The two trumpeters, trombonist and tuba player bombarded Lovinsky, 49, with pleas to stay.
“They were just like, ‘Please don’t go. What can we do to keep you?’ ” the Juilliard-trained Lovinsky recalled. “There had been only one other French horn player in the group before me, and he started the group in 1972. Openings in our group are rare.”
The quintet started out as an informal group within the 200-plus-member U.S. Army Band, which is based at Fort Myer in Arlington County. But in 1976, the quintet became a kind of Delta Force squad, dispatched to some of Washington’s most solemn events and made up of the very best musicians from “Pershing’s Own,” as the Army Band is known.
Lovinsky replaced one of the quintet’s founders in 1999 and is the first of the group’s second- generation musicians to leave. He was wooed away by Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., for a conservatory teaching position and a less hectic performance schedule.
His replacement is Sgt. 1st Class Rick Lee, 39, from Alexandria, who this spring beat out three fellow French horn players from “Pershing’s Own.”
“When Joe decided to retire, I was a little surprised,” said Lee, who has worked as the quintet’s first substitute for several years. “Until it happened, I thought it could be at least another 10 years for an opening, or the end of my career.”
To get into the quintet, musicians must first get into “Pershing’s Own,” the renowned band formed in 1922 by Army Chief of Staff Gen. John J. “Black Jack” Pershing. If a musician gets and accepts the opening, he or she must enlist in the Army. That means boot camp, periodic physical endurance exams and the possibility of being deployed to a war zone (although probably not on the front lines).
Lovinsky, son of Haitian immigrants, began his journey into the world of military music performance in one of Miami’s poorer neighborhoods more than three decades ago.
In 1981, he was the subject of a Miami Herald front-page profile — under the headline “Ghetto Youth’s Fortune is His Music” — after he won a four-year scholarship to a music conservatory in Baltimore.
After transferring to and graduating from the Juilliard School in New York, Lovinsky performed as the principal hornist with the Miami City Ballet, the Israel Pops and the Dominican Republic National Symphony orchestras.
By 1992, Lovinsky wanted a stable gig. When he saw an opening for the U.S. Army Field Band, he tried out, earned a spot, enlisted in the Army and settled in Fort Meade. The military life appealed to him; he felt that he owed the country something in return for his unlikely success.