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"The President's Own"


"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
Unit News
A Hearty Welcome to the Northeast

By Gunnery Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali | United States Marine Band | September 12, 2017


When John Philip Sousa first took “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band away from Washington, D.C., on a national tour in 1891, he did so with the permission of President Benjamin Harrison because he believed that the ensemble belonged to all Americans. According to a program from that first tour, the President and Secretary of the Navy consented to “give a leave of absence to the band … in response to many pressing requests, and because they recognize the fact that the people throughout the country should have an opportunity to listen to the band.” Since that time, “The President’s Own” has regularly traveled to small towns and big cities across the country to bring music to the American people.

This fall, the Marine Band will travel 2,551 miles throughout the Northeastern region of the United States, performing 28 concerts in 10 states, with stops in Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Delaware. The concerts are free but tickets are required. View the full tour itinerary at www.marineband.ticketleap.com.

“Every tour includes some new venues, new sponsors and new communities that perhaps haven’t had a chance to hear the band before,” explained Marine Band Director Col. Jason K. Fettig. “We always try to explore different areas and get into every part of the continental U.S. But we also have several sponsors and venues that year after year have been faithful to supporting the Marine Band and military music in general. One of those is Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Mass. The Marine Band performed there on its first tour with Sousa in 1891. It’s a beautiful, historic concert hall. And we always have an extremely supportive and enthusiastic audience when we visit.”

According to a review in the Worcester Spy from the Marine Band’s 1891 performance in Mechanics Hall, the band played with “splendid dash,” and encores and “novelties kept the audience on the edge of their chairs, wondering what was coming next.” The Metronome, a music magazine published from 1881 to 1961, said “every seat in the vast auditorium was taken,” and “should the organization visit us again, a hearty welcome will be assured.”

Mechanics Hall Associate Executive Director Kathleen Gagne assures a hearty welcome this October, saying, “The people of Worcester can’t wait for this concert! This year we are celebrating our 160th anniversary. Here at Mechanics Hall we’re extremely proud of our heritage and proud of our military. And the band is beautiful to look at while they perform, especially with the life-size portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln flanking the stage. We get symphonies from all over the world representing so many different varieties of music and cultures, but none of them has the presence of the Marine Band. These ambassadors sound wonderful in our hall; the audience is all smiles when they leave from a Marine Band concert.” 

Fettig added that “when we go to these communities that are faithful supporters of the military and military bands, you feel their dedication and excitement. In the case of Ridgefield, Conn., our sponsor Jack Herr was a big supporter of military music and he sponsored a military band performance every year for 50 years. That is quite a legacy.” 

A former military musician himself, Herr had been a member of the 101st Airborne Division Band. He passed away on July 8, after already having met with a Marine Band advance team to finalize logistical details for the band’s upcoming Oct. 24 concert. His associates and concert organizers at the American Legion are looking forward to having the Marine Band perform in Ridgefield High School Auditorium as they celebrate his legacy of patriotism and music in their community. The band’s performance will be the culmination of a 50-year celebration honoring the tradition of military music in Ridgefield, which Herr initiated in 1967. 

In Ridgefield and throughout the tour, Col. Fettig will imitate Sousa’s popular programming style which includes a little something for everyone—a blend of popular and patriotic works, orchestral transcriptions, marches, 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. (See repertoire)

“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. “So this year several of the selections have connections with New England and the Northeast part of our country.”

“Leonard Bernstein, one of our nation’s best known classical musicians, had a relationship with both Boston and New York. He was born in Massachusetts, attended Harvard University, had a great relationship with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and served as the music director of the New York Philharmonic. So I’ve programmed the Divertimento, which he wrote for the BSO in 1980, as well as a new transcription of the Theme, Variations, and Finale by Miklós Rózsa. The Rózsa composition was on the program he conducted when he came to international prominence by guest conducting the New York Philharmonic on an emergency basis when the orchestra’s conductor Bruno Walter got sick. The young 25-year old Bernstein took the concert at the last minute and it launched him into super stardom in the orchestral world in 1943.”

“Another interesting connection with the Northeast is that of the life of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was from Massachusetts, and this year is the 100th anniversary of his birth. So to honor our former president and his legacy and heritage as well as our special relationship with composer and conductor John Williams, I decided to include Williams’ Theme from J.F.K.

“Since I became Director of the band, one of the things that has interested me is continuing the legacy of programming in the style of our former Director John Philip Sousa. He would often include encores after the major pieces on his tour programs. We continue to do that to this day, so not only do patrons get to enjoy the music that’s on the planned program, but there are always a few twists and turns and musical surprises built into every performance that we present while we’re on the road.”

