Marine Band to Provide Inaugural Pomp and Circumstance
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 16, 2009 Not only is it fitting that the “President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band play “Hail to the Chief” during the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremonies, it’s tradition.
A trombone player with the U.S. Marine Band rehearses for his part in the band’s Inauguration Day performances, Jan. 16, 2009, at the Marine Barracks Annex in Washington. President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration will take place Jan. 20, 2009. DoD photo by Samantha L. Quigley
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“The U.S. Marine Band was created by an act of Congress signed by President John Adams on July 11, 1798,” Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. D. Michael Ressler, the band’s historian and 34-year member, said.
The law called for 32 drummers and fifers to be part of the Marine Corps. “The President’s Own” -- dubbed such by President Thomas Jefferson -- now includes about 130 members, five officers, a drum major and 22 full-time professional support staff.
Besides the U.S. Marine Band, “The President’s Own” also encompasses the Marine Chamber Orchestra and the Marine Chamber Ensembles. They perform regularly at the White House and conduct more than 500 public performances across the nation each year.
But the road to such prestige is a long one.
“The band moved to Washington, D.C., in 1800 when the Capitol moved there, and we performed our first concert in Washington on Aug. 21, 1800,” Ressler said. “We were involved in events celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s inaugural in 1801, the first inaugural held in Washington, D.C., and have been a part of every inaugural since then.”
For the upcoming inauguration, however, everything old is new again.
As in the past, the band will play two traditional inauguration pieces honoring the first and third presidents, “Washington’s Grand March” and “Jefferson’s March,” respectively, as well as “Hail to the Chief.”
Paying homage to the history being made that day, an additional song will be performed that made its debut in 1861.
“This year, the band will perform a march written in 1861 by former Marine Band Director Francis Scala titled, ‘President Lincoln’s Inaugural March,’” Ressler said. "The Marine Band premiered this march at President Lincoln’s first inaugural in 1861.
“I believe that this will be only the second time that this music has been performed at an inaugural ceremony,” he added.
Ressler said inauguration days are always long and challenging, but the band cheerfully accepts the responsibility and sees it as an honor and a privilege.
“There is no better demonstration of our mission than our participation in inaugural events,” he said. “Our inaugural history dates back to 1801, and we look forward to renewing this tradition every four years.”
Marine Capt. Michelle A. Rakers, one of the band’s two assistant directors, knows all too well the challenges and the pride of participating in an inauguration with “The President’s Own.” This will be her third inauguration since joining the band in 1998.
“It is a tremendous honor to be involved in such a groundbreaking historic event for our nation this year,” she said. “As professional musicians, we will always have a certain amount of nerves involved in any performance … because we always want to do our best.”
Since practice makes perfect and helps calm nerves, practices have been frequent at the Marine Barracks Annex in Washington where the band is headquartered.
Because of the significance of the inaugural parade, and the fact that the band’s marching unit for the parade is so much larger than usual, the band has been doing more “field drills,” or marching rehearsals, Rakers said.
“This is to ensure that we are all comfortable with our respective roles on [Inauguration] Day,” she added. “We also have a special rehearsal planned for the prelude music that takes place before the ceremony.”
The band’s role begins before Inauguration Day, however. The Marine Chamber Orchestra will perform at the opening ceremony on Jan. 18 at the Lincoln Memorial.
After playing before, during and after the ceremony, and leading the second division of the parade, the band will change into clean uniforms and play at two inaugural balls that night.
“It remains to be seen what the turnout may be for this year’s inauguration,” Rakers said. “But it seems as though the city is preparing for something that will remain in our memories for sometime as … an event of far-reaching historical significance.”