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Meet the Marine Band members performing solos throughout the Midwest Tour 2023.

Photo by Gunnery Sgt. Brian Rust

Meet the Tour Soloists: 2023

30 Oct 2023 | Master Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali United States Marine Band

Baritone vocalist and concert moderator Master Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Bennear joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in January 2000, becoming the third featured vocal soloist since the position was established in 1955. He moderates and sings on every single Marine Band tour concert; therefore he has collaborated with Col. Jason K. Fettig to select three different works to perform on the road: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Aria, “Non più andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro, transcribed by James Basta; Irish Songs, arranged by Master Sgt. Stephen Bulla, USMC (ret.); and Ol’ Blue Eyes: The Hits of Frank Sinatra, arranged by Marine Band staff arranger Staff Sgt. Scott Ninmer. Bennear Biography

Mozart’s Aria, “Non più andrai” from The Marriage of Figaro, is a popular work which has been programmed dozens of times on Marine Band concerts and is always a crowd pleaser with its beautiful melody and lyrics.

Irish Songs was arranged by Master Sgt. Stephen Bulla, USMC (ret.), who served as the Marine Band’s chief arranger from 1989 until his retirement in 2010. He created this medley of Irish favorites for Bennear which includes “That’s an Irish Lullaby,” “Clancy Lowered the Boom,” “Irish Washer Woman,” “’Tis the Last Rose,” “Galway Piper,” and “MacNamara’s Band.”

“I grew up with my grandma singing around the kitchen,” Bennear said. “She had a beautiful voice. She’s from Ireland, so when I sing this set I feel like she’s right there with me. She was a little lady—maybe five feet tall—who sang ‘Danny Boy’ as she worked around the kitchen baking bread. We weren’t allowed to bother her when she was singing in there because that was her time, so we respected it. She was so funny; she’d yell at us in her thick Irish accent to get out of her kitchen. But I just loved hearing her sing, and I love those beautiful Irish melodies.”

Ol’ Blue Eyes: The Hits of Frank Sinatra was arranged by Marine Band staff arranger Staff Sgt. Scott Ninmer and includes “Come Fly with Me,” “For Once in my Life,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” and “All the Way.” One of the country’s most popular musical artists of the 20th century, Sinatra was born in 1918 in Hoboken, N.J.

“This medley has some of my favorite pieces, particularly ‘Come Fly with Me.’ I grew up in West Virginia in a rural area, and that song was sort of my introduction to the world of jazz and big band and that era of music,” Bennear said. “When I was a little boy I would sit in the living room and sing along to Frank Sinatra records with my dad. So I’ve known these tunes for decades. I love each of them; they take you back in time especially with the Marine Band playing the accompaniment to capture that 40s era big band sound.”

MGySgt Bennear Speaks about Tour and Solos


Saxophonist Staff Sgt. Connor Mikula joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in May 2019 and will perform alongside percussionist Staff Sgt. Michael Hopkins on John Williams’ Suite from Catch Me if You Can (Escapades for Saxophone and Orchestra): Closing In and Joyride, transcribed by Stephen Bulla. Mikula biography

“This is an arrangement of John Williams’ music for the soundtrack of Catch Me if You Can, so it’s arranged as a solo for saxophone and vibraphone,” Mikula explained. “It’s such an honor to play John Williams’ music since he hasn’t written much for saxophone specifically. But this soundtrack heavily features saxophone.”

“The movie is about the infamous Frank Abagnale Jr. being chased by FBI agent Carl Hanratty—it’s about the chase and constantly one step behind Frank. You can hear that in the music. Both the vibraphonist and I are playing these really fast sort of detective licks just one right on top of the other sort of chasing each other but never quite finding each other. So I think that interplay in the music is really, really interesting but it also makes it really, really hard because at times we have to play a lot of fast notes in perfect unison. Michael and I have to be locked in together and very familiar with each other to pull this off. Michael and I are really close friends, and I honestly think that helps. It helps our collective musical decisions along with a lot of rehearsing together and listening to the same recordings.”

Mikula loves the interaction with the crowds and representing the Marine Corps on the road. This is his second tour with the Marine Band but his first “hometown” tour, where he will return to his hometown area and the universities he attended not too long ago. He is looking forward to seeing his former band directors, his parents, his uncles, his best friend, and lots of friends and family members. He is excited to return to his alma maters, the University of Michigan and Michigan State, and expects to hear cheers and boos at both. “But definitely all boos in Columbus at Ohio State,” he joked.

SSgt Mikula Speaks about Tour and His Solo


Percussionist Staff Sgt. Michael Hopkins joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in July 2018 and will perform on vibraphone alongside Staff Sgt. Mikula on John Williams’ Suite from Catch Me if You Can. Hopkins biography

Hopkins joined the Marine Band in 2018 and his first performance ever with the band was on the 2018 Midwest tour in Lincoln, Neb. “It’s a very special tour for me,” he said, “I just simply remember playing the National Anthem and I was playing the crash on the cymbals; I was really terrified because I didn’t want to screw up a crash!”

