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Headquarters Marine Corps Communication Directorate
Marine Corps Fleet Music Program

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Marine Corps Cpl. Kelsey Worth plays the saxophone during a rehearsal at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., March 12.

Photo by Cpl. Tessa Watts

Defining worth through music and the Marine Corps

31 Mar 2020 | Cpl. Tessa Watts Marines Music

The musicians of the Marine Corps demonstrate the core values of honor, courage and commitment through the balance of musical excellence and upholding the elite stature Marines are known for. U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Kelsey Worth, a musician with Marine Band San Diego, has proven herself an integral piece to the Marine Corps’ total force by exemplifying these values through her dedication as a saxophonist and as a Marine.

At a young age, Worth followed in the steps of her family and their passion for playing musical instruments. She began playing the saxophone at 11 years old and never turned back.

“My parents were musicians and my older siblings also played instruments,” Worth said. “It just came naturally for me to play music too.”

After high school, Worth attended the University of Redlands and earned her Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees. She began teaching both private and saxophone sectional lessons in Redlands, California, but was not living the life she wanted to live as a musician.

“I was teaching and trying to earn a living with a lot of college debt,” Worth explained in frustration. “I was struggling to find direction in my career because there were no opportunities. It’s very hard unless you have the right connections.”

Worth never knew her connection to a fulfilling career in music would end up being through a Marine Corps recruiter.

“As a musician, the honor that you get from all the hard work is being able to play music for your country as an act of service, and for other Marines that also earned the title.” Cpl. Kelsey Worth, a musician with Marine Band San Diego

“I never in a million years thought I would be in the military,” Worth said. “I’m the first person in my family to be a Marine and probably the first female in my family to be in the military.”

When a Marine Corps recruiter saw the potential in Worth, they showed her how she could pursue her dreams as a musician, as well as claim the title, Marine. With this new information, her perspective about joining the military changed. She became the first female recruited through the Musician Enlistment Option Program in the 12th Marine Corps District in 2017.

“I had other military recruiters come to my school before,” Worth said. “They gave their speeches to the whole classroom and it didn’t interest me, but I thought it was very impressive when a Marine Corps recruiter
went out of his way to contact me one on one.”

Worth joined the Marine Corps through MEOP and scored high enough during her audition that she wasn’t required to attend the Naval School of Music. Most Marines that join the Corps as musicians are required to attend this school before being assigned to one of the renowned Marine Corps bands in the world.

“MEOP gives opportunities for musicians and talented young people to have a career and options,” Worth expressed. “The program is really important to keep music alive.”

200312-M-XG560-500 Photo by Cpl. Tessa Watts
Marine Corps Cpl. Kelsey Worth plays the saxophone during a rehearsal at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Calif., March 12.

Worth earned the career in music that she always wanted by becoming a Marine, and it also made her realize the inner strength she didn’t know she had. Overcoming the challenges of recruit training and earning the title of Marine proved what she was capable of.

“It made me a stronger person, more willing to make mistakes and not dwell on them or on the past,” Worth said. “It’s very hard going through recruit training, and it takes a special kind of inner strength to have that motivation to encourage yourself when everyone is yelling at you.”

The core values that were engrained in Worth while becoming a Marine transpires into her daily tasks as a musician. The honor is transforming music into something that represents the people of the United States of
America and all Marines, past and present.

Worth exemplified courage when she made the decision to join the few and the proud. She joined the Marine Corps to be a musician knowing that she would also have the responsibility of upholding the standards and expectations of being a Marine.

“It takes courage for a musician with a very specialized skill to come into a field where they’re going to be asked to do many different tasks,” Worth described. “I’m not just a musician in this unit. I’m a section leader and I have all these other skills as a Marine that I’ve had to learn and pick up. It takes courage for anyone to transition from the civilian world into the military.”

Worth has to commit countless hours to playing the saxophone to be an elite musician while still being a Marine full-time and upholding the Marine Corps values.

“Any good and professional musician has to stay committed to what they’re doing because it does take a lot of time,” Worth explained. “It takes away your leisure time to learn your craft.”

It isn’t easy dedicating the honor, courage and commitment that it takes to be a successful Marine and musician because of the demanding environment and schedule that Worth faces.

“It’s being able to cope with a very fast-paced environment and be extremely flexible for what the schedule requires us to do at any point in time, so it’s a lot more than just keeping up with your own skills on your personal time,” Worth said. “It’s really trying to be superhuman to be good at this job and contribute to it.”

Worth started as a musician drowning in student debt and struggling to make a living doing what she loved. Instead of giving up on her dream, she became a part of something greater than herself.

Because of Worth’s courage and a strong belief in herself, she is able to live her dream as a musician and forever carry the pride of being a U.S. Marine. The invaluable skills and lessons that she’s learned will always stay with her, and she will always know how capable she is as a musician, as a woman, and as a Marine.

“I’ve learned to be my own light and to let that shine in a positive way, even if it’s not a very good day,” Worth expressed with a hopeful tone. “It’s inner strength of character and the will to push myself beyond what I thought was possible.”