enough to study with the trombone professor there.
Now that he’s in his first command, he finds it an edifying experience to be learning something new every day.
“I’ve got a really great team. All the soldiers that I have and the first sergeant are very supportive, and they do excellent work.And then I’ve got a great team also outside of this organization,” said Townes, noting that the battalion currently falls under 95th Adjutant General (Reception) Battalion and 434th Field Artillery Brigade in its chain of command. The command team at the Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill are extremely supportive of what the 77th Army Band does.
“We’re very blessed. We have such a unique job in the Army. It’s really a joy to go out into the community and be able to share with all the people in Lawton and the surrounding area the really truly amazing things that are going on here at Fort Sill.
“We’ve got soldiers here who are strong. They’re resilient. They’re ready at a moment’s notice to go and defend our freedoms. And it’s just a joy to go out and tell the American people, the people in Lawton, about that.
“And then all the other things that are happening here — the modernization of artillery so that we can have that edge on the modern battlefield. All of these things are exciting, and just the chance to go out and build that partnership with the people in Lawton and have that connectivity and be the face of Fort Sill and be able to tell all of the citizens out there that your Army, your soldiers at Fort Sill are ready. We’re ready to do what we need to do to defend you. That’s just a really humbling and unique experience that we all enjoy,” Townes said.
“Music in Our Schools Month” comes up in March, and the 77th Army Band is preparing now to reach out to area high schools.
“It’s exciting this year because we’re going to introduce some digital media aspect to our performance.
Townes followed a path similar to that of his mentor, former 77th Army Band commander Michael Franz, by joining the U.S. Marine Corps in 2002 when he was 18 years old. He got out after four years and that’s when he went to Indiana University to pursue his degree. Midway through, he joined the National Guard and found it to be a very good experience. He actually transferred from the Indiana National Guard to the Washington, D.C., National Guard when he married Kyle in December 2009. As a civilian living in D.C. he worked as a freelance musician performing in various ensembles and giving private lessons at his own studio.
“It was very challenging, but it was very exciting and rewarding. I got to play with some excellent ensembles,” he found.
The birth of their first child was a turning point in his career. He and his wife talked about how they would ideally like things to go.
“What we really wanted to do was have her stay home with the children and raise them and teach them, which is full-time work in and of itself. And I had the opportunity to go active, and we talked about it and thought this would be a really good thing for us. It would be a good thing for the career. The Army is such a wonderful place to make music. Not all musicians think about it. But they really should, because you have financial security, which really frees you up to enjoy the music-making. So it’s been a real blessing.”