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While it sure ain’t rock and roll it is probably the longest running music gig in the country

It’s also America’s oldest professional musical organization and its main purpose in life is to provide music for the President of the United States, visiting dignitaries, White House functions such as State Dinners and various other types of receptions. They average about 200 appearances a year at the White House alone.

It’s the United States Marine Band and they’ve been playing music since they were established by an Act of Congress way back in 1798. They made their White House debut when President John Adams wanted to liven up the New Year’s Day festivities way back in 1801 and they haven’t left since. Following that, they played at inaugural ceremonies for Thomas Jefferson. He was so impressed by their performance that he gave them the nickname. “The President’s Own”. The name stuck and they’ve played at every inaugural ceremony since.

One might think that given the band’s roots and name recognition and association with John Philip Sousa that they limit their range to marches or other forms of music associated with the military. Nothing could be further from the truth. Depending on the circumstances, the Marine Band might provide entertainment in the form of soloists, chamber music, full-fledged dance style music or a symphony orchestra.

The Few…The Proud…The Marines…

Those of us here in the States are probably familiar with that term. We’ve it either seen it advertised on TV or on a recruiting poster that was plastered somewhere around your locale. It brings images to my mind of dress blues, grunts or polished officers. It seems it applies to members of the Marine Band too.

All band candidates must pass an audition to become members. The conditions of the audition are much like those used by major symphony orchestras around the world. The candidate plays various pieces of music while hidden behind a curtain or a screen. This is to ensure that the candidate remains anonymous to the various members of the selection committee. While one doesn’t have to hold a degree in music, most of the members of the band are graduates from some of the most prestigious music schools in the country.

If one is lucky enough or talented enough to be selected, they are then enlisted in the service of the United States Marine Corps. The one caveat in their enlistment that separates them from the rest of the Corps that they will perform their duties only in connection with service to the Marine Band. The “contract” is for a four year hitch but about 90 percent of the band members stay on as “lifers" and their careers usually span twenty years or more. They also don’t sign on as a lowly privates. In terms of compensation and in order to remain competitive with the outside music world, they are enlisted at the rank of Staff Sergeant. Upon retirement from the Corps, most members go on to play in orchestras around the world.

Over the years, the band has almost tripled in size. Today they number around 100 members and usually hold over 500 performances around the world each year. While the organization they represent or their style of music not be your cup of tea, I still think you have to appreciate the talent level of the musicians and the range of music that the band plays.


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