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"The President's Own"

 

"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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“John Williams and ‘The President’s Own’” – A Conversation with Colonel Fettig

By GySgt Rachel Ghadiali | United States Marine Band | March 24, 2021

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In January, the Marine Band released its educational recording titled “John Williams and ‘The President’s Own.’” Recently, Assistant Communication Strategist Gunnery Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali sat down with Colonel Jason K. Fettig to learn more about this year’s album.

Ghadiali: How was this project conceived?
Fettig: Every year, I look forward to making a recording with the marvelous musicians of the Marine Band to share with educators, students and music fans all around the globe. When the restrictions on large group gatherings were implemented this year due to COVID-19, we were unable to carry on that long-standing tradition, but we didn’t want to miss an opportunity to share something special with everyone who eagerly awaits a Marine Band recording each year. It occurred to me that this was a golden opportunity to finally release the live concert recordings that we have made with Maestro Williams over the years, and when he enthusiastically endorsed the idea, we began to conceive the production of this very special collection of music.
 
Ghadiali: How did you determine which pieces to include on the album?
Fettig: This double album includes nearly every piece of music Mr. Williams programmed and conducted with the Marine Band during his two gala concerts at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2003 and 2008. It is a remarkably diverse collection of works that span the entirety of his long and incredible career, from well-known classics to more obscure (but equally amazing!) scores to some of his early films, all brilliantly realized for symphonic band by a host of talented arrangers in direct collaboration with Mr. Williams. Many of these works were prepared specifically for these concerts and have since become available for bands everywhere to perform. Maestro Williams also included numerous pieces that feature soloists from the Marine Band, and we have even chosen to include the unlisted encores that he performed with the band as well as several of the comments that he made to the audience live from the stage. In addition to the music from the two Kennedy Center programs, the albums include a bonus track of Maestro Williams conducting his own musical gift to the Marine Band, an original work that he composed for our 215th anniversary entitled “For ‘The President’s Own.’”
 
Ghadiali: What was it like working with John Williams?
Fettig: Of all of the famous musicians that we have had the honor of working with over the history of the Marine Band, few can compare to John Williams. Not only is he one of the most important American musicians of our time, he is also among the most humble, gracious and generous individuals you will ever meet. His spirit of collaboration was palpable in every moment he has spent with the men and women of the Marine Band over these past two decades, and it has always been abundantly clear how much he enjoys making music. We are so very proud to have had the privilege to bring his incredible notes to life with him on so many occasions, and to call him a true friend of “The President’s Own.” Nothing makes me happier than to be able to now share these rare and very unique live performances with people throughout the world.
 
Ghadiali: What do you hope listeners will take away from this album?
Fettig: John Williams’ music has entered the public consciousness unlike virtually any other composer, living or past, and when you listen to his many iconic works, it makes an immediate emotional connection. This is also the central artistic mission of the Marine Band, and I hope that hearing these two worlds brought together through these live performances will be an inspiring experience for all who listen to them. When I hear these recordings, I am vividly reminded not only of those electric moments together on stage with Maestro Williams, but also of just how important it is to have music like this in our lives, especially now. If the gift of sharing these historic performances offers a measure of that same feeling to those who add them to their personal music collections, I can think of no better way that the United States Marine Band can be of service during this time.          

Bonus content from the CD liner notes: quotes from retired Marine Band Directors Colonels Timothy Foley and Michael Colburn on the band’s relationship with Maestro John Williams.

In 2002, anticipating the band’s upcoming 205th anniversary year, the twenty-sixth Director of the Marine Band, Colonel Timothy Foley, and his Assistant Director, Major Michael Colburn, wanted to plan a significant celebration of the long history and musical legacy of the ensemble. They sent a letter to Williams with an invitation to conduct a gala concert with “The President’s Own” at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Without any personal contacts at the time nor any expectation that the letter would even find its way to Williams, it was to everyone’s tremendous surprise and delight when he graciously and enthusiastically accepted. Now retired, Col. Colburn recalled the moment Williams’ reply was received:
 
Mr. Williams’ representative Jamie Richardson told me that Williams was both flattered and honored to receive an invitation from “The President’s Own,” and that he was eager to work with us! It turns out that Mr. Williams’ father, a professional percussionist, had taught his son to love and respect the Marine Band from a young age and that he had always held the organization in the highest esteem. Although I had many memorable moments as an Assistant Director, none was more gratifying that walking into Col. Foley’s office to deliver the news that John Williams would be guest conducting our 205th Anniversary Concert!
 
Williams first appeared with the band on July 12, 2003, at the Kennedy Center, one day after the band’s official 205th birthday. Col. Foley remembered the very first time Williams took the podium and began to make music with the band:
 
It was obvious, right at that moment, that this would be one of those marriages “made in heaven.” In addition to his fabulous musicianship, flawless hearing, and impeccable conducting, John was—and is—the consummate gentleman. His relationship with the band immediately became that of a beloved family member; one who was patient, inspiring, and nurturing. He is hugely, deeply respected by the band members, who immediately recognized and accepted him as one of their own, which is not always common between playing musicians and conductors. Everyone who was present for that first rehearsal was witnessing a musical collaboration for the ages, and I am proud to have played a small role in bringing the great John Williams and the great United States Marine Band together.

