Yesterday evening I had the privilege to attend a concert performance by "The President's Own" United States Marine Band. (Before I receive any corrections, I too thought they were called the Marine Corps Band, but the band's official documentation does not use the word "corps", so I am naming them as they name themselves.) We all know that I was Army, not Marines, but I have no problem giving praise where it is due and it is certainly due in this case.
The Marine Band was established by an act of Congress in 1798 and is, thus, the oldest and longest running military and professional musical organization in the country. Their primary mission is to "provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps" and they are the only musical organization, military or otherwise, with such a specific mission. They have performed for every Presidential inauguration since Thomas Jefferson and it was Jefferson, himself, who gave them the additional title "The President's Own".
The Marine Band is not what one might normally think of when considering a military band. It's members are auditioned in the same way that one would audition for any major symphony or orchestra and with the same rigorous standards. Many band members hold advanced degrees in music and they are recruited into the Marines specifically for service in the band. The Marine Band is, in short, both a prestigious musical organization and a proud symbol of American patriotism.
They did not fall short in either regard last night.
The program was a mixture of patriotic music (mostly composed or arranged by Marine Band alumni, such as "The March King" John Philip Sousa) and works from modern American composers (such as Aaron Copland and John Williams) but I almost feel that I have to say the highlight was the beginning. Believe me, you have never heard The Star-Spangled Banner performed in all it's glory until you have heard it performed by The United States Marine Band. The only thing that could have improved that (which I would not learn was possible until later in the program) was if they had it sung as well as performed. It did turn out that they could have done so. The concert moderator, Gunnery Sergeant Kevin Bennear, sang a patriotic medley with the band toward the end of the program, and his voice was the equal of anything I have ever heard from Broadway. I would loved to have heard his take on the National Anthem.
The band was conducted, for most of the performance, by their senior Director, Colonel Michael J. Colburn, and he was almost as much fun to watch as the band itself. His direction was spirited and precise, with plenty of flair but no wasted movement. The Assistant Director, Captain Michelle A. Rakers, and, though I don't believe she was quite up to the caliber of Colonel Colburn, my opinion might be slightly biased here. Captain Rakers directed the single piece by Copland, and I am just not a big fan of Copland's work. It's too busy with not enough focus.
The final name that must be mentioned individually is Master Sergeant Matthew Harding, the band's trumpet soloist. The band performed the allegro con brio from James Stephenson's Trumpet Concerto which is, essentially, one of the most complex and daring trumpet solos ever written, with orchestral accompaniment. The Master Sergeant proved the first part of his rank with his amazing performance on such a difficult piece.
I have never heard this band perform before and I doubt I will have the opportunity again, but I am grateful for this one chance. It was an evening well-spent and a truly inspirational performance. If you ever get the opportunity to see The United States Marine Band perform, take it. Whether you are a fan of this particular music or not (and, you must be able to tell, I am) you will find the time spent to be uplifting and thoroughly rewarding.