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"The President's Own"


"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
Unit News
Virtual Virtuosos: Connecting to Music Classrooms Nationwide

By Staff Sgt. Chase Baran | United States Marine Band | December 18, 2020


Never before has the Marine Band had such a widespread educational impact as it did during the concentrated efforts of fall 2020. Using a buzzword from this year, it truly was “unprecedented.”

In a month and a half, musicians of “The President’s Own” held more than 1,000 Q&As, clinics and masterclasses, reaching over 28,000 music students from kindergarten through the university level. As a result of the now-widespread use of video calls in schools, these digital discussions spanned thousands of miles, taking place in 45 states and the District of Columbia.

Learn more about the Marine Band's educational resources here.

Here is a look into just two of the hundreds of classrooms the Marine Band reached this fall:

In terms of maintaining a strong music program during the pandemic, General Music Teacher Kody Willnauer has been fortunate. Most of his students are still meeting in person at Regency Place Elementary School in Olathe, Kan. About one-third of the school is receiving remote instruction.

The instruction looks slightly different, but Willnauer is still able to keep the students engaged through singing, dancing and playing barred instruments.

“COVID has certainly changed how music education is learned,” Willnauer said. “We take advantage of good outdoor weather and large spaces to facilitate movement and singing when appropriate.”

Yet, this year opportunities for his students to have first-hand interaction with outside professional musicians have understandably been reduced.

“Our fourth-grade class takes a field trip to the Kansas City Symphony every year—well except for this year—where we listen to professional musicians and educators blend a school topic to music. Last year our fourth and fifth graders were visited by a performing arts cello duo to perform and take questions,” Willnauer said.

When he heard about the virtual performances and Q&A sessions offered as part of the Marine Band’s Music in the Schools, he jumped on it quickly to make sure his students could still get a similar experience when local resources weren’t an option.

As part of Music in the Schools, “The President’s Own” created three video performances, one geared toward band, another for orchestra, as well as one for general music.

Willnauer’s students watched the general music performance called “Around the World in 30 Minutes,” which was designed to develop musical interest and curiosity through exploring folk music from different regions of the world.

“Our school has an English Language Learner program for our feeder network of schools,” Willnauer said. “Over 25 different languages are spoken by our students at Regency Place other than English. The music was a great starting point for students to share musical attributes from their culture during class dialogue. It was almost serendipitous that I learned about the Marine Band's video lesson on folk music.”

“Students also identified from various pieces that many of the same instruments are used in different cultures. In a sense, we came to the conclusion that although we all may be from different backgrounds, music is universal.”

After his students had watched the performance, Willnauer coordinated a fifth grade assembly in the school gymnasium for a Q&A session with a member of the Marine Band. Other students tuned in from fourth grade classrooms and still more students watched remotely from their homes. With ample space physically, about 130 students, grades 3-5, were ready for a discussion with Staff Sgt. Ryo Usami, a violinist who they had seen play in the performance video.

Staff Sgt. Usami gave answers on a number of topics, including as what it takes to be a musician, his favorite piece, the difficulty of auditioning, and advice for young musicians.

“Seeing how excited the kids were from me sharing my experiences was really motivating and energizing during these times,” Staff Sgt. Usami said. “Though it would have been great to meet all the students in person, being able to communicate with so many of them across the country was really neat.”

“On a more personal level, this opportunity was just a special teaching moment in an otherwise crazy year to remember,” Willnauer said. “It may not be next month or next year, but I mentioned to our students in the following lesson from our Q&A with Staff Sgt. Usami that this will be one of those ‘I remember when’ lessons where our students can say that they were able to learn from and speak with one of the best musicians in our country. And that's just pretty special.”

For the next choir concert at Regency Place Elementary School, Willnauer plans for his students to perform “Furusato,” the same Japanese folk song his students watched Staff Sgt. Usami play in “Around the World in 30 Minutes.”


In other schools around the country, music educators are discovering what fully virtual instruction looks like, leveraging innovative ways to keep their students interested.

The students of Eno River Academy in Hillsborough, N.C., have been meeting virtually since March 2020. These include the 6-12th grade students in Kaity Woodrum’s band and orchestra classes.

“The main two challenges this year have been trying to find a way to have students play together despite the virtual setting, and overcoming a discrepancy in internet connectivity,” said Woodrum.

As a teacher at a STEAM charter school, this year has provided her a unique opportunity to bridge the “Technology” and “Arts” categories of that acronym.

Using a variety of apps like Noteflight, Soundtrap and Acapella, she and her students have been able to work collaboratively to create and discuss music. In addition to recording themselves play, the students can also experiment with composing, editing and music theory concepts using these apps.

“I fully anticipate that arts and technology education will begin moving more toward music teaching and production through technology,” Woodrum said. “I see adding music technology courses at the junior high and high school level as a way to involve more students in the creation and evaluation of music.”

This shift to music tech would be in addition to what most people know as music education, not in place of it.

“I still believe that there is plenty of room for traditional ensembles, and would hate to see any of the performance groups we have at the school diminish,” said Woodrum.

For that reason, she is still pursuing ways for her students to develop as traditional musicians.

The band students at Eno River Academy are already familiar with “The President’s Own.” Woodrum frequently uses the Marine Band’s recordings and educational videos to aid with her instruction. Starting in 6th grade, her students also participate in Sousa’s March Mania, an interactive educational program which attracts thousands of band enthusiasts to vote for their favorite marches online.

It was a no-brainer for her to sign up when the Marine Band began offering virtual clinics and masterclasses for high school and university-level musicians.

For a full class period, Gunnery Sgt. Amy McCabe met with a number of the trumpet players from Woodrum’s classes to share about “Putting the Fun Back into Fundamentals.”

“For me, fundamentals are fun when you can approach them in bite-sized pieces,” Gunnery Sgt. McCabe said. “For example, timing yourself doing long tones, or gradually increasing the tempo of one minute drills while keeping track of your progress can be motivating. I encouraged students to incorporate certain skills into everyday activities, like lip buzzing while walking the dog or a few deep conscious breaths first thing in the morning.”

Gunnery Sgt. McCabe most enjoyed how the small reminders and recommendations instantly made a positive change in the way students played.

“As a flute player, private teacher and band director who has only had two years of trumpet lessons, I found Gunnery Sgt. McCabe’s presentation fabulous,” Woodrum said. “There was something for each of us. She covered buzzing, flow and line, chromatic studies, lyrical playing, articulation, flexibility studies and more. She even offered a horse whinny and how to accomplish that in the end! Very fun!”

For educators looking for an opportunity like this in the next calendar year, another virtual educational outreach program is being planned to for early 2021. Follow the Marine Band on social media, or sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date!

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