UNITED STATES MARINE BAND PERFORMS IN 54TH CONSECUTIVE INAUGURATION
Staff Sgt. Gabriel Gitman, right center, holds his French horn as he and other members of “The President's Own” United States Marine Band finish their rehearsal for Monday's inauguration parade at the Marine Barracks Annex on Friday, Jan. 18 in Washington, D.C. (Matt McClain for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — They are the few, the proud, and they will share the spotlight with President Barack Obama during the 57th presidential inauguration. The band known as the “President's Own” has been entertaining American presidents and the crowds gathered to celebrate them for hundreds of years.
Monday’s inaugural ceremonies will mark the 54th consecutive inauguration performance for the United States Marine Band.
An act of Congress brought the band into existence in 1798, and Col. Michael J. Colburn, the Marine Band’s director, continues the country's legacy of being a profound musical organization. Their first inauguration celebrated the swearing-in of President Thomas Jefferson in 1801.
“There is no book in existence that we follow to help us keep up with the legacy of the Marine Band,” said Colburn. “It's all about leadership and being able to understand the formulations, the policies and the philosophy of the band. These are the things that we need to succeed as band directors.”
Membership in the band is considered a prestigious accomplishment, and only a few pass the auditions. The majority of the current band members are professional musicians with master's and doctoral degrees in music, but one member earned his membership after a successful audition while still in high school. While the recruits sign a four-year contract making them enlisted active-duty Marines, they are not obliged to go through formal recruit training and do not complete combat missions.
Making the band is a lifetime commitment, and there are only two ways to get your name on the band membership roster. Those two opportunities exist only if a band member decides to leave, or if they retire. Usually, when this happens, a public announcement is sent out all over the country to advertise the vacant “golden seat.”
“I'm very proud to be a woman in the band, because it wasn't until 1973 when we were allowed,” said Gunnery Sgt. and clarinet player Vicki Gotcher. “The band is filled with some great people and it's nice to be able to work together within this organization.” Gotcher’s husband also plays the trumpet for the band.
Gotcher said she couldn’t wait to be play for President Obama during the inauguration ceremonies. “It's one of my favorite events. I'm really looking forward to seeing and hearing the roars of the crowd,” she said.
This is Californian trumpet player Jeff Strong’s first inauguration, and he said he is excited about marching in the parade and being able to play for the president. “Whatever President Obama needs, we cater to it. We play traditional music, but it's unique how we are able to play any type of music,” said Strong.
One of Strong's memorable moments during the four years he's been a Marine Band member was when he was at the White House while famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma was there. Suddenly, former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar walked into the room, adding even more celebrity status to the event.
Nationally, the band is on the road throughout the year with scheduled seasonal concerts and events lined up in various states. “Every day is different but we know what we'll be doing ahead of time. The Marine Band is the best-kept secret around and we work hard to get the word out throughout the country, whether it's through social media, postcards or through the visitor's bureau,” said the band’s public affairs chief Master Sgt. Kristin DuBois.
Colburn said that his job is very time-consuming. “I love the work that I do, and I love to spend time with my family. When I do have time for my family, I make sure that I'm focused on my family,” he said.
Besides that, Colburn said that maintaining the tradition and the history of the Marine Band is the most important part of his job. That American tradition will be displayed again for the 215th time as the inaugural procession makes its way along Pennsylvania Avenue Monday.
Watch: Marine Band Drum Major Master Gunnery Sgt. William Browne describes how to prepare for an inaugural parade. (Video by U.S. Marine Band)