That historic occasion not only marked the beginning of a long friendship between Williams and “The President’s Own,” it also was the first time Williams had conducted a band in many decades. However, he was no stranger to the ensemble; before becoming one of the most successful composers in American history, Williams served as a musician in the United States Air Force, playing piano, conducting, composing and arranging for all manner of groups, including bands.

In the year that followed his first appearance with the Marine Band, Williams was selected to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor in 2004. As Williams had formed a new artistic partnership with the Marine Band, he personally made a special request for the band to participate in the national broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors show. As an honoree, Williams’ works were presented by numerous guest performers during the show. Famed violinist Itzhak Perlman performed Williams’ haunting theme from Schindler’s List before the curtains on the Kennedy Center Stage opened to reveal the full Marine Band in their signature scarlet coats. The band performed a medley of some of Williams’ most iconic film scores specially arranged for the occasion, conducted by then-music director of the National Symphony Orchestra Leonard Slatkin, as Williams looked on from the balcony with his fellow honorees.

The Marine Band encountered Williams as a guest at White House events several times over the ensuing years. Col. Colburn, who was by then the twenty-seventh Director of the band, often had the opportunity to talk with him. As Williams and Col. Colburn reflected on the electrifying concert at the Kennedy Center in 2003 and the band’s appearance at the 2004 Kennedy Center Honors, it became clear that there would be tremendous enthusiasm for an encore performance. Williams accepted an invitation to return to the Kennedy Center for another concert, this time in celebration of the band’s 210th anniversary in 2008. Several of his most enduring works were prepared especially for the Marine Band and these two concerts. Col. Colburn recalled the process for translating much of the most recognizable music in all American orchestral repertoire for the band:
 
In addition to having Mr. Williams guest conduct, we were also eager to perform his music, so we began to work closely with Paul Lavender and his incredibly talented staff of arrangers and copyists at Hal Leonard, John Williams’ exclusive publisher, in order to ensure that we would have enough of his music to perform. Several new transcriptions of Mr. Williams’ works for film, the Olympics, and other major events were initiated, from the staffs of both the Marine Band and Hal Leonard, and it is a great source of pride that many of these works have become standards in the concert band repertoire.
 
The Marine Band’s relationship with Williams did not come to an end in 2008. The following year, the Band traveled to the West Coast during their annual concert tour, and Williams made a special guest appearance during the band’s concert at Royce Hall on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles to conduct his rollicking March from 1941.

As the band’s 215th anniversary approached, Col. Colburn once again invited Mr. Williams to lead the ensemble. Unfortunately, the process of sequestration in the government prevented a third gala concert from taking place, so instead Col. Colburn asked Williams if he would consider composing an original piece for the band to celebrate the milestone. Without hesitation, Williams agreed and penned his first piece for band in more than fifty years, warmly titled “For ‘The President’s Own.’” Williams then traveled to Washington, D.C., in 2013 to conduct a reading and recording of his generous gift to the band. That recording is featured as a bonus track on Volume 2 of this collection.
 
In the fall of 2019, the band again traveled to California on tour, and once again, Williams accepted an invitation to guest conduct the band at Royce Hall. His appearance was carefully kept secret from the audience in attendance as well as the staff at the hall. The band performed an all-Williams program for the second half of the concert, including “For ‘The President’s Own,’” The Cowboys Overture, and “With Malice Toward None” from Spielberg’s film Lincoln, featuring former Marine Band member and current principal trumpet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Thomas Hooten. Williams chose to listen to his friends play his works from backstage, until it came time to perform his classic March from 1941, for which Williams was announced to the podium to a chorus of astonished gasps and cheers. The encore was the same as that from his second concert with the band in 2008: the unforgettable Imperial March from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.

The two full-length gala concerts at the Kennedy Center from 2003 and 2008 are a tour de force through some of Williams’ most popular and creative scores and serve as the source for this unique recording collection. These previously unreleased live concert recordings of the composer leading “The President’s Own” represent one of the most memorable musical chapters in the long and storied history of the Marine Band. Williams’ contributions to our national artistic voice will remain indelible for all time, and we are eternally grateful for the many opportunities we have had together with him to bring his incredible music to life. His affection for the United States Marine Band and the men and women who serve in this historic institution has been apparent time and again over the past two decades, and the Marine musicians who have had the rare privilege of making music with him count these collaborations among the most meaningful moments of their careers. The Marine Band is humbled to know that Williams felt the same:

Performing with “The President’s Own,” our renowned United States Marine Band, has been one of the highest honors of my working life in music, and their invitation to conduct concerts at the Kennedy Center in 2003 and 2008 constituted a very rare privilege for me. My great hope is that listeners of this special recording will experience some of the exhilaration and fun that I enjoyed conducting these two memorable performances.

The U.S. Marine Band is a miracle shaped and formed by dedication and pride. With their stylistic comprehension, lyrical expressiveness, and rhythmic swagger across a very broad and diverse repertoire, they retain a level of instrumental excellence comparable to that of our greatest symphony orchestras, who are themselves the standard of the world. Already more than 220 years young, this ensemble truly is a national treasure of which all Americans should be justly proud. 
 
May they continue their inspiring work for decades, and even centuries, to come.
 
 

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