Marine Barracks Annex, Washington, D.C. --
Fantastic. I’m just speechless.
That’s what John Williams said after leading the Marine Band through several of his own works on Saturday, July 15, during a closed rehearsal in the John Philip Sousa Band Hall at Marine Barracks Annex in Washington, D.C. The legendary composer conducted "The President's Own" in preparation for the organization's 225th Anniversary concert taking place on July 16 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
The rehearsal began with Williams conducting “Hooray for Hollywood” and he joked about adjusting to looking for the band instruments when he’s used to conducting orchestra. Throughout the rehearsal, band members beamed as they performed under the direction of Academy Awards winner.
Members of the Marine Band support staff were also at rehearsal: Librarians took care of music preparation and last-minute changes, the Office of Communication documented the event in photo and video, and Stage Manager Master Sgt. Richard Dickerson and Marines of the stage crew ensured the hall was ready to go for the musicians and the conductor as well as those attending the rehearsal. The stage crew set up close to 100 stands, 171 chairs, sound shields, and coordinated with security teams as well as taking great care stabilizing the podium for the maestro. Recording Lab engineers worked hard on set-up for the recording and sound reinforcement of the rehearsal. After setting up 16 microphones for the rehearsal alongside his co-workers, Recording Lab chief Gunnery Sgt. Michael Ducassoux said, “Today has been amazing. Something I’ve been looking forward to the whole year.” The team will set up 44 microphones for the concert.
One of those microphones will be for soloist Thomas Hooten, as he performs Williams’ piece “With Malice Toward None” from Lincoln. Hooten is Principal Trumpet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, a position that he has held since 2012. He began his professional career in 2000 with a trumpet/cornet position in “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. During the rehearsal, members of the trumpet section who served in the band with Hooten looked on with pride and adoration.
Trumpet player Master Gunnery Sgt. Susan Rider, who joined the band in 1997, said, “I was fortunate enough to work with Maestro Williams 20 years ago when he conducted the Marine Band, and at that point I never could have imagined that I would have the opportunity to do it again. I’m very grateful. He’s phenomenal. The man is phenomenal.”
She continued: “I was 10 years old when I saw Star Wars for the first time, so when I play that music I go back to my 10-year old self and I’m taken back to the movie theater. That film was so revolutionary—it played in the theater for over a year! So to be transported back to those moments—I just love playing it with him.”
Principal trumpet Gunnery Sgt. Amy McCabe echoed the sentiment: “This was my first time playing for John Williams, and I was just so impressed with the breadth of knowledge he had of every single arrangement, all the tempo shifts, and the background and intention behind the arrangements for specific actors and actresses. Hooray for Hollywood was really great too—to hear him talk about the differences in ‘Hollywood and Broadway’ style—he lived it.”
Before leading the band in “March from 1941,” Williams said to the band, “This is the reason I came here. I wanted to hear you all play this.” He went on to tell the audience that he recently asked a member of a well-known orchestra, “Do you know what the bass drum sounds like in the Marine Band? Make it sound like that.” After he finished conducting the piece, he proclaimed that the Marine Band has the “greatest bass drum ever of all time,” and joked with Colonel Fettig “there’s a secret to it that you all are hiding.”
Williams concluded his conducting with Imperial March, after which he asked Colonel Fettig if the band could play his piece Theme from Schindler’s List. Concertmaster Gunnery Sgt. Karen Johnson performed the solo and was so excited to play a piece “that all the famous violinists play … with him sitting only 10 feet in front of me.” In awe of the composition itself, Johnson said, “the piece itself is a very tender piece and transports you to a different place.”
Williams also requested the band play Theme from Jurassic Park, and Colonel Fettig reminisced that after he first saw the movie as a teenager, he immediately went out to buy the music. After the band played the final piece, Williams mentioned Paul Lavender and his amazing transcription skills, thanking him for taking the orchestral scores and creating them beautifully for band. He then addressed the band with loving remarks that rivaled his music, telling the band that being in front of them is “really a treat for me…consistently a joy…A very meaningful musical experience. Thank you very much.”