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The Presidents Own

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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Meet the Tour Soloists

By Gunnery Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali | United States Marine Band | September 25, 2017

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Marine Barracks Washington DC --

Baritone vocalist and concert moderator Master Sgt. Kevin Bennear joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in January 2000, becoming the third featured vocal soloist since the position was established in 1955. He will solo on every single Marine Band tour concert; therefore he has collaborated with Col. Jason K. Fettig to select three different works to perform on the road. Read Bennear’s Biography 

Irish Songs, Set No. 2 was arranged by Master Sgt. Stephen Bulla, USMC (ret.), who served as the Marine Band’s chief arranger from 1989 until his retirement in 2010. In 2009 he created this medley of Irish favorites for Bennear which includes “When Irish Eyes are Smiling,” “The Little Beggarman,” “Rocky Road to Dublin,” “The Minstrel Boy,” “Morrison’s Jig,” and “The Wearing of the Green.” 

“I grew up with my grandma singing around the kitchen,” Bennear said. “She had a beautiful voice. She’s from Ireland, so when I sing this set I feel like she’s right there with me. She was a little lady—maybe five feet tall—who sang ‘Danny Boy’ as she worked around the kitchen baking bread. We weren’t allowed to bother her when she was singing in there because that was her time, so we respected it. She was so funny; she’d yell at us in her thick Irish accent to get out of her kitchen. But I just loved hearing her sing, and I love those beautiful Irish melodies.” 

Ol’ Blue Eyes: The Hits of Frank Sinatra was arranged by Marine Band staff arranger Staff Sgt. Scott Ninmer and includes “Come Fly with Me,” “For Once in my Life,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “All the Way.” One of the country’s most popular musical artists of the 20th century, Sinatra was born in 1918 in Hoboken, N.J. 

“We picked this selection because we’re going through New Jersey and Frank was born in the Garden State,” Bennear explained. “This medley has some of my favorite pieces, particularly ‘Come Fly with Me.’ I grew up in West Virginia in a rural area, and that song was sort of my introduction to the world of jazz and big band and that era of music. When I was a little boy I would sit in the living room and sing along to Frank Sinatra records with my dad. So I’ve known these tunes for decades. I love each of them; they take you back in time especially with the Marine Band playing the accompaniment to capture that 40s era big band sound.” 

Pride of a People was arranged by Master Sgt. Bulla, weaving together three songs that have become an integral part of our American culture: “This is My Country,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “My Country ‘tis of Thee.” 

“This medley is very special to me,” Bennear said. “We took it on tour in the fall right after September 11. It was a very emotional time, obviously. So to sing this patriotic medley when we were all hurting and all very raw from those events—we had these songs to sing together and come together as we tried to heal and make sense of it all.”

 

Percussionist Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Bisesi joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in May 2004. Bisesi will solo in the following cities: Chambersburg, Pa.; Fredonia, N.Y.; Buffalo, N.Y.; St. Albans, Vt.; Durham, N.H.; Springfield, Mass.; Dix Hills, N.Y.; Clifton, N.J.; and Sewell, N.J. Read Bisesi’s Biography 

Xylophone Rags of George Hamilton Green was arranged by Marine Band staff arranger Staff Sgt. Scott Ninmer and includes the following five pieces: “The Ragtime Robin,” “Log Cabin Blues,” “Cross Corners,” “Chromatic Fox Trot,” and “Rainbow Ripples.” 

Bisesi explains how the arrangement came about: 

“It’s common for these short ragtime works to be played with piano accompaniment, and I’ve even come across brass quintet arrangements for these works. But it’s rare to find these specific pieces with wind band accompaniment. So I wanted to compile ragtime works by George Hamilton Green together along with ensemble accompaniment. I went to Colonel Fettig to see if he would be interested in something like this, and he put our talented arranger Staff Sgt. Scott Ninmer on the task. We wanted the medley to feature the band along with the novelty of the music, the band, and the soloist. I gave Scott my own written out noodling and improvisation ideas which he incorporated into the accompaniment. So those ideas are passed throughout the ensemble, creating a brilliant realization of Green’s rags. It is going to be very entertaining and make the audience smile.” 

A native of Orchard Park, N.Y., Bisesi is especially looking forward to performing his solo on stage at Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, only 20 minutes from his hometown. 

“I’ve been going to this hall since I was four years old!” Bisesi exclaimed, “My parents took my sister and me to shows at Shea’s, so I’ve watched performances on this stage my whole life. I was always so inspired. I remember like it was yesterday seeing Sesame Street on that stage and thinking wow! I also wondered what Big Bird was doing in Buffalo.”

“When I was a kid I dreamed about playing on that stage,” he continued. “For as long as I can remember. When I was little I used to wish I could be up there performing and now I get to do it, so this tour is very special to me. Maybe some student can see the Marine Band and be inspired.” If the enthusiasm of the audience at Shea’s demands an encore performance, Bisesi has chosen the familiar tune “When You Wish Upon a Star.” 