“I love playing vibraphone – it’s my favorite percussion instrument, so playing this piece is so fun and so musically interesting and entertaining,” Hopkins said, “But it’s very difficult both from a physical perspective and musically. There are licks all over the instrument that are kind of awkward and I have to add in a lot of double stickings to make it work. And there are parts where we’re playing exactly in unison, which is a challenge. If you mess up it’s obvious.

He added: “Williams writes these jazz and blues licks that are totally authentic and also really challenging to play but really fun when you get it right! And playing with Connor has been collaborative and so much fun—one of the most rewarding things I’ve done as a member of the band.”

Prior to joining “The President’s Own,” Hopkins performed with the Chicago Civic Orchestra and studied at Northwestern University as well as Cleveland Institute of Music, so he is looking forward to returning to Chicago and Cleveland. “To come back to the stages I performed on prior to my time in the Marine Band—it’s a surreal experience.” He is looking forward to visiting Chicago where he will see former professors and classmates from Northwestern, and in Cleveland he hopes to see his grandmother, aunt, and cousin, along with other friends and family members.

SSgt Hopkins Speaks about Tour and His Solo


Trumpet/cornetist Gunnery Sgt. Brandon Eubank joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in July 2008. Eubank will perform The Bride of the Waves by Herbert L. Clarke. Eubank biography

Eubank’s very first tour with “The President’s Own” was through the Midwest in 2008, right after he joined the band. “I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and have lots of family in the area; my grandfather was the son of an Iowa farmer so I have relatives there and all throughout the Midwest,” Eubank said. “My parents, my sister—they’ve been super supportive, attending almost every single concert from beginning band through youth orchestra.”

“This piece is by Herbert L. Clarke, a superstar cornet soloist and composer. Particularly in some of the cadenzas, it has a very operatic flavor, so I believe he was influenced by his time in the opera pit listening and playing Donazetti, Bellini, and all those early Italian operas,” Eubank said. “When I’m playing this piece, I think of myself as a character in an opera aria from that time. The lyrical section in the very beginning is so operatic and it’s clearly his attempt at writing something of an aria. Then it gets into more technical acrobatics. There is a main polka theme repeated three times; between those are band interludes, and it is technically demanding. But while it’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever played, through the entire last page there’s not one bar of rest! So that’s the challenge for me.”

Eubank added, “I think all trumpet and cornet players owe Clarke a debt of gratitude because he was this phenomenal player and a titan of the instrument who brought it into a soloistic sphere.”

Eubank enjoys bringing classical music to all areas of the country. “I love playing for people. I love that we help Americans interact with the military though through music. We bring a lot of pride and help Americans be proud of their service when they may not have been able to acknowledge it before.”

GySgt Eubank Speaks about Tour and His Solo


Flutist Master Gunnery Sgt. Elisabeth Plunk joined “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band in June 2004. Plunk will perform Jacques Ibert’s Allegro scherzando from Flute Concerto transcribed by Howard Bowlin. Plunk biography

“I’ve played on this tour before and there’s a lot of hometown pride in the Quad Cities, so I get an incredibly warm welcome from the crowd when I play there,” Plunk said. Plunk will see her parents on tour as well as a brother, other family members, and even her high school band director. She’s also looking forward to performing at Augustana College for several reasons: her mother is a graduate of Augustana College, her grandmother was a secretary there, and her great-grandmother has ties to the school as well. In addition, the concert co-sponsor, Dr. Jim Lambrecht, was her youth symphony director.

“I’m so proud to be from the area and representing in this way. The Quad Cities Youth Symphony Orchestra was pivotal to me growing up as a musician. Dr. Lambrecht was a great mentor. He was very encouraging to me as a young musician and I was very honored to play principal flute in that group. He programmed a lot of flute centerpieces and he just taught me so much about music. He taught me how to play in mixed meter and I played so much of the major band repertoire with him. He was not afraid to challenge us and that was very inspiring.”

While she was in high school, Plunk bought a cassette tape of renowned flutist James Galway performing flute concertos. That’s where she first heard Ibert’s Flute Concerto and explains that it’s “got a little bit of everything—fast triplets that go all over the range of the instrument, really exciting technical passages, a nice lyrical section in the middle and a flashy cadenza. It’s technically demanding and shows off the flute very well. It’s exciting to play but it’s also exciting for audiences because the music is kind of whirling by.”

Plunk loves the audiences on tour: “they’re so appreciative; but what I love most are the veterans who come and see us. I love that we can connect them again to their time service. You can see the smiles on their faces and that’s really exciting. It makes it all worth it.”

MGySgt Plunk Speaks about Tour and Her Solo