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"The President's Own"


"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
Unit News
Meet the Tour Soloists

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


Gunnery Sergeant Sara Sheffield, mezzo-soprano

Mezzo-soprano vocalist and concert moderator Gunnery Sgt. Sara Sheffield joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in May 2005, becoming the first featured female vocal soloist in Marine Band history. She will solo on every single Marine Band tour concert; therefore she has collaborated with Col. Jason K. Fettig to select three different works to perform on the road: Ella Fitzgerald Medley, Selections from Wonderful Town by Leonard Bernstein, and Selections from The Marriage of Figaro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. This will be Sheffield’s second tour with the Marine Band to the Midwest, and she is looking forward to hitting North and South Dakota, the only two states left on her continental United States checklist. Read Sheffield’s Biography


Ella Fitzgerald Medley was arranged by Marine Band staff arranger Staff Sgt. Scott Ninmer and includes “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing),” and “Oh, Lady, Be Good!”


“Scott originally arranged this set of tunes for the 100th anniversary of Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday in 2017,” Sheffield said. “I enjoyed performing them so much and they were so well-received by our Washington audiences, we thought it would be a fun set to take on the road. But in the beginning it was daunting—the idea of putting together a tribute to one of the most revered and influential jazz vocalists of all time. I have listened to countless recordings to learn about her inflections, her musicianship, her riffs. But there is no emulating Ella. Instead, I hope I can capture some of her effervescent spirit—her love of the music, of collaboration, of spontaneity.  The Marine Band likes to swing on occasion! And I love the interaction with the band on this number—they even sing a little bit themselves! It’s fun to let loose a little bit—from the sultry ballads to upbeat swing numbers, we have a great time. And maybe these songs will inspire a younger generation to go back and listen to her iconic sound!”


"Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio" from The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492 -- “This is a standard aria in mezzo-soprano repertoire, from one of Mozart’s most beloved operas,” Sheffield explained. “For a vocalist, singing Mozart is going back to basics. The foundational elements of technique kick in—it’s the purest form of healthy singing, and when you are performing night after night, it’s important to keep the voice healthy. Singing Mozart is a wonderful way to stay in shape. It’s also a charming song about young love, so even though it is in Italian, the subject is universally understood.” She added, “This piece is the musical equivalent of a little black dress. It’s classy and timeless.”

Selections from Wonderful Town was arranged by Marine Band staff arranger Staff Sgt. Scott Ninmer and includes the song “Ohio,” the sentimental “A Little Bit in Love,” “Wrong Note Rag” with its intentionally dissonant harmonies, and the comic “One Hundred Easy Ways to Lose a Man.”


“Since it is the centennial celebration of Bernstein’s birth, I wanted to include some of his iconic Broadway music on this tour,” Sheffield said. “Wonderful Town is one of his lesser-known musicals, but the music is lovely and endearing, clever and witty! Scott has done a beautiful job consolidating the musical into this four-song medley. It takes us through emotions of homesickness, falling in and out of love, catchy melodies and dances along the way. One of the tunes is called ‘Wrong Note Rag.’ Trying to sing the right notes, which are meant to sound like wrong notes, while the band is playing right notes that sound like wrong notes—it’s a crazy cacophony in all the best Bernstein ways! Of course, it will be a special treat for our audiences in Ohio. And what’s not to love about a song called ‘100 Easy Ways to Lose a Man?’ I have entirely too much fun singing this number!”



Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Grant, clarinet

Clarinetist Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Grant joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in July 2006. Grant will perform Dr. Frank Ticheli’s Clarinet Concerto in the following cities: Lincoln, Neb.; Cheyenne, Wyo.; Billings, Mont.; Fargo, N.D.; Urbandale, Iowa; Mason City, Iowa; Sun Prairie, Wis.; Carmel, Ind.; Lima, Ohio; and Pittsburgh. Read Grant’s Biography


Ticheli composed his Clarinet Concerto in 2010 and transcribed it for band in 2011. According to the composer, the concerto’s third movement was composed as a tribute to 20th-century American icon Leonard Bernstein. Grant performed Clarinet Concerto with the Marine Band as part of the 2012 Showcase Series in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area when the composition was very new and recently at the Texas Bandmasters Association in July 2018, conducted by the composer himself.


