Soldier dreams of becoming singer in the Army Music division of military

Stephane Jessie

When Nashville senior Joshua Pulley first joined the military, he feared something unusual.

“Basic training, you don’t want anyone to know you sing,” he said. “It’s kind of dangerous…in my opinion it was a weakness that I didn’t want them to exploit.”

However, friends overheard Pulley singing in the laundry room during basic training and let his drill sergeant know.

“I sang for him and, after that moment, I sang at Lord knows how many training events,” he said.

His first sergeant, the highest ranking sergeant in the company, asked him to perform the National Anthem at an infantry ceremony attaching blue cords to the uniforms, which are presented to those who have completed their initial entry training.

After the ceremony, the usually stern sergeant walked up to him with a tear in his eye to compliment the life Pulley brought to the well-known song.

“They all called me an idiot for joining the military,” he said. “They were like, ‘You can do so much more with your life and you decided to join the military.’”

One drill sergeant took Pulley aside and commended him on his decision to put a hold on his opera career to join the military. Another friend reminded him how he had the world laid at his feet. Words like these inspired Pulley to go back to school to get his Bachelor of Arts in music.

Pulley, who has been singing his entire life, began singing classically in high school after his choir teacher encouraged him to further his vocal education.

“He told me like, ‘Hey, I can’t do anything else with your voice, but I’m going to take you up to see my voice teacher (from college) because I think you’ve accelerated past the level I feel comfortable teaching,’” Pulley said.

Once a week for a year-and-a-half, Pulley’s teacher drove him to Bowling Green from Nashville to receive lessons from Elizabeth Volkman, a Julliard School of Music graduate who was teaching at WKU. It was during these lessons that Pulley fully began understanding his ability to train his voice and become an opera singer.

During an American Idol-style competition at the Orchestra Kentucky, Pulley met Wayne Pope, an assistant professor of music at WKU.

“He had a very promising, wonderful voice,” Pope said. “We spoke with him after and found out that he had been studying with one of our teachers and was coming to Western.”

Pulley originally planned on becoming a music teacher, but changed his mind after joining the Army.

“One of the points of becoming a high school music teacher is to tell the kids, honestly, what to expect,” he said. “If I went into teaching right out of college, you’re not going to have that experience to tell those kids.”

It was through the encouragement of the military that Pulley came back to the Hill last fall.

Today, Pulley sings for the Nashville Opera. Last summer he spent time at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, one of the top music programs in the world. He also frequents church stages, favoring “O Holy Night” as a go-to opera piece, no matter the season.

He will sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” “My Old Kentucky Home” and “College Heights,” WKU’s alma mater, at the commencement ceremonies next weekend.

“We pick someone every semester to sing at graduation,” Pope said. “It’s always an honor. We try to find our top students.”

One area that contributed to Pulley being chosen were the results of a juried competition in the music department where the professors chose the best male and best female singers.

Pulley has won three times in a row: once the semester before he left to join the military and twice last year when he came back.

When Pulley isn’t performing, he visits high school choirs to encourage students, particularly males, to continue following their passions, no matter where it takes them.

“Women, I think they are very equally important but, in the high school stage for males, there’s a big self-confidence thing,” he said. Pulley encourages them to take the gift that is unique to them and use it as motivation to continue.

“That’s probably one of my favorite things to do,” he said.

Pulley graduates in May and has dreams of becoming a singer in the Army Music division of the military, which includes singing across the world and, sometimes, for the President of the United States.

“My eventual goal is to become a self-proclaimed musician, to sing professionally, actually being able to do the main roles,” he said.

Most males voices do not fully mature until their late 20s, and a 30-something male singer is still considered young in the opera industry.

However it happens, Pulley hopes to use his voice to touch people through his music.

“It is better to live a life happy and doing something you love than to live a life miserable and doing something you don’t love and you’re only doing it for money, because money won’t bring you happiness,” he said.