Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps Prepares for Inauguration
By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 13, 2009 The largest U.S. Army fife and drum corps ever assembled will take part in President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration Jan. 20.
Army Staff Sgt. Brian L. Barnhart, a snare drummer with the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment's Fife and Drum Corps, trails the ensemble down Sheridan Avenue on Fort Myer, Va., during a Jan. 9, 2009, rehearsal for President-elect Barack Obama’s inaugural parade. DoD photo by Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Nearly 60 fifers, buglers and drummers of the Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps will march from the Capitol to the White House near the front of the inaugural parade procession. The group normally performs with around 25 musicians, 33 at most, for an event of this scale, said Army Sgt. Maj. Gregory J. Rock, the corps’ senior enlisted member with more than 20 years in the unit.
Since mid-December, the corps has been rehearsing the difficulties of marching and staying in step in a larger-than-usual ensemble. Several times each week, often in rain and cold, the corps forms up to march from its headquarters building about a mile down Sheridan Avenue on Fort Myer, Va., said Rock, who’s preparing for his sixth inaugural parade.
“The biggest challenge is making sure everybody is taking their steps at the exact same time as everybody else, making sure everyone’s together in the troop, marching as one whole unit,” the Leesburg, Va., native said.
The increased size of the performing ensemble is a coincidence, despite the magnitude of attention Obama’s inauguration has drawn, Rock said. More of the corps’s musicians are available to perform than usual, and the unit is taking advantage of its healthiness, he explained.
“This is the largest corps we’ve ever marched, and the reason is that we’re always growing, trying new things and thinking outside the box,” Rock said. “But this is the healthiest the corps has actually ever been, so we’re using everybody we can.”
Rock stressed that the inaugural parade is just another event for his busy musicians, who perform an average of 500 events each year. Each performance is conducted at the highest possible standard, regardless of the event’s perceived importance, he said.
“The visibility [of a presidential inauguration], of course, is higher than anything else we do, but we treat all missions the same,” he said. “We’re going to pull out all stops, because we’re all professionals, and we put 100 percent into all our performances.”
Even the fact that they’re participating in the inaugural parade of the first African-American president in American history doesn’t faze them, he said.
“Everyone talks about this particular inauguration being history, but we look at all of the inaugurations as a huge part of history, because when and where else in the history of the world do you have this much power transitioning peacefully, ever?” he said. “So if you think about that in the large scheme of things, you’re making history every time.”
Army Staff Sgt. Alexander Borisov, a fifer who’s participating in his first inaugural parade, echoed his sergeant major’s sentiment that the corps strives for perfection at every performance. The opportunity to welcome a new president and honor the new commander in chief on his inauguration day is significant no matter who he is, the 22-year-old St. Louis native said.
“Political boundaries go away when he assumes commander in chief,” Borisov said. “So in that respect, it doesn’t matter who it would be. I would’ve been thrilled [with] this being my first inaugural or my tenth. I would’ve loved it just as much.”
Since the corps’s creation in 1960 as part of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at Fort Myer, the Army’s Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps has participated in every presidential inauguration since John F. Kennedy’s in 1961.
The corps represents one of the military’s oldest traditions, dating back to Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army. The men and women will be easy to point out during the inaugural parade: they dress in uniforms patterned after the field musicians of the 1st American Regiment, wearing black tricornered hats, powdered wigs, and red colonial-style coats.
“To be a fifer in the fife and drum corps truly is living tradition,” Borisov said. “To actually be in this group, one of the Army’s premier bands -- it’s such an honor to know that I’m part of it. I’m living the tradition, and I’m escorting the president as he’s being inaugurated.”