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An American Dream: Marine Band Assistant Director 1st Lt Jose Toranzo

17 May 2024 | SSgt Tucker Broadbooks United States Marine Band

On March 1, 2024, 1st. Lt. Jose Toranzo was promoted to his current rank and officially assumed the position of Assistant Director of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band.

Toranzo’s path to join “The President’s Own” was an eventful one. His family immigrated to the United States from Cuba when he was eight years old and faced a difficult transition as they adjusted to their new life in Florida. Despite the challenges, His family found ways to contribute to their adopted home and Toranzo quickly became interested in music.

“Everything that we had was so meaningful, there was always an underlying expression of gratitude,” Toranzo said. “I feel like music really began to become my outlet of peace and being able to escape from the adversity of finances or even just the basic things like food and water.”

Toranzo credits Rusell Seifter, his music teacher and former principal horn of the Miami Symphony Orchestra, for drawing him toward the horn.

“I was fascinated by the way the horn looked, and I was hooked hearing Russell’s sounds on the instrument, that noble sound. So I picked it up and stayed with it through high school. I joined the Greater Miami Youth Symphony, did the Tri-State Band Festival, and the horn just stuck around. I really loved music that much more because my horn allowed me to express myself. I always had a voice with my instrument.”

When asked what music meant to him growing up, Toranzo had just one thing to say:

“Music brought light when there was darkness.”

As he neared his high school graduation, Toranzo had a decision to make. A talented musician at Coral Gables Senior High School in Florida, he hoped to pursue music as a career but knew he could not afford to go to college to study music. In 2014, a friend talked him into visiting a Marine Corps recruiter.

“I joined because I saw it as a great opportunity to give back to my country and to be able to continue to pursue music as a career path. I actually joined the Marine Corps behind my parents’ back. My friend Ernesto was going through the process of joining the Marine Corps through the MEOP (Musician Enlistment Option Program) and I remember he gave me a rundown of the options and took me to the recruiter’s office. The recruiter convinced me, and I started to sign the paperwork.”

After enlisting in the Marine Corps, Toranzo attended Recruit Training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina and Marine Combat Training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He then reported to the Naval School of Music in Virginia Beach, Va.

In August 2015, he was assigned to the Parris Island Marine Band, where he served as an instrumentalist.

“Some of my most vivid memories as a young Marine are at Parris Island. After graduating Recruit Training and going through that whole process, I remember my first marching ceremony with the horn. I can remember feeling overwhelming pride having that uniform on and marching and playing alongside my brothers and sisters in arms. I will never forget that.”

Following his tour of duty with the Parris Island Marine Band, Toranzo was selected to attend the Unit Leader Course at the Naval School of Music. After completing the Unit Leader Course in August 2019, he received orders to the 1st Marine Division Band, where he served as squad leader, section leader, drum major, and enlisted conductor. In November 2021, Toranzo was selected to serve as the horn instructor for the Navy and Marine Corps music programs at the Naval School of Music. During his time there, he was also the rehearsal division instructor.

Although his parents were shocked when a recruiter first spoke with them about his choice to enlist, the Marine Corps has become an integral part of the Toranzo family’s story. Toranzo’s family was present for his promotion to 1st Lieutenant, where his younger brother, Juan, a Marine Sergeant, gave him the traditional “first salute.” The ceremony was missing their father, who died from COVID-19 in 2020, but Toranzo knows he would have been thrilled to see what his son has achieved.

“When I reflect on being here at the Marine Band, if I could, for a moment in time, just see my dad and tell him ‘Hey, Pop, here we are,’ that's something that I hope that he knows. My father was somebody who was encouraging along the way. At first, he didn’t want me to pursue music because if I’m not going to college for music, how am I going to be a professional musician? Once I became a military musician, he was rooting for me, and my being a Marine was something that he was so proud of.”

Since joining “The President’s Own,” Toranzo’s impact has been immediate. As Assistant Director, his responsibilities include conducting the Marine Band and Marine Chamber Orchestra at concerts and ceremonies in the National Capital Region and at the White House. He made his debut on April 14 conducting Karl L. King’s march “Cyrus the Great” and Alfred Reed’s El Camino Real during a Marine Band concert entitled “Epics and Fantasies.” He is excited to help shape the future of the Marine Band as Assistant Director, and the significance of being a leader in “The President’s Own” is not lost on him:

“My family and I had a dream of coming to America, and I think that I live the American dream every single day. On my drive to work, I pass the Pentagon, look at the Capitol and see the Washington Monument. It’s a reminder to me every day of that dream and that things are possible. This opportunity has been one of my wildest dreams, and it’s something that I look forward to doing for many, many years. I can’t wait to add to the Marine Band’s history and to the sound of America’s music.”