The audience at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst (UMASS) will enjoy a few of those twists and turns as Fettig returns to his alma mater on Oct. 10.

“Tour with the Marine Band is always a special event for me,” Fettig said. “It’s one of the things I appreciate most about serving in this organization—to be able to take this historical institution and share it with people across the nation. So every single year it’s a special occasion. But this year is extra special for me because I’ll be returning to the places where I grew up and where I received my education. This is the first time I have had the opportunity to return to the Northeast with the band as the Director. So when we go to UMASS, it’ll be the 20th anniversary of when I graduated from there.”

For this musical reunion of sorts in Amherst, Fettig invited one of his own mentors, UMASS former director of bands Malcolm W. “Bill” Rowell Jr., to conduct a selection on the concert. Rowell played a critical role in Fettig’s development as a musician.

“I would not be here doing what I love to do if it weren’t for his guidance and inspiration during my formative years as a musician and conductor,” Fettig said. “It’s an honor for me to bring the Marine Band back to this community and share music-making with one of my great friends and mentors.”

Fettig will also return to his home state of New Hampshire on this tour. “When I was growing up in New Hampshire thinking about the possibility of a career in music, of course I never could have imagined that I would be able to work with this world-famous organization,” Fettig said. “It’s hard to describe what a thrill it is to be able to return home and share music at this level with so many people that have played an important role in my life, both musical and otherwise.”

Fettig isn’t the only Marine Band member returning to his stomping grounds. Percussionist Gunnery Sgt. Jonathan Bisesi is looking forward to performing as a xylophone soloist at Shea’s Performing Arts Center in Buffalo, N.Y., where he spent so much time growing up.

“When we have soloists from the area performing in their own hometown, you can feel the electricity and feel the town’s support when they play a featured role in a Marine Band performance,” Fettig said.


Featured soloists have been a tradition dating back to the band’s very first tour with Sousa, displaying impressive technique and fine musicianship to demonstrate the virtuosity of the band’s musicians. In addition to Bisesi, this year’s soloists include seasoned tour soloists baritone vocalist Master Sgt. Kevin Bennear, trumpeter/cornetist Master Sgt. Daniel Orban, and first-time tour soloist flutist Staff Sgt. Heather Zenobia. Bennear also serves as concert moderator, introducing soloists and providing the titles and background information on each piece and composer.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect with the audience and to share information about what we’re doing and who we are,” Bennear said. “When you look at the band on stage, they’re wearing these resplendent scarlet Marine Corps uniforms and they’re some of the finest musicians in the world. So I think the moderating gives us a human factor and human touch. As moderator I like to invite the audience to be part of the concert and enjoy the experience. Of course I also have the opportunity to recognize our veterans and thank them for their service. That’s my favorite part. I love when the band honors our veterans by playing the service songs because it highlights their service and what they gave. It is always powerful.”

Fettig echoed that sentiment, saying: “Nothing makes us more proud than to honor veterans at our concerts and finish each performance with music that stirs patriotism and reminds them of how appreciative we are of their service.”

In addition to the band’s 28 tour concerts, Marine Band musicians will also provide dozens of master classes, clinics, and recitals in schools. In 2016, the Marine Band reached 4,430 students through 38 master classes and clinics. This year, 23 of the tour concerts will take place at a high school, middle school, or university, allowing the Marine Band musicians to reach hundreds of students throughout the Northeast. Fettig, who received a music education degree along with his clarinet performance degree from UMASS, actively seeks these educational opportunities.

“The educational outreach aspect of what the Marine Band does has always been really important to me and our Marines,” Fettig said. “It has become a wonderful aspect of our travel as we spend time with students and impact their lives. Every opportunity I have to get into the schools and talk about the band and share my experiences is something I really enjoy doing. Many of my former colleagues and classmates continue to perform and teach in New England, so I’m really excited to see the influence they’re having on the next generation of musicians. I’m excited about the work they’re doing in their communities as performers and teachers and I’m looking forward to spending time with some of their ensembles.”

“I also want these students to see the band live in concert. It’s 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.”

He added: “When students, educators, veterans, and patrons of all walks of life come to hear the Marine Band in concert I really want them to leave having had a community experience. It’s important to me for our concertgoers to walk away feeling great pride for our American arts and history and heritage, but also a great joy and a feeling of just how special music is in our country; how much it represents an opportunity for us even for a short period of time and celebrate something that is collectively important to all of us.”

The Marine Band’s 2017 National Concert Tour will take place Oct. 1–30. The performances are free but tickets are required. Times, dates, and location information may be found at www.marineband.ticketleap.com.

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