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"The President's Own"


"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
Unit News
Providing the Inaugural Soundtrack

By Gunnery Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali | United States Marine Band | January 19, 2017


The President’s Own” has offered direct inaugural support to the Commander in Chief since the days of Thomas Jefferson, and on Jan. 20 that tradition will continue as the Marine Band participates in its 55th Inauguration, providing the soundtrack for the swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue, and the Salute to Armed Services inaugural ball.


On March 4, 1801, Thomas Jefferson became the first to be sworn in as President in Washington, D.C., the United States’ new permanent capital. He delivered a speech, then took the oath of office in the Capitol’s Senate chamber. For the modern swearing-in ceremony, which takes place on a platform outside the Capitol’s west front, the Marine Band is positioned directly below the president’s podium. In this exclusive position, the band has been a witness to history and has helped set the stage for ceremonies while throngs of citizens gather to observe the nation’s peaceful transfer of power. 

According to the March 7, 1821, issue of the Baltimore Patriot, “On the entrance and exit of the President, the music of [the] Marine Band enlivened the scene, which was altogether characterized by simple grandeur and splendid simplicity.” In 1825, as the hour of the swearingin approached, “expectation was on tiptoe,” according to the Easter Argus newspaper. “The march of the troops, announced by the band of the Marine Corps, was heard throughout, and many a waving plume and graceful head within beat time to the martial sounds.” 

Prior to the swearing-in ceremony, the Marine Band will perform prelude music to include works selected by Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig, music adviser to the White House. Fettig is responsible for selecting the music for the pre-ceremony and entrance of dignitaries. 

“For the entrance of the VIPs, including former presidents, we try to select titles that have some sort of connection to their background or career,” Fettig said. “Since this is a great American ceremony, I want to try to mirror that in the music that we play. We will take a journey through American music to celebrate and represent the spectrum of American history, performing patriotic music and pieces that have become part of the great American lexicon. Whether it be a march, song, or folk music, these pieces have become woven into the fabric of American culture.” 

He continued: “But one of the challenges we face for such a major event is making sure all the elements come together, coordinating with the many inaugural entities, and ensuring we have all the music prepared and ready to go.” 

The Marine Band librarians work diligently to assist in music preparation for the prelude, the swearing-in ceremony itself, and the Salute to Armed Services inaugural ball. The members of the library anticipate the ceremony stage setup, the number of music folders needed, and how many wind clips will be necessary to keep music from blowing away in the challenging elements. In addition, they stock enough all-weather paper to ensure the music does not disintegrate during the ceremony if there is precipitation. 

“We learned the hard way during President George W. Bush’s 2001 inaugural as we watched the ink run and the paper just sort of melt down,” Chief Librarian Master Gunnery Sgt. Jane Cross lamented. And due to the nature of the event, many decisions are not finalized until less than two weeks before the events, “so it becomes an ‘all librarians on deck’ affair to prepare approximately 50 pieces of music in a short amount of time for the ceremony, parade, and ball.” 

Cross has participated in four inaugurals, and this year she will prepare the music for Fettig, creating a tabloidsized “book” on heavy stock paper, binding all of the scores together in the correct sequence with the ceremony script and cues. During the week between the on-site rehearsal and the inauguration, this score book may have to be re-organized and rebound as the script changes. 

“One of my favorite music preparation memories was creating parts for the chamber ensemble that performed at President Obama’s Inauguration in 2009,” Cross said. “They were worried about their music blowing around outside, so I mounted their music on heavy mat board that is black on one side to help blend in with the black music stands. The pianist’s part was several pages, so it involved thinking through the page turns and some creative binding. We are accustomed to preparing parts this way for our musicians who perform solos outdoors, but it was unusual for the quartet. No one watching the Inauguration would have noticed that small detail, but it helped to allow them a great performance, and I was happy to have been able to support in that way.” 

Throughout the ceremony, Fettig will depend on Operations Officer Chief Warrant Officer 4 Douglas Burian to help keep the band on task. “My job is to ensure the musical portion of the ceremony is being executed as conceived and communicate any last minute changes to the Director,” Burian said. “Our goal is to provide seamless musical support throughout the day.” 

Following the oath, the Marine Band will honor Donald Trump with “Hail to the Chief,” a tradition that began at the 1837 inauguration of Martin Van Buren. At the conclusion of the ceremony, the band will exit the Capitol grounds to assume its position in the parade procession. 


In 1801, the Marine Band made its inaugural debut when it is believed to have serenaded Thomas Jefferson before the President-elect walked the short route from his hotel to his swearing-in. Other accounts suggest that as Jefferson walked from the Capitol to the White House, he was accompanied by military music during the impromptu parade, inspiring an inaugural tradition dating back to the early 1800s. 

Today the Marine Band formation in the parade consists of 99 playing members, formed 11 deep and nine wide, led by the unique assemblage of the Drum Major, Assistant Drum Major, and all five Marine Band officers. Each division of the parade is led by the military bands in order of service age, with the Army leading in the first division. The Marine Band leads the band in the second division, which is comprised of Marine Corps units and citizen group floats and bands. 

