Feb. 6, 2017 -- style="margin: 0in 0in 10pt;">On Feb. 1, “The President’s Own” kicked off #WilliamsWeek to honor maestro John Williams who will celebrate his 85th birthday on Wednesday, Feb. 8. Throughout the week, the Marine Band will share photos, music, and special memories of the famed composer. One of the most popular and successful American orchestral composers of the modern age, Williams is the winner of five Academy Awards, 22 Grammys, four Golden Globes, and five Emmys. Williams has worked with the Marine Band several times in recent years, conducting anniversary concerts in Washington, D.C., in 2003 and 2008, and an encore during a tour concert at Royce Hall in Los Angeles in 2009.
John Towner Williams was born in Queens, N.Y., on Feb. 8, 1932, just one month shy of the death of John Philip Sousa. The son of a jazz drummer, Williams studied piano and composition at the University of California at Los Angeles and The Juilliard School in New York City. By the time he was in his late twenties, Williams had already served a stint in the U.S. Air Force and was an active jazz and studio pianist and began composing music for television and films. In 1974 he met an ambitious young director named Steven Spielberg, forging one of the most successful partnerships in the history of filmmaking. That year, the two worked together on a film called “Sugarland Express” starring Goldie Hawn and a year later teamed up again for “Jaws.” It wasn’t long before Williams’ music garnered international attention unlike any American composer since Sousa. Williams has written the music to some of the most popular films of all time and dozens of his memorable themes have reached iconic status worldwide.
The Marine Band first collaborated with the legendary film composer in 2003 to celebrate the organization’s 205th anniversary. Williams conducted the band in a gala concert of his own works at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. He returned to the podium of “The President’s Own” in 2008 to help the band celebrate its 210th anniversary in another concert at the Kennedy Center. Five years later, Maestro Williams generously composed a fanfare titled “For ‘The President’s Own’” in celebration of the ensemble’s 215th anniversary. Williams attended a rehearsal via Skype while the Marine Band read the fanfare in May 2013, then, to the delight of “The President’s Own,” he conducted the band in person during a rehearsal in July in the John Philip Sousa Band Hall in Washington, D.C. Following the rehearsal, Williams exclaimed to then-Director Colonel Michael J. Colburn, “Fantastic. Colonel, you have a hot band!”
In an interview produced and recorded for the Marine Band’s YouTube channel, Williams said to Colburn, “It’s always wonderful being with them. The band is so fabulous technically and in every possible way. The first time I came, I was overwhelmed because I’d been conducting orchestras my whole life. … The brilliance of the brass particularly thrilled me. … When I hear ‘The President’s Own’ brass play, it’s a unique thrill … they’re so beautifully matched and balanced.”
He also admitted in the interview that writing “For ‘The President’s Own’” was a little scary because “scoring for band is … an art in itself.”
Music production chief/Staff arranger Master Gunnery Sergeant Donald Patterson first experienced John Williams’ music when he saw “Star Wars” in the theater while a high school teenager. He has since completed copy work on several Williams compositions.
“John Williams is a master of taking existing orchestra colors and sounds and textures to elicit certain emotions and feelings,” Patterson said. “But my favorite of his pieces that I worked on was ‘The Imperial March’ because it sounded almost exactly like the original. It worked so well that I didn’t even miss the strings.”
Marine Band arranger Staff Sergeant Scott Ninmer has arranged several of Williams’ compositions for the Marine Chamber Orchestra to perform at the White House. On arranging Williams’ music, Ninmer says, “It’s always simultaneously a learning experience in working with his scores. His scores are a treasure trove of brilliant ideas, and as a composer, opening one of his scores is akin to opening up a birthday present.”
“I arranged the Flying Theme from “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial” to honor Steven Spielberg at the Medal of Freedom awards reception in 2015, a “Star Wars” medley to honor George Lucas at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2015, and a medley of music from “Home Alone” for the orchestra’s holiday performances at the White House in 2016,” said Ninmer. “It’s always a thrill to work with Williams’ music ... but oftentimes challenging to adapt this music that is normally written for a large Hollywood orchestra for our modestly-sized orchestra. If I’ve done my job properly, it will still sound roughly the same.”
“My favorite would have to be the ‘Home Alone’ medley I arranged this past year,” Ninmer continued. “Home Alone is one of my all-time favorite movies, and the music plays a large factor in that. His ebullient score fits the mood of the movie perfectly. ... And I can’t think of another composer in history whose melodies are so ubiquitous and renowned to both musicians and non-musicians alike.”
Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig echoed Ninmer’s sentiment, saying, “There are few American composers living today who have had a greater influence in the world of both the classical and popular music than John Williams. No American composer perhaps since John Philip Sousa has written so much music that has entered the public consciousness world-wide, and Mr. Williams’ music has transcended the films for which much of it was originally written to become anthems for the emotions his works conjure all on their own. Much of Mr. Williams’ music also inspires patriotism equal to that of our traditional American songs, and in the Marine Band we have been proud to include his music on so many occasions of national importance, from Presidential Inaugurations and national holidays to major events at the White House and all across the nation on our annual tours. It remains one of the great privileges of the United State Marine Band to have had so many opportunities to make music with Maestro Williams himself and to have established such a warm friendship with this great American artist. On behalf of all of the men and women of ‘The President’s Own,’ we wish him a very happy birthday!”