PHOENIX - A Phoenix native's call to music en route to becoming a Marine Corps bandsman came at an early age. Cpl. Osman Chaudhry, a percussionist with the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band in Havelock, N.C., first felt the beat of drumsticks in his hands at four years old, followed by riffs on the piano and flares on the clarinet.
Music naturally fostered an underlying discipline for this Marine, disguising an ambitious, yet carefree passion for this skill. A foundation was being built by what was his hobby, something he enjoyed and excelled at.
It was always an outlet, a comfort, Chaudhry said. Lacking was a desire to drive him beyond what became an accepted musical boundary.
"I never started taking music seriously until about the tenth grade," said Chaudhry, when he says he was an underachieving member of the band at Sandra Day O'Connor High School in north Phoenix.
It was there a spirit sparked. A drive kindled from outside doubts and competitiveness within himself.
"I started playing three or more hours a night," said Chaudhry, in addition to the time he devoted during the day. "The standard was high and I wanted to go above it."
This pride intrigued a deeper calling in Chaudhry, one that sought one of the highest, selfless standards available for young man or women his age – becoming a United States Marine.
"The history, the traditions, the discipline, the honor, courage and commitment," he said. "It explains itself."
Little did Chaudhry know he'd have the opportunity to be part of one of the Corps' proudest bearers of its rich history and proud traditions.
"I was pretty uneducated about the Marine Corps band before I enlisted," he said.
The Marine Corps band was formed in 1798, originally made up of only drummers and fifers who marched with the Continental Marines into combat during the Revolutionary War. Now Marine Corps bands span the globe, highlighted by the "The President's Own" all Marine band in Washington, D.C.
Chaudhry's decision was made, but his goal to become both a warrior and musician in the Marine Corps wasn't unchallenged. He auditioned through the Marine Corps' Musician Enlisted Option Program (MEOP), a program that qualifies an applicant based on all facets of music.
"It was one of the toughest on the spot performances I had, had to do," said Chaudhry, so much so that he didn't pass the first time he auditioned.
Six Marine Corps musician placement directors conduct live MEOP auditions throughout the country each year. The audition is graded on three sections; scales (10% of the overall score), solo (40% of the overall score), and sight-reading (50% of the overall score).
“Scales and sight reading are commonly the most difficult aspect of the audition for applicants,” said Capt. Jeffrey Arroyo, the MEOP program coordinator for the state of Arizona. “Minor scales are generally not taught at the high School level.”
"That was what got me," said Chaudhry. But again, the doubts drove him and he continued practicing with assistance from his school band teachers. A few months later in July, 2009, he found himself with a scheduled ship date to the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego as a future Marine musician.
"An exponential amount of doors have been opened to me," said Chaudhry, who has since traveled from continent to continent, playing for the likes of kings, queens, heads of state, veterans, Medal of Honor recipients.
More recently, Chaudhry’s travels brought him back home to the Grand Canyon state where he visited Phoenix area high school band members to try and be a spark of inspiration for them like the one he had as a high school student in the tenth grade.
During a visit to Prescott High School, just north of Phoenix in Prescott, Ariz., Chaudhry spoke with a band made up of all drummers.
“It’s what we drummers like to call percussion discussion,” he joked. “Speaking with high school students who are in the same shoes I was in four short years ago was a nostalgic feeling.”
Chaudhry added, there is nothing more rewarding or humbling than to be able to be an ambassador for what the Marine Corps stands for and represents.
“To be able to come back home and share these opportunities, I felt a greater sense of responsibility to be somebody these students could see and know what is possible,” he said.
Chaudhry dreams of someday being a musician on Broadway in New York, but in the immediate future has his eyes set on becoming a Marine Corps officer.
"On the musical side, I've made great connections with musical directors on the outside, in addition to great friends from members of bands from around the world," he said. "But nothing can replace the feeling of being a Marine, and being a Marine musician has instilled preparation and leadership in me both musically and professionally."