UCF Percussion Alumni Serve the United States Through Music
From Revolutionary War drummers to World War II jazz bands, musicians have played an integral role in the military for centuries. Whether boosting morale, supporting civic events, honoring veterans or representing the U.S. overseas, military band members serve their country through music.
Today, military regular and reserve bands number over 130. 11 of these bands are designated “premier ensembles.” Through a fiercely competitive national audition process, premier ensembles attract some of the nation’s finest musical talent.
Members of these ensembles tour nationally, serving as musical ambassadors for the military and performing at military and civic events. They inspire patriotism, honor veterans and preserve the heritage of American martial music.
Among these exemplary musicians are three UCF percussion alumni: Jacob Kight ’15, Mitchell Gribbroek ’15 and Steve Estes ’20. While Gribbroek and Estes are in the U.S. Army Field Band, Kight is a member of the U.S. Air Force Band, Ceremonial Brass.
We spoke with Kight and Gribbroek about their time at UCF, their experiences in military bands, and what makes the job meaningful to them.
How did your interest in music begin?
Kight: I grew up in a musical family. Both of my parents received music degrees in college and my mother was a music teacher and piano player in the public school system. Every child in my family did something musically when they were in school, so I was surrounded by music and the arts in some shape or form since birth.
Gribbroek: When I was about six years old, I saw someone playing the drum set and told my mom that’s what I wanted to do! Luckily, my mom is amazing and got me into lessons right away. I took a break after a few years but then picked it back up in middle school and have not stopped since.
Why did you choose to attend UCF?
Kight: I chose to attend UCF because I felt that the School of Music would provide me the best opportunity to mature as a percussionist and educator. I really enjoyed working with the percussion instructors, Dr. Thad Anderson, Dean Jeff Moore, and Mr. Kirk Gay, and I knew that the curriculum and environment that they built would be the perfect system for me to learn and grow in.
Gribbroek: One of my best friends in high school was a year ahead of me and she was accepted into the music program at UCF, so I had the opportunity to talk to her about what it was like. UCF was the only place I auditioned and the only place I wanted to go. Plus, I’m from Melbourne, Florida, so it was nice to be close to home still!
How did you decide to audition for a military band?
Kight: I chose to audition for the U.S. Air Force Band, Ceremonial Brass for many reasons. The first being it gave me an opportunity to have a career as a performing musician while also getting to serve my country. I had always wanted to serve but never found the right opportunity to do so and this position allowed me to do that. Also, this job provides a level of career stability and benefits that many performing musicians don’t have access to, so it is really a wonderful position to be in.
Musically this position allows for plenty of growth and development as well. Every member of the band has access to funding for professional development opportunities like private lessons, attending conferences, and research, so I can continue building my skills and knowledge. Also, as a percussionist in the Air Force Band (like many other military bands), I could be asked to play in many different ensembles and settings depending on the needs of the group, which allows me the opportunity to “stay in shape” with the other aspects of percussion performance.
Gribbroek: My wife is also a percussionist and so while going to school together, we were both actively auditioning for performance jobs anywhere there was a vacancy. I had several friends that were in various military bands at the time, so I was quite familiar with the lifestyle and knew it was something both of us were interested in. At that time, I was essentially taking any and all military band auditions that had an opening. I think I took five before I finally got offered a position with the Army Field Band.
Auditions for military premier ensembles are described as “fiercely competitive.” What was that process like for you?
Kight: The audition process for my position was divided into two rounds. The first was a “pre-screening” round. For this, candidates were asked to submit recordings of themselves performing solos or excerpts. These recordings were then reviewed, and the panel selected approximately 12 candidates to move on to the second round.
The second round was a live audition and interview at the Air Force Band facility on Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, Washington D.C. The panel then conducted short interviews with each candidate. After a few days of waiting, we each received a phone call or email telling us the results of the audition.
