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The President's Own Comes to Play

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President Obama might get his groove on with pop performances by Beyoncé and Jay Z at the White House. But when it comes to traditional tunes, the commander-in-chief kicks it old school with the U.S. Marine Band, just like every U.S. president before him, dating back to John Adams.

Known as "The President's Own," the U.S. Marine Band remains the country's oldest continuously active professional musical organization. It was founded in 1798 by powdered wig-wearing politicians as an act of congress. Its musicians' mission is simple: to provide professional music for the president and the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.

In July at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., 1st Lt. Ryan Nowlin conducts a concert that  includes marches by John Philip Sousa, Henry Fillmore and Carmen Dragon's arrangement of Samuel Augustus Ward's America, the Beautiful.  - U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO BY GYSGT AMANDA SIMMONS
  • U.S. Marine Corps photo by GySgt Amanda Simmons
  • In July at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., 1st Lt. Ryan Nowlin conducts a concert that includes marches by John Philip Sousa, Henry Fillmore and Carmen Dragon's arrangement of Samuel Augustus Ward's America, the Beautiful.

When the renowned military band isn't entertaining in Washington D.C., it's touring the country to play more than 500 public performances a year. This Sunday afternoon, Indianapolis will enjoy that honor when The President's Own performs to a sold-out audience at Clowes Memorial Hall with melodies and marches the likes of which John Philip Sousa would be proud.

Sousa was, in fact, the famous band's 17th director. Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig heads it up now. He stepped onto the maestro's podium recently when Col. Michael Colburn retired from the post in July.

Former U.S. Marine Band director, Col. Michael Colburn is the newly appointed Butler University director of bands.
  • Former U.S. Marine Band director, Col. Michael Colburn is the newly appointed Butler University director of bands.

Colburn was with the band for 27 years, serving under five different presidents and working nine of those years as a euphonium player, eight as an assistant director and 10 as the director of the band.

In a twist of fate, the former U.S Marine Band director just began his second career last month as Butler University's new director of bands.

At Sunday's performance, Colburn will guest conduct for a couple of the pieces -- Malcolm Arnold's Four Scottish Dances and the John Philip Sousa march Semper Fidelis.

It's no surprise that he has embarked on another musical career. His love for orchestras began early on, influenced by his high school band director father and older brother who played in his father's band.

Colburn still remembers crawling around on the floor in his brother's bedroom trying to get under the sousaphone to play it. But it was not until he met the principal of the euphonium in the Marine Band that Colburn ever thought of performing professionally.

He auditioned for the band in December of 1986, but didn't land the coveted spot. There were only two openings, and he came in third. So he went back to college at Arizona State University to work toward a master's degree. But he received a phone call a little over a month later asking him to join the Marine Band. They were going to add another position to the section.

Colburn said an interesting part about life in the Marine Band is that once you're in, you're in. It means permanent duty, stationed in Washington D.C. and unable to be transferred anywhere else in the Marine Corps.

Along with being a musician in the Marine Band, members do not have any secondary combat responsibilities, as their "only responsibility is their musical responsibility."

Lt. Col. Fetting has worked closely over the years with Colburn and has not only played under his baton, but became the assistant director in 2001.

"I consider Col. Colburn not only a mentor, but also a friend," says Fettig. "[We] share a lot of the same musical sensibilities."

The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James T. Conway, hosts an honors ceremony for Brigadier General Luis Gomez Vasquez, Commandant of the Colombian Marine Corps on June 14, 2010 at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., where the United States Marine Band performs. - UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS PHOTO BY CPL ERIN A. KIRK-CUOMO
  • United States Marine Corps Photo by Cpl Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
  • The Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James T. Conway, hosts an honors ceremony for Brigadier General Luis Gomez Vasquez, Commandant of the Colombian Marine Corps on June 14, 2010 at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., where the United States Marine Band performs.

According to Fettig, sharing the stage Sunday won't be anything new for them. Their relationship always has been very collaborative.

"[Colburn] has inspired me in numerous ways both musically and as a leader," says Fettig. "He brought us to the next level as an organization in many areas, bringing in world-famous guest artists and composers and starting a number of innovative programs that have helped bring attention to the Marine Band all over the world."

When asked about the band coming to Indianapolis and his thoughts on Butler, Colburn says he feels like he is on a long vacation from his real job. As for guest conducting his former band Sunday, Colburn says it will feel very familiar, and just wee bit strange at the same time.

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