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"The President's Own"


"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
Unit News
A Feast of Harmony on Tour

By Gunnery Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali | United States Marine Band | September 26, 2018


In 1891 Marine Band Director John Philip Sousa took “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band on tour after receiving permission from President Benjamin Harrison to take the band outside of Washington, D.C. That year the band traveled to 32 cities and towns in New England and the Midwest, beginning a tradition of national concert tours that continues today. Though tour was suspended during the Depression years and World War II, travel resumed in 1946, and this year the band returns to the Midwest on its 100th tour. This fall, the Marine Band will travel 5,882 miles throughout the United States, performing 29 concerts in 12 states, with stops in Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. The concerts are free but tickets are required. View the full tour itinerary at marineband.ticketleap.com.


In an April 1891 memo, Marine Band tour manager David Blakely stated:

The President and Secretary of the Navy have consented to give a leave of absence to the band for a brief tour, 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 which is maintained by their pleasure and at their expense.


As the audiences clamored for Sousa’s marches in the early days of tour, he programmed a unique blend of popular music and orchestral transcriptions with his marches offered as encores after what he called the “solid fare” of Richard Wagner, Georges Bizet, Giuseppi Verdi, Franz Schubert, Hector Berlioz, and others. In the style of Sousa, Marine Band Director Col. Jason K. Fettig has chosen a diverse mix of programs¾from traditional band repertoire and marches to instrumental solos and a salute to the Armed Forces which includes the military service songs and Sousa’s march, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”


The band’s first stop is the Lied Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, kicking off the program with Sousa’s own “University of Nebraska March.”

“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,” Fettig said. “And 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. Several of the marches by Sousa and other famous march composers such as Henry Fillmore and Karl King that we will perform throughout this tour have specific connections to Ohio and Iowa. We will also feature new music by composers from some of the regions we will visit.”


The band has prepared three programs for tour in order to provide good variety for the patrons and the musicians of the band throughout the duration of our travels. “We rotate the programs virtually every night, so someone who wants to attend back to back concerts could actually hear a completely different collection of music and different soloists on each concert!” Fettig exclaimed. “We traditionally feature three instrumental soloists on our national concert tours, one for each of the three different concert programs we take on the road. The goal is to represent a diverse cross section of the instruments in the band, which this year includes trumpet, clarinet, drum set, and vocalist.”  


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. This year’s soloists include seasoned tour soloists mezzo-soprano vocalist Gunnery Sgt. Sara Sheffield, Illinois native trumpeter/cornetist Gunnery Sgt. Amy McCabe, and percussionist Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Rose, as well as first-time tour soloist clarinetist Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Grant. Sheffield also serves as concert moderator, introducing soloists and providing the titles and background information on each selection and composer.


“Each tour program has music that is special to the Marine Band, and in many cases special to our collective American musical heritage,” Fettig said. “One of the unique aspects of the three concert programs we will travel with this year is that each features music by the great American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, in tribute to the 100th year of his birth.”


Other select works on the three programs include Percy Grainger’s Irish Tune from County Derry; Peter Boyer’s Fanfare, Hymn and Finale; Sir William Walton’s Partita; Samuel Barber’s Commando March; Samuel Augustus Ward’s “America, the Beautiful;” John Williams’ Music from Lincoln and “The Adventures of Han” from Solo: A Star Wars Story; music by Sergei Prokofiev and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and Give Us This Day by David Maslanka, to pay tribute to the composer who spent the final 27 years living and composing in Montana; Maslanka passed away in 2017.


Col. Fettig’s very first tour with the band was to the Midwest region. “Even though I’ve since been back many times to perform with the band,” he said, “I’ll always remember my very first experiences traveling with this band as one of the most special moments in my professional life.”


And while all of the cities and venues on tour are special in some way, two tour stops stand out this year for Col. Fettig and Assistant Director Capt. Ryan Nowlin: Chicago and Cleveland, cities that were also significant to Sousa and the early Marine Band in that they were tour stops on the band’s very first tour in 1891.


According to the Chicago Herald in 1891 following the band’s performances in Chicago:


“Uncle Sam has good reason to be proud of his United States Marine Band … In their handsome uniforms, the 42 musicians presented a gallant appearance, and under John Philip Sousa, their talented conductor, provided a feast of harmony such as no band has ever before given in Chicago.”


“The Chicago Symphony Orchestra is graciously hosting the band at Symphony Center in Chicago, and performing in such a storied venue in a great American city prompted us to make sure that the concert included several interesting connections between the city, the orchestra and the Marine Band,” Fettig said. “Included is music that references Chicago, works by composers who share a history with both the Marine Band and the CSO, and a special guest appearance by former Marine Band member and current CSO member, trumpeter John Hagstrom. Additionally, since the CSO is deliberately celebrating the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day this year, the Marine Band will join in that effort with a special World War I musical tribute during this concert.”




While this is Fettig’s fourth trip to the Midwest with the Marine Band, it is Assistant Director Capt. Nowlin’s first. But he is no stranger to this part of the country.


“An Ohio native, I grew up in the Cleveland area graduating from North Royalton High School; went to Bowling Green State University in Northwest Ohio, about 60 miles north of Lima, and taught instrumental music for ten years in the state,” Nowlin said. “My first teaching job was in Jackson in southeast Ohio, about 75 miles south of Columbus, and my teaching job before joining the Marine Band was in a suburb of Cleveland—Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School. Teaching in the state for the time I did meant I was very involved in the Ohio Music Education Association and part of a very close network of music teachers state wide.  I really liked that about Ohio, all Ohio music teachers—and by extension their students—seem to know each other, learn from each other, and serve as ceaseless advocates for the arts. So, to return to Lima, the Columbus area, and Cleveland will be a lot of fun. I’ll have family in the audience in Severance Hall, home of the Cleveland Orchestra, and never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d be back on that stage with the amazing musicians of ‘The President’s Own.’ I’ll have friends, former colleagues, former teachers—to include my high school and college band directors—and former students from Jackson (Go Ironmen!), Bowling Green (Go Falcons!), and Brecksville-Broadview Heights (Go Bees!). It will be nice to bring some of the finest musicians I know, who I’m privileged to call colleagues and friends, for my fellow Ohioans to enjoy!”

In addition to the band’s tour concerts, Marine Band musicians will also provide dozens of master classes and clinics in local schools along the tour route. In 2017, the Marine Band reached 2,600 students through 42 master classes and clinics. This year, 17 of the tour concerts will take place at a high school or university, allowing the Marine Band musicians to reach hundreds of students throughout the Midwest. Like Nowlin, many Marine Band musicians taught in schools and privately before joining “The President’s Own” and actively seeks these educational opportunities.


“One of the most important and enjoyable opportunities we have each year while traveling is to interact with thousands of students at all levels of education, from elementary through college,” Fettig explained. “In addition to having the privilege to perform concerts for so many communities across the nation, these more personal moments of mentorship and connection with the next generations of musicians and music-lovers has added a rich dimension to our mission to share the Marine Band with as many of our fellow citizens as possible.”


He continued, “The goal of every tour concert is to showcase the talents of the Marines in the band and hopefully provide an exciting and enjoyable experience for every audience member. Tour with the Marine Band is always a special event for me. 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.”


The Marine Band’s 2018 National Concert Tour will take place Oct. 2–Nov. 1. The performances are free but tickets are required. Times, dates, and location information may be found at marineband.ticketleap.com.

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