Gribbroek: Auditions are all run slightly different, but essentially, they all function similar to an orchestral audition. In my case there was a pre-screening round where candidates submitted a resume and a recording of themselves playing some provided excerpts of music. From those recordings, a smaller number of applicants are invited to an in-person audition. My audition had three rounds over the course of two days, cutting the group down to three finalists. After an interview I was given the offer.
What do you like most or find most meaningful about being part of a military band?
Kight: As a member of the Ceremonial Brass, I think the most meaningful part of the job is being able to represent the Air Force during full honors funerals at Arlington National Cemetery. The Brass performs approximately 800 funerals a year and I feel lucky that I can help honor and support our veterans and active-duty members, as well as their families in this way.
Gribbroek: I think what I like most about being in the band is the people I am surrounded by. I feel extremely lucky to be in this organization and am often reminded just how incredible my coworkers are both as individuals and musicians. Since our organization spends a lot of time touring across the country, we spend quite a bit of time together and I think that makes us closer outside of work as well.
Getting to hear stories from veterans about their time and experiences in the Army is probably the most meaningful part of being in the Field Band for me.
How did your time at UCF help prepare you for this experience?
Kight: Looking back on it now, I think the UCF percussion curriculum is one of the best systems to use if someone is interested in the military band career path. As students there, we studied all the major areas of percussion. Most percussionists in the military band system are expected to have the ability to perform in many different ensembles and styles of music, and studying at UCF helped prepared me to do just that.
Gribbroek: The curriculum at UCF is designed to give students a lot of experience across the many different areas of percussion. Military band audition lists often have hand drumming or drum set excerpts on them and that puts a lot of students at a disadvantage if their program does not emphasize those skills. I am extremely fortunate to have gone through the curriculum at UCF. I would have had a lot more trouble preparing for military band auditions if I had not.
What makes you proud to be a UCF alum?
Kight: I am proud to be a UCF alum because I wouldn’t be where I am now without having gone through the percussion program and the School of Music at UCF. Going to UCF set me on a path of learning and motivation that I honestly don’t think I would have been set on if I went to a different institution. The UCF Percussion Studio has a long list of successful students who are now leaders in the percussion world, and I can’t wait to try to continue that legacy as a member of the U.S. Air Force Band.
Gribbroek: I’m proud to be a UCF alum because my peers have gone on to do incredible things. Being able to associate myself with a school that is so successfully preparing its students for the professional world is an honor. My professors Jeff Moore, Dr. Thad Anderson, and Kirk Gay are incredible teachers and I learned so much from them about percussion and life in general. I am still in close contact with a lot of people I went to school with at UCF as well (two were just groomsmen at my wedding!). It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am to have spent four years growing and developing at UCF.
Jacob Kight ’15 holds a Bachelor of Music degree in music education from the University of Central Florida, along with a Master of Music and doctoral degree in music from Florida State University. Prior to joining the Air Force, he served as the Director of Percussion Studies at the University of South Florida. He has performed regularly as a solo and chamber musician and was the principal percussionist of the Tallahassee Symphony Orchestra and a founding member of the Patterns Quartet.
Fluent in audio and video recording technology, Kight has created projects distributed by Flying Horse Records, Garnet House Productions and Ravello Records. He has presented at the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, PAS Days of Percussion and the McCormick Marimba Festival. Kight is a proud Innovative Percussion artist and endorser.
Staff Sergeant Mitchell Gribbroek ’15 earned a Bachelor of Music from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Music from Florida State University. While pursuing a graduate diploma from the New England Conservatory, he won a section position with the Virginia Symphony, where he performed until joining the Army Field Band in 2019.
SSG Gribbroek has also performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Boston Pops, Virginia Opera, Orlando Philharmonic, Gulfcoast Symphony, Tallahassee Symphony and more. He can be seen as a soloist featured multiple times on the Vic Firth Spotlight video series. He and his wife Sabrina are also active as audio/video recording artists in the Glen Burnie area where they live with their cat Misty.