When Thomas Palmatier was growing up, a performance by The U.S. Army Field Band had a profound impact on him. At the time, he never guessed he would later go on to become the Commander and Conductor of this top premier band, as well as the Leader and Commander of the Army’s other top premier band, The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” one of the military’s highest musical honors.
Since completing his Master of Fine Arts in Music at Truman, Palmatier has had an impressive career with the U.S. Army, leading performances in all 50 states and more than 40 countries. Along the way, he has met countless presidents, kings, queens, emperors, prime ministers, generals and admirals.
After finishing his Bachelor of Music Education from the State University of New York at Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, Palmatier began actively performing as a freelance musician. During the summer of 1975, with the guidance of Roger Cody, professor emeritus at Truman, he accepted a graduate student assistantship at the University as a tuba instructor, where he assisted with jazz programs and brass ensembles.
Palmatier started his career in the Army as a private in 1977 after deciding to follow in the footsteps of his father, a former soldier who served in World War II. During his more than three decades of service in the Army, Palmatier has held 14 different ranks, rising from private to colonel.
In his current command position for The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own,” Palmatier serves with a 270-strong unit of world-class musicians and support staff. These combinations of ensembles perform almost 6,000 times each year. While Palmatier is able to conduct some of the larger events, much of his work revolves around organizing and enabling the band’s music.
“The job is really not like being a band director,” Palmatier said. “It’s more like being the CEO of a multi-faceted music corporation.”
Over the span of his career, Palmatier has commanded several different music organizations, including the Army’s two top premier bands and the Army School of Music. He has helped transform the Army’s music program by reorganizing where the musicians are stationed, changing the types of ensembles that bands are able to field, updating equipment and improving training.
“I have had a simple goal of ‘leave it better than the way you found it’ that I hope I’ll someday be able to look back on and say I achieved,” Palmatier said.
Palmatier returned to Kirksville in the early 1990s with The U.S. Army Herald Trumpets during his first assignment with “Pershing’s Own.” In October 2008, he brought the Concert Band and Soldiers’ Chorus of The U.S. Army Field Band to the University.
Despite his many accomplishments and accolades, Palmatier most appreciates the relationships he has developed throughout his career.
“The experiences I treasure the most are those innumerable interactions with musicians young and old, both musically and personally,” he said.
Palmatier lives in historic Fort Myer, Va., with his wife Shirley, a northern Missouri native and a retired Army Medical Service Corps officer. He also has a daughter who lives in Dallas with his two grandchildren.