April 1, 1993, could be the day the music dies at America's military academies if Sen. Sam Nunn has his way.
That is the day the money that keeps afloat those bands of enlisted personnel would stop flowing under a proposal by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Sen. Nunn, D-Georgia, the committee chairman, believes that the bands at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., should be made up of midshipmen and cadets who volunteer their time.
"Ten million dollars is a significant amount of money for a band that otherwise could be voluntary," said Scott Williams, Senator Nunn's spokesman.
But the musicians who make up the bands say that the committee doesn't realize how important their talents are to the service academies and the surrounding communities, which depend on them to play at parades, fireworks displays and area schools.
"This is a very professional group," said Musician First Class Gary Leming, who has played trumpet for the Navy band's rock group, Electric Brigade, for six years. "It's just a shame to break up a group of people who work hard and put out a good product."
The Armed Services Committee said that $10.1 million would be better spent shoring up holes in combat units.
"Midshipmen and cadets should be encouraged to form their own bands," the committee said. "In doing so, they would contribute directly . . . to the spirit and morale at the military service academies."
Mr. Williams would not comment further on the proposal -- a provision in next year's $274 billion Department of Defense spending bill.
"I'm not going to get into a debate with the academies on this through the newspapers," he said.
The bill currently is stalled on the Senate floor because of a debate over whether to cut $1 billion out of the Strategic Defense Initiative package.
If the impasse cannot be overcome by September, when senators return from break, the bill could be scrapped until the new Congress takes over in January.
Meanwhile, the service academies said they are preparing to fight. "We have developed rationales that we think prove our worth," said Lt. Col. Frank B. Dubuy, commander and conductor of the West Point Band, the largest of the three with 96 enlisted musicians.
"We hope to persuade members of Congress of our belief that there is a need for a band," the U.S. Naval Academy said in a statement issued yesterday. The band, which costs $2.6 million a year, was formed in 1852.
The Naval Academy band director, Cmdr. Michael Burch-Pesses, said that his 64 enlisted musicians offer a service that cadets and midshipmen do not have time for.
"The mission of any service academy is to provide leaders, not to train musicians," he said. "In many ways, what a band does cannot be quantified. It's really difficult to put a value on recruiting or on community relations. The band is an essential part of quality of life in Annapolis."
Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, who is to take to the radio air waves this morning to defend the Naval Academy's band, not only agreed, but blamed the proposed cuts on fallout from the "Tailhook" sex scandal.
"My professional sensibilities are offended when I hear U.S. senators -- who should know better -- state there is no use for the full-time band," the mayor said in a speech prepared for WNAV radio (1430 AM).
He accused Congress of punishing the academy and the citizens of Annapolis and argued that "doing away with the band is political spite at its most obvious.
"It is clear to me that the Senate has not a clue as to the positive impact this group of professional quality musicians has on this region," he said.