Aug. 14, 2015 -- style="line-height: 150%;">Since John Philip Sousa first took “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band on tour in 1891, the ensemble has regularly traveled across the country to bring the strains of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and programs of substantial concert works to every corner of the United States.
This fall, the Marine Band will travel 3,920 miles throughout the South and Southwest, performing 29 concerts in 11 states, with stops in Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico. The concerts are free but tickets are required.
“More than a century ago, John Philip Sousa made a point to ask President Benjamin Harrison if he could take the Marine Band from Washington because he believed that the band belonged to all Americans,” explained Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig.
A concert tour gave Americans who could not travel to Washington the opportunity to see “Uncle Sam’s Band”—as the Marine Band was sometimes called in the late 1800s—and government leaders saw value in bringing the highly regarded musical ensemble directly to their constituents. Representatives and senators requested the band tour their parts of the country so that those who did not have the good fortune to hear “their own band” could have that opportunity in their own city.
According to Marine Band publicity materials of the early 1900s: “One hot afternoon in D.C., Senator Bob Taylor of Tennessee had stopped to listen to a Marine Band concert at the East front of the Capitol. He turned to his colleagues and said, ‘Boys I want my people down in Tennessee to hear that band and I know you would like to have your home folks hear them, too. Come and join me in a request to President Taft to give the Band permission to go?’” Taylor added that the concerts would “afford much pleasure to those citizens who do not have the privilege of traveling to Washington; the visits of the band would promote not only the patriotic pride of our people, but the concerts are also of educational value.”
Thanks to Sousa’s bold initiative and leaders like Senator Taylor, the Marine Band did travel to Tennessee—along with the 47 other states in the continental U.S. Over the past century, the band has traveled more than 400,000 miles on tour, bringing America’s music into big cities and small towns for more than 5 million people across the country. Now, more than 100 years later, “The President’s Own” will once again travel to the Volunteer State, and the spirit of the National Tour’s original intent carries on today.
Records show that Sousa had “prepared for the tour with great care.” Directors throughout the Marine Band’s history have imitated his popular programming style—including a little something for everyone. For the 2015 National Tour, Fettig has also crafted a unique blend of popular and patriotic works along with virtuoso solos, orchestral transcriptions, and original music for concert band. Each program opens with a fanfare and march and concludes with John Philip Sousa’s iconic “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” followed by A Salute to the Armed Forces of the United States of America.
“We always try to highlight music on our programs that celebrates the region we are visiting, whether it be marches that provide a connection or folk music that might be associated with certain areas of the country,” Fettig said. “We have tremendously appreciative patrons who come to Marine Band concerts for all types of different experiences, so our programs are designed to include a great variety of music that mirrors the wonderful diversity in our national musical heritage.”
According to publicity materials from the early 1920s: “Hundreds of thousands of our citizenry have tingled to [the Marine Band’s] stirring marches, marveled at the musical excellence of its symphonic arrangements, and been entertained by its novelties, and thrilled by its soloists.”
Featured soloists have been a tradition dating back to the band’s very first tour with Sousa, displaying impressive technique and fine musicianship that reveals the depth of the band’s talent. This year’s soloists include seasoned tour soloists baritone vocalist Master Sgt. Kevin Bennear and principal euphonium Gunnery Sgt. Mark Jenkins, as well as first-time tour soloists euphonium player Gunnery Sgt. Ryan McGeorge, co-principal clarinet Staff Sgt. Patrick Morgan, and flutist Staff Sgt. Kara Santos.
Bennear has been a tour soloist 12 times and can’t wait to head through his home state of West Virginia. “Our second stop is in Beckley where I performed at Theatre West Virginia for several months just prior to joining ‘The President’s Own,’” Bennear said. “The people of the Mountain State are warm and welcoming and always love a great Marine Band concert. So take me home, country roads!”