“It was so interesting to work with a living composer, especially Dr. Ticheli since I’ve been playing his music since I was in middle school,” Grant said. “He’s traveled the world and he’s a world class musician and composer. But he’s very friendly and humble. He lives in California, so we worked together via recordings and email at first. He was excited to hear the Marine Band perform it and when we performed it in Texas, it was so great to meet him in person and work with him directly.”


“The movement is basically constant motion; it’s very exciting and accessible for the audience. Dr. Ticheli composed it to be a play on Leonard Bernstein and his style of music. There are little quotes in there for those who might be familiar with Bernstein’s music. You might hear little bits of ‘West Side Story,’ so it lends itself to a large audience and it’s really fun. And for me, there’s still something that I find each time I perform it that I might not have noticed as much before so it can be fresh each time I play it.”


He continued, “It involves a little bit more of the extended range of the clarinet. It’s not unplayable or unreachable, but it includes notes that you wouldn’t necessarily play in your daily routine. I have been tweaking here and there trying to find better fingerings that might work for some of the higher more challenging notes and the notes that come before and after those. Finding ways to get up to that extended range, you have to work it into your daily routine so that it’s just another note rather than it being the highest note on the instrument.”


Grant has been on six tours with the Marine Band and is excited to have family attend a concert when tour travels near “the family farm.”


“My grandpa will drive two hours from the farm to see us play in Iowa,” Grant said. “He just celebrated his 90th birthday and it’s been a while since he’s seen me play. He has seen me evolve as a musician. I’m sure he saw me play ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Hot Cross Buns’ in elementary school and junior high and probably never expected to see me doing performances like these.”


“I love visiting different towns and traveling the country,” Grant continued. “I enjoy finding ways to engage in the communities we visit, whether it’s through finding great coffee shops and good restaurants, running in local races, or educational outreach—I’ve participated in more than 100 masterclasses and clinics for local schools while on tour. I believe our national concert tour is the Marine Band’s most vital outreach, providing a platform for diplomacy for the U.S. Marine Corps while sharing the living history of America’s most historical musical organization.”


Gunnery Sergeant Amy McCabe, trumpet/cornet


Trumpeter/cornetist Gunnery Sgt. Amy McCabe joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in July 2006. McCabe will perform James Stephenson’s The Storyteller in the following cities: Grand Island, Neb.; Scottsbluff, Neb.; Sheridan, Wyo.; Mandan, N.D.; Pierre, S.D.; Mankato, Minn.; Chicago; Normal, Ill.; and Pickerington, Ohio. Read McCabe’s Biography


Stephenson composed The Storyteller in memory of his role model Adolph “Bud” Herseth, former principal trumpet of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, who Stephenson calls “perhaps the best orchestral trumpet player the world has ever known.” According to the composer, “I endeavored, through the course of this piece, to tell the story of Bud the best I could. There are subtle references to many of the famous orchestra trumpet excerpts that I listened to him play the most.”


Herseth had a major influence in the trumpet community and that includes McCabe. “I listened to all of the old Chicago Symphony recordings with Bud playing,” McCabe said. “His playing set the standard. He had such a huge impact on the trumpet community and this piece is a beautiful way to honor that.”


McCabe continued, “Since we’re going through Chicago, Col. Fettig thought it might be nice to program something by Jim Stephenson, and it’s a really lovely piece. It perfectly encapsulates Bud’s career and his ability to tell stories through his instrument. I think every musician’s goal is to communicate in this way through music without words.”


The Midwest tour was McCabe’s first tour when she joined the Marine Band so it is very special to her. But it is also special because it is her home turf. “It will be nice to be back home and play in Bloomington/Normal at Illinois State University; I’ve performed in this hall several times as a student,” McCabe said. “And I’m excited to play with the band in Symphony Center. I played there back when I was in school and a member of the Chicago Civic Orchestra, which was the training orchestra for the Chicago Symphony. That group is unique because you foster a relationship with the players in the CSO. When we perform The Storyteller in Chicago, we’ll have an offstage trumpet part played by former Marine Band member John Hagstrom who is a current member of the Chicago Symphony. I’ve studied with John and taken lessons with him and since he was a member of the Marine Band trumpet section, I thought it would be neat to connect the relationship with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra during tour.”