Leading up to inauguration day, Drum Major Master Sgt. Duane F. King will conduct ceremonial marching drill rehearsals for the band to ensure the members look and sound good on the march. He will provide concise commands with a 35-inch Malacca cane mace to signal “forward march,” “mark time,” “halt,” “turn,” and when to begin and stop playing music. 

“We will have several rehearsals to work on the marching and the music and simulate the turns the large ensemble must navigate in and out of Pennsylvania Avenue,” said King. “We will work on cover and alignment and proper intervals. The band members have to be able to play their instrument and use their peripheral vision so that they can maintain cover and alignment throughout the parade without actually turning their heads.” 

Assistant Drum Major Gunnery Sgt. Steven F. Williams will also be on hand during the ceremonial rehearsals and will march with the band in the parade. “Cover refers to the maintaining of a straight line and appropriate distance from the person in front of you, and alignment refers to the maintaining of distance and straight line from the person to your right and left,” he explained. “When perfect cover and alignment is achieved, the 99 piece band will form a perfect rectangle, with all Marines being exactly two paces to the front, rear, left, and right of any Marine that surrounds them. Improper or incorrect cover and alignment can be noticed by anyone, regardless of their knowledge of marching.” 

The Drum Major and officers set up the block band with the trombones in the front due to the long slides on the instruments. The woodwinds march behind the trombones followed by the brass, percussion and tubas. 

“This setup is to achieve a specific sound and balance so that all the instruments will come through,” King explained. “As we’re marching down the street we want the layers and textures of all the instruments to be heard.” 

During the parade, the band will perform John Philip Sousa’s marches, “Semper Fidelis” and “The Thunderer,” and will render musical honors followed by “The Marines’ Hymn” in front of the reviewing stand for President Trump. 

“To lead the Marine Band as they play one of my favorite marches and then salute during The Marines’ Hymn is something I am really looking forward to,” said King. “It is an honor and privilege for me to be part of something so historical.” 


The first inaugural ball was held in 1809 in southeast Washington, D.C. According to The National Intelligencer, “In the evening there was a grand inauguration ball at Long’s Hotel, the most brilliant and crowded ever known in Washington.” In modern times, additional inaugural balls have been added due to overwhelming popularity. President John F. Kennedy attended four inaugural balls, and the Marine Band supported all four of these events with prelude music, musical honors and “Hail to the Chief,” and special music requested by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. 

Over the years the Marine Band has also participated in grand inaugural concerts throughout the city. In 1901 The Washington Post printed the following: “Never in its history has the Pension Office held so great a throng as gathered last night for the final concert of the inaugural series—the great choral festival of American songs which brought the celebration of the second induction into office of William McKinley to a fitting and glorious conclusion. Every foot of the floor space, every span of the galleries, held its full quote of humanity. When the Marine Band and the great chorus opened the concert with the stirring strains of ‘America,’ there were more than 10,000 people inside the hall, and for an hour longer they continued to pour in through the entrances, checked only by the crush of their own numbers.” 

Four years later, The Washington Post reported from the inaugural ball rehearsal in Washington, D.C., that the Leader of the Band William H. Santelmann conducted the band “with the same artistic finish which has served to create for this organization the reputation of being the finest military band on the continent.” 

“The inaugural ball and any sort of concerts or performances are a great way for the Marine Band to showcase celebratory music and music written specifically for the occasion,” said Marine Band Historian Gunnery Sgt. Kira Wharton. “For example, for President Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural the Leader of the Band Francis Scala wrote ‘President Lincoln’s Inaugural March,’ also known as ‘The Union March.’ The band performed it again at his second inaugural and then again for President Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013. But whether it’s a concert or ball, music performed by ‘The President’s Own’ is a constant at inauguration.” 

Another constant throughout inaugural history is the magnitude of the event and the throngs of people who attend. “From my vantage point as an Assistant Director, where for three inaugurals I sat in the back of the band, what I remember most is the sheer size of the crowd,” Fettig said. “The number of people who come out in the freezing cold to witness this event firsthand is something to behold, and some people are so far away that they certainly can’t see anything. But you get this overriding sense that they just want to be a part of the occasion. It is always very impressive.” 

That sentiment was also captured in the March 13, 1841, issue of Niles’ Register: “The sight which attracted and arrested and filled the eye of all those who were favorable enough to get a favorable post of observation from which to witness the scene was the people. There they stood and had stood for hours, in a solid, dense mass … from thirty to fifty, even sixty thousand. … While patiently waiting for the arrival of the president, this mass of heads resembled some placid lake, not in perfect calm, but gently rippled by a passing breeze, its waters in perpetual but gentle motion.” 

Every inauguration has its own unique identity and characteristics. For more than 200 years, the Marine Band has played a significant role in the events throughout that special day. 

“Music is in some ways the glue that binds it all together; it illuminates the emotion of the moment in a special way,” Fettig said. “It’s such an important event for our country, that for us to be entrusted to provide the inaugural soundtrack is an enormous responsibility. And the weight of that responsibility is very apparent when you are going through the events in real time. I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be a part of it.”

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