Established by an Act of Congress in 1798, the Marine Band is America’s oldest continuously active professional musical organization. Its mission is unique—to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. Because of the demands of this unique mission, “The President’s Own” is known to have included strings when performing for major White House events as far back as 1878 and during the directorship of John Philip Sousa. An orchestra taken from within the Marine Band also gave regular concerts at the Marine Barracks music hall in Washington, D.C., as early as 1893.
The U.S. Marine Symphony Orchestra officially emerged as a concert ensemble under the leadership of William H. Santelmann, Marine Band Director from 1898-1927, composed of band musicians who doubled on a string instrument. The doubling requirement ended in 1955, and a chamber orchestra staffed by full-time string players was formed. That model has continued to the present and the musicians of today’s Marine Chamber Orchestra musicians hail from some of the nation’s most prestigious universities and conservatories. More than 60 percent hold advanced degrees in music. Musicians are selected at auditions much like those of major symphony orchestras, and they enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps for permanent duty with the Marine Band.
Marine Chamber Orchestra musicians appear at the White House an average of 200 times each year, performing for State Dinners, ceremonies, receptions and other events of national significance. These performances range from small ensembles such as a solo pianist or string quartet to events that feature the full chamber orchestra, making versatility an important requirement for members.
In addition to its regular appearances at the White House, the Marine Chamber Orchestra performs concerts during both an annual showcase series and summer series. Performing a wide variety of music from the staples of the orchestral repertoire to modern works, Broadway and light classical selections, these concerts give patrons a virtual glimpse inside the Executive Mansion. The musicians of the Marine Chamber Orchestra are frequently highlighted in solo performances and also participate in chamber ensemble recitals and educational outreach programs that feature a variety of smaller instrumental groups.
Whether performing for Presidents, heads of state, concert patrons or students across the National Capital region, the music of “The President’s Own” Marine Chamber Orchestra is the music of America.
Watch videos of the orchestra and string players in performance, to include on The Late Show with David Letterman.