Judy Karsten Buttery ’77 has probably played “Semper Paratus” more times than she cares to remember. Yet the West Michigan native wasn’t “Always Ready” to be a member of the Coast Guard Band, as the military organization’s theme song suggests.
A music education major at Calvin, Buttery loved to play the bassoon.
“I never thought I could get a job playing the bassoon, though,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I talked to my dad about it one night, and he said, ‘So what if you don’t get a job playing the bassoon; you’re never going to stop being a musician.’ He encouraged me to continue.”
That was very good advice.
This fall Buttery will retire after 25 years with the Coast Guard Band as a bassoonist. After completing a two-year master’s degree program in bassoon at Michigan State University, Buttery spent her entire career with the Coast Guard Band.
“It has been such a great experience,” she said.
With the band, Buttery has traveled to 46 of the 50 states and to several foreign countries. The band has also performed for many dignitaries and at every presidential inauguration in the last 25 years.
“I had never been on a traveling bus before or on a cargo plane, which is how we used to travel; it was all an eye-opening experience,” she said.
Through the experience, Buttery also met her husband, Gary, a former tuba player in the band. He retired six years ago.
Becoming a band member was providential for Buttery who, by the time she graduated, was determined to play for an orchestra.
“I took the audition for the Coast Guard Band to get some experience,” said Buttery. “It was my first audition, and I had said that even if they offered me the job, I wasn’t going to take it. God was right there in the room with me when they offered me the job because somehow I heard myself say yes.”
Since joining the band, Buttery has been promoted twice to senior chief musician. All of the musicians also have secondary jobs with the band, as the organization has no support staff. Buttery has been involved with public affairs and the music library.
Based in New London, Conn., the band makes several trips a year, averaging about 100 performances annually.
“That was sometimes tough,” said Buttery. “Our kids have been all over the country with us.”
The traveling is one of the reasons Buttery has decided to call it quits, five years before retirement is mandatory. She would like to be able to spend more vacation time with her husband and family.
She also plans to spend more time at home and to concentrate on her church organist position at Lee Memorial United Methodist Church in Norwich, Conn. “I’m a musician through and through, but there is life outside the band,” she said.
She will continue performing on the bassoon, accompanied by her husband on the tuba.
“What I will miss is sitting with all of these musicians,” said Buttery on a recent tour stop at Calvin shortly before her retirement. “This caliber of musicianship is just incredible, and I try never to take it for granted.”
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