In high school, Bisesi marched in the Orchard Park High School Quaker Marching Band under the direction of band directors Don Carducci and Chris Revett. He notes that members of the QMB, Don and Chris, and many of his family members and friends will attend the concert. 

“Don and Chris are incredibly talented musicians who are humbly inspirational people. Along with my parents, these mentors set me up for success. It really means a lot to me to be able to able to perform with my parents there and those who helped me to realize my dreams as a musician.”

 

Flutist Staff Sgt. Heather Zenobia joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in September 2006. Zenobia will solo in the following cities: Lancaster, Pa.; State College, Pa.; Rochester, N.Y.; Amherst, Mass.; Everett, Mass.; Worcester, Mass.; Hopewell Junction, N.Y.; Ridgefield, Conn.; Allentown, Pa.; and Wilmington, Del. Read Zenobia’s Biography 

Fantasie on Der Freischütz, composed by Paul Taffanel and transcribed by Marine Band staff arranger Master Gunnery Sgt. Donald Patterson, is a technical showstopper and considered one of the standard pieces of the flute repertoire today. 

“When I was invited by Col. Fettig to play a solo on tour, I knew I would need to find something relatively short and technically brilliant with some singing, tuneful moments,” Zenobia said. “I took to YouTube for my search and found the Taffanel to be a good fit. It’s exciting, dramatic, flamboyant, and operatic, with some really beautiful melodies. The technical passages are a whirlwind and quite challenging. The tempos are fast, and there are a lot of notes. I’ve had to work hard on keeping my fingers light and easy. One unique aspect of the piece is that even though the composer was a flutist, there are many passages where he left the performer nowhere to breathe! So working on this piece has benefited me as a flutist in multiple areas.” 

Zenobia notes that the audience should listen for the quiet, prayerful, yearning hymns in the piece. “It’s a huge shift and contrast from the previous sections. And the lyrical passages are so sweet and tender; it’s passionate and very powerful.” 

Only a month after Zenobia joined the band in 2006, she traveled on her first tour—to the Northeast. “So the Northeast tour is special to me since it was the first tour I traveled on as a member of ‘The President’s Own.’ Also, much of my husband’s extended family lives near Ridgefield, Conn., so they’ll all be at our concert in Ridgefield. I’m excited for them to hear a Marine Band concert since they haven’t heard one before. I’d like to think that tour is just as Sousa envisioned it—we’re taking the Marine Band music to the people.” 

Interestingly, the Marine Band performed in Worcester on its first tour in 1891 and featured a flute soloist—a ‘very agile performer’ with ‘remarkable execution,’ according to the Worcester Spy newspaper. Zenobia will be performing her solo in Worcester and hopes to make her family and colleagues proud while representing the Marine Band with excellence and remarkable execution, just like the Marine Band flute soloist in 1891.

 

Trumpeter/cornetist Master Sgt. Daniel Orban Jr. joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in September 1998. He will solo in the following cities: Johnstown, Pa.; New Wilmington, Pa.; Utica, N.Y.; Concord, N.H.; Biddeford, Maine; Providence, R.I.; New Haven, Conn.; East Brunswick, N.J.; and Philadelphia. Read Orban’s Biography 

Tribute to Louis Armstrong was arranged by Master Sgt. Stephen Bulla, USMC (ret.), and includes music from the jazz icon’s most influential years, the 1920s and 1930s. The medley includes “West End Blues,” “Hotter than That,” “Struttin’ With Some Barbeque,” “Cornet Chop Suey,” “Skokiaan,” and “I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues.” 

“I started listening to Louis Armstrong when I was 13 years old,” Orban said. “My grandma loved Louis Armstrong so she bought me a standard book and a Louis Armstrong album. Then she asked me to play her favorites, so I’ve been playing ‘Hotter than That’ since junior high.”

“Trying to emulate Louis Armstrong is a difficult task,” Orban said. “The amount of energy expended playing his music can be exhausting, so my efforts in preparation were multifaceted. I approach the physical aspect seriously with multiple trumpet callisthenic techniques and buzzing basic programs I have learned over the years. For sound and style, I listened to and transcribed all my favorite trumpet players like Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, John Jones, Doc Severinson, and Maynard Ferguson, just to name a few. It’s through the process of transcriptions that I learned their music intimately. Over the years, I have transcribed over 50 Louis Armstrong vocal and trumpet solos in an effort to emulate his techniques.” 

Orban continued: “The audience is going to love the energy of this musical performance. Louis Armstrong used to come out with a big cadenza to grab everyone’s attention, so that’s how the medley begins. And he was famous for his high note trumpet solos and seemingly holding them forever, so that is also incorporated into the arrangement. Armstrong was a showman; a communicator. He engaged the audience by telling stories through his trumpet and vocal techniques. He talked through his horn. And when he played, he told stories. For me, I love the idea of being able to communicate and engage the audience. I like to approach each performance with a fresh attitude and in the end put my own interpretation on the style. My goal in playing this piece is to accurately represent the excitement Louis Armstrong conveyed while telling his stories.”

Read More about the 2017 Tour Programming and Locations 

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