Another unique aspect of the Chicago performance of The Storyteller: Sally Stephenson, Jim’s wife, will perform with McCabe on violin: “Every Christmas Eve I go home to Illinois and play at Jim and Sally’s church. We have two services, one at midnight and one at 4 p.m., so there’s a huge gap of time between the two. So every year, Jim and Sally invite the musicians into their home between services. So I’ve been spending Christmas Eve with the Stephenson family for more than a decade! I’ve watched their children grow up. They are a very musical family. Everyone plays an instrument and people are always sitting at the piano playing.”


“It’s hard not to overstate how happy I am that all of these different puzzle-pieces have come together for this Chicago performance,” Jim said. “I’ve known Amy and her playing for many years. She has become a good friend, and so that brings even more meaning to this upcoming collaboration. And John Hagstrom used to play next to Bud in the CSO before Bud retired. He is also now a friend. The puzzle pieces here amaze me!”


Another piece of the puzzle, Sally added: “It may be interesting to add that I played on that same stage together with John Hagstrom when we were in high school, with the Chicago Youth Symphony.”


“Needless to say, having Sally play the violin part makes the entire experience special, and magical, for me,” Jim said. “To sum it all up, the whole thing will be like nothing else I have ever experienced, when one combines the professional and personal aspects that will all come together on October 24, here in my hometown of Chicago.”


While Sally will play the violin part in Chicago, throughout the remainder of tour the part will be played by Master Gunnery Sgt. Steven Longoria on soprano saxophone, a supportive role to the solo trumpet.


“The piece was composed for violin and trumpet, so one of my main concerns is to try to remain faithful to Jim’s original idea,” Longoria said. “The soprano saxophone’s range is somewhat limited in comparison to the violin’s, so performing lyrically or delicately in certain passages is a challenge. That said, there is a singing quality to the soprano saxophone that lends itself well to the piece’s heartfelt and nostalgic feel. I’m really excited to get to perform another one of Jim’s works and thrilled he was willing to adapt it for soprano sax. The Storyteller is an homage to one of Jim’s formative musical influences, and I think that anyone who can relate to the feelings of love and gratitude we all share for those who have had profound and positive effects on our lives will immediately connect with this piece of music.”


Master Gunnery Sergeant Christopher Rose, percussion


Percussionist Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Rose joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in October 1997. Rose will perform Jeff Tyzik’s Riffs in the following cities: North Platte, Neb.; Casper, Wyo,; Glendive, Mont.; Aberdeen, S.D.; Cedar Falls, Iowa; Mahtomedi, Minn.; Davenport, Iowa; Muncie, Ind.; and Cleveland. Read Rose’s Biography


Tyzik’s original composition, Riffs, is a one-movement work in three jazz-inspired sections. The first “fast swing” is followed by a “heavy medium swing” and an afro-Cuban finale that turns the concert band into a huge jazz ensemble with the jazz drum soloist leading the way.


“There’s not a lot written in the part,” Rose said. “It’s written like a jazz drum set part might look with a lot of slashes and syncopated hits that the brass or the rest of the band is playing. So in this piece it’s up to me as the soloist to decide how to fill in the space. I can turn it into my own distinct piece and it won’t sound like what anyone else has done.”


He continued, “The good news is that there’s not a lot written. The bad news is there’s not a lot written.”


Based on the written music, Riffs is always unique and becomes a very individual piece. “No performance will be the same,” Rose said. “In fact, every performance on this tour will be different. It’s cool but it’s also a little scary.”


While Rose admitted he doesn’t know the composer personally, he has heard his name since the 1980s. “When I was a kid, one of the first concerts I attended was by the flugelhorn and trumpet player Chuck Mangione. I had his albums and on one album he acknowledged the trumpet player Jeff Tyzik. Tyzik also did arrangements for Mangione, so that’s where I first heard of him.”


“The composer wrote in a lot of slashes in the part,” Rose continued. “To the drummer that means I need to keep time. So I have the liberty of coming up with my own part, even throwing in licks to set up the band. I just need to stay as steady as I can with the timing and at the same time be a soloist.”

Rose noted that the audience might also enjoy seeing him show off his conga skills during the afro-Cuban finale. In two of those concerts, his parents and sister will be part of the audience. Always supportive, they have seen him perform throughout his childhood and even as a Marine Band musician.


“They’re proud of me. My mom will cry,” Rose said. “She always made me practice and was a self-proclaimed ‘mean Mom’ because of it. But I know now that she saw something in me and knew that I had a lot of potential.” 


Read More about the 2018 Tour Programming and Locations

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