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Aspire: "The President's Own" at 225, graphic for the April 30, 2023 Marine Band and Marine Chamber Orchestra Concert at the Music Center at Strathmore

Photo by United States Marine Band

Aspire: "The President's Own" at 225

24 Apr 2023 | Staff Sgt. Chase Baran United States Marine Band

In grand celebration of its 225th anniversary, “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band and Marine Chamber Orchestra present a special gala concert on April 30th at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md. The performance, led in part by four generations of Marine Band directors, will highlight repertoire reflective of the musical legacy the ensemble has impressed upon our great country through the course of history.


The Music Center Strathmore at Strathmore Directions

Patrons without tickets are highly encouraged to utilize the stand-by line, which forms starting at 6:45 p.m. Stand-by patrons will be admitted to vacant seats when all tickets become void at 7:15 p.m. The concert begins at 7:30 p.m. All tickets have been distributed.

Returning to the podium for this momentous event are retired directors Col. John R. Bourgeois (1979-1996), Col. Timothy W. Foley (1996-2004) and Col. Michael J. Colburn (2004-2014).

“There is a wonderful continuum within the leadership of the Marine Band,” current Director Col. Jason K. Fettig said. “It is a nearly unbroken line of directors who worked together as players or conductors before passing the baton to one another. I feel this same kinship with all of my living predecessors, so to have the opportunity to share the stage together is a very special thing, and a unique representation of the living history that is represented by ‘The President’s Own.’”

Collectively, the four directors at this concert bring forth an astonishing 127 years of experience in “The President’s Own” through their time as both musicians and leaders of the band. Together, they have served under 13 presidents: Bourgeois, the most senior of the group, joined the band as a French horn player and arranger in 1958, serving under President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

“I feel a wonderful sense of familial pride each time I hear and conduct the Marine Band,” Bourgeois shared. “The band’s artistry is beyond all expectations, and its history is a legacy to be treasured.”

“It’s always a great pleasure to return to the Marine Band; to hear their incomparable sound, to visit some old friends and to make new ones,” Foley said. “I’m especially looking forward to sharing the Band’s gala birthday celebration and to hear some exciting new music, including that of my old friend Jonathan Leshnoff as well as two of my life’s musical heroes, Charles Ives and John Philip Sousa.”

“Among my favorite Marine Band memories are some of the events surrounding past anniversary celebrations, so it’s especially meaningful to be invited back to help celebrate our 225th,” Colburn said. “My hope and conviction is that the Marine Band will continue to be both a guardian of musical traditions as well as a trailblazer among professional musical organizations for the years to come.”

This gala performance celebrates a milestone anniversary and ties together the Marine Band past, present and future, with musical selections that affirm the ensemble’s rich history and heritage, and also its leading efforts in commissioning new works by modern-day composers.

Spotlighted on the first half of the concert is the Marine Chamber Orchestra, which surprisingly opens with John Philip Sousa’s arrangement of “The Star-Spangled Banner” created for the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair and his Presidential Polonaise, which was briefly used in place of “Hail to the Chief” as presidential honors in the late 1880s.

“I wanted to highlight the history of the orchestra and strings in the Marine Band, which even pre-dates Sousa’s time as Director in the 1880s,” Fettig said. “However, it was during Sousa’s directorship that the band played as an orchestra as well as a band.”

The orchestra then continues with Lyric for Strings, composed by District of Columbia native George Walker, the first Black graduate of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in Music.

This leads up to Grammy-nominated guest tenor soloist Nicholas Phan delivering the world première of Joel Puckett’s There Was a Child Went Forth, set to the words of a Walt Whitman poem of the same name.

“Discussions about this special collaboration took place over a few years, but when Joel settled on text from Walt Whitman, I knew this work should be premiered during this anniversary concert,” Fettig said. “Whitman knew the Marine Band well when he was a resident in Washington in the years during and after the Civil War. Joel has written a gorgeous and colorful realization of Whitman’s poetry, which will be brilliantly performed by our special guest.”

"I love the poem by Walt Whitman that Joel Puckett has chosen," Phan added. "It’s such a beautiful evocation of how our life experiences become parts of us and absorbed into our being. Also, Joel’s musical language is so rich and lushly beautiful. It’s a really gorgeous piece, and I think a quite moving work to be premiering on this very special concert."

The Marine Chamber Orchestra will then conclude with Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 2, one of the most iconic American symphonies in the repertoire from a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer.

After intermission the Marine Band will then take its post on stage for a rousing second half, to include a suite of marches, and quintessential American works by George Gershwin, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein.

“The music programmed for the band spans the entire history of the organization, from marches that were written and performed by the band in its first years, during Lincoln’s time, to America’s most venerable composers form the 20th century,” Fettig said. “But just as we celebrate the history of the band, we also celebrate the band’s current artistic identity, with two new pieces written especially for the ensemble.”

The first of the two pieces Col. Fettig alluded to is Jennifer Higdon’s Aspire, which is the namesake title for the concert. It was commissioned for the Marine Band by the World Association for Symphonic Bands and Ensembles (WASBE) and premièred at the organization’s international conference in Prague during the band’s historic 2022 Europe Tour.

The second is Jonathan Leshnoff’s Symphony for Winds, which will receive its own world première during the concert.

The composer desired to incorporate a musical idea that was distinctly “American” in honor of the Marine Band’s anniversary, and with a number of melodies proposed by Col. Fettig, it was the U.S. national hymn “God of Our Fathers” that stuck out to the composer.

“Leshnoff uses our national hymn as a jumping off point for an energetic and passionate 20-minute work that we will have the privilege to première during this celebration,” Fettig said.

It’s serendipitous that the Marine Band also has a long history with the national hymn, to include a performance of an arrangement done by former Chief Arranger Thomas Knox, given at President Reagan’s first inauguration. Before the première of Leshnoff’s new symphony, Director Emeritus Col. John Bourgeois will conduct that very setting of the hymn.

For 225 years “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band has faithfully served its mission to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. As the oldest continuously active professional music organization in the country, the band’s storied history continues to leave an indelible mark on the world of music, generations of Americans, and valued patriotic traditions. This gala performance is not just a celebration of the Marine Band, but of our national musical identity, of where it has come from and where it is headed into the future.

The Music Center at Strathmore is located at 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, MD.