Morgan, who will perform a set of Klezmer dances, is a first time tour soloist. However, the clarinetist will be traveling through familiar territory as the Marine Band makes stops in his home state of Tennessee and one city in Alabama, which he holds close. “Playing for family is one of the most special things you can do as a musician. So I’m really looking forwardto playing in Tennessee and North Carolina where I’ll see lots of family and friends,” Morgan said. “But I’m especially excited to play in the Birmingham area where my grandparents live. I cherish my grandmother and grandfather, so for them to see me play with ‘The President’s Own’ is extra special.”
Santos, performing Camille Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, will also see family on tour, as her father will see her perform on stage in Albuquerque. “That day is my birthday, so it’ll be a terrific gift!” she said. Jenkins and McGeorge will perform a duet of Jean- Baptiste Arban’s famous work “The Carnival of Venice.” The euphonium players have performed together since 2000. “Mark and I have known each other for 15 years and have been playing together since we met as students at the University of North Texas in Denton,” said McGeorge. “We even had the same teacher.” Jenkins added that “being able to play so close to our alma mater in a state known for its great support of bands will definitely be a thrill. Texas crowds are always so enthusiastic!”
In addition to the band’s 29 tour concerts, Marine Band musicians will also provide dozens of master classes, clinics, and recitals in schools. This year, almost every tour concert will take place at a high school or university, allowing the Marine Band musicians to reach thousands of students throughout the South and Southwest. Education has historically always been a goal of Marine
Band tours. In 1891, Sousa said the tour would “show the public what a properly constituted military band could be made to do under a regular system of rehearsals; in other words, the object of the tour is educational.”
“It’s very important that we bring our musicians directly to students across the country,” Fettig said. “There’s absolutely no substitute for hearing an ensemble like the Marine Band live.”
According to the band’s educational outreach coordinator Master Gunnery Sgt. Jay Niepoetter, each clinic is completely different and unique. “This is a valuable resource for educators,” Niepoetter said. “The Marine Band does many things to preserve America’s history and musical traditions, and this program allows us to help youth in a very meaningful way.”
“The educational outreach program puts a personal face to the Marine Band,” he continued. “When students look up on stage and hear the music and see us in uniforms, becoming a member of the Marine Band might seem unattainable. But the next morning when we come into their schools and talk to them and play for them in their band room or auditorium, we can help them to see that we were once band students just like them.”
Outreach can come in many forms and can consist of any number of soloists or small ensembles. “Sometimes our groups perform at school assemblies and other times we’ll play side by side in a symphonic band rehearsal or provide a couple of musicians to monitor a mock Marine Band audition,” Niepoetter explained. “We’ve even had our vocalist coach young people on how to properly sing the National Anthem.”
And while Bennear enjoys sharing music with students and will likely provide master classes to high school choirs and vocal majors throughout the Southwest, his favorite thing about tour is the feeling at the end of a concert. “I love when the band honors our veterans by playing the Armed Forces Medley because it highlights their service and what they gave,” he said. “Many times we’ll have veterans in the front row in their wheelchairs, and with every shred of will and strength they have, they still recognize their service song. Sometimes with help, but most times on their own, they manage to stand at attention. It is always powerful.”
Fettig also appreciates the ever-present segment of veterans in the audience: “We always have veterans at our concerts. Nothing makes us more proud than to honor them and finish each performance with music that stirs patriotism and reminds them of how appreciative we are of their service.”
So from the notes of the opening fanfare to the closing chords of the Armed Forces Medley in high school auditoriums, gymnasiums, and performing arts centers, the Marine Band will travel over the landscapes of the South and Southwest to continue the historic tradition of bringing “The President’s Own” into communities across the country and thrilling thousands of Americans each year.
The Marine Band’s 2015 National Concert Tour will take place Sept. 15–Oct. 15. Click here for the itinerary. The performances are free but tickets are required. Educators in tour concert locations that are interested in the possibility of having Marine Band members work with students should contact Marine Band Public Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.