Notre Dame hosts the United States Marine Band for the first time
For the first time in Notre Dame history, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center hosted “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band on Thursday, October 27 in Leighton Concert Hall as a part of its 2023-2024 Presenting Series.
The sole mission and chief purpose of the U.S. Marine Band is to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps—the band proudly refers to itself as “The President’s Own.”
President John Adams officially formed the United States Marine Band by signing an Act of Congress on July 11, 1798 that restructured the U.S. Marine Corps and assembled 32 fifers and drummers. This established the United States Marine Band as America’s oldest professional musical band. The Marine Band carries on this tradition of drums and fifes by performing with mostly wind, brass, and percussion instruments, such as the classical flute, trumpet, and bass drum. Additionally, the rest of the band is composed of instruments like the stringed harp and double bass, saxophones, and clarinets.
Historically, military regulations dictated that the uniforms of noncombatants must be made with the opposite color of the normal uniforms. This would signify to the enemy that this unit was not armed and was on the battlefield for communication purposes only. “The President’s Own” is one of the few bands that continue this tradition today by donning their traditional red uniforms and striped trousers for performances.
Many band members graduate from premier music schools and participate in a strenuous audition process. As part of the band, they are considered to be on active duty while performing and must be physically fit and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) as a member of the U.S. Marines.
The renowned American composer, John Philip Sousa, was the 17th director of the U.S. Marine Band from 1880-1892. The band performed his famous marches The Northern Pines, Semper Fidelis, and The Stars and Stripes Forever during their Notre Dame performance on October 27. During Sousa’s tenure, he raised the bar for excellence in the band by increasing rigor of rehearsals, replacing the band’s music library with symphony orchestral pieces, and increasing instrumentation. Furthermore, he established the Marine Band as one of the first to produce audio recordings of their music, recording more than 400 unique works that were ready for purchase by 1892—a feat at the time.
It is because of Sousa and approval from President Benjamin Harrison that Americans across the nation have been able to hear the Marine Band in concert for over 100 years. Initially, the band’s intense performance schedule and their responsibilities to the president prevented them from going on tour. Sousa, however, insisted that the band perform across the country and he entreated President Harrison to allow the band to tour.
In his autobiography, Sousa recounted the moment when President Harris gave the band permission: “[Harrison said to Sousa] ‘Mrs. Harrison tells me that you are anxious to make a tour with the band. I was thinking myself of going out of town, and’—with a smile—‘it would be tough on Washington if both of us were away at the same time. I have thought it over, and believe the country would rather hear you than see me; so you have my permission to go.’”
Legendary Maestro John Williams conducted the Marine Band in celebration of their 215th birthday at the Kennedy Center in 2003. He composed For the President’s Own, a tribute to the Marine Band. His piece Throne Room and Finale from the Star Wars film, A New Hope, was performed with bravado as a part of the concert.
During their October 26 concert, the band performed selections from classic operatic works such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro and Richard Wagner’s Lohengrin. Master Gunnery Sergeant Kevin Bennear, the concert emcee, accompanied the band singing “Non più andrai” and artfully engaged the audience throughout the night with his introductions to pieces and light-hearted jokes.
The concert also entertained the audience by playing Herbert L. Clarke’s The Bride of the Waves, a composition that highlighted the skill of the solo cornet played by Gunnery Sergeant Brandon Eubank. Bennear introduced the piece by saying, “People would flock for miles to hear these famous virtuosic soloists perform, and truly none was more famous than Herbert L. Clarke.” The band also played James Stephenson’s recent work Fanfare for Democracy, a composition emphasizing both the beauty and the messiness of America’s democratic process. The packed concert finished with multiple standing ovations.
The DPAC concert attracted audiences from far and wide. Norm and Isabelle Rich, parents of a Notre Dame alum, told the Rover, “We came out because we enjoy this kind of music, and we were so glad that Notre Dame brings the service bands to the public.”
Though this was the first time that the Marine Band officially performed at Notre Dame, the U.S. Army Field Band and the U.S. Air Force Band of Mid-America have previously performed, making it an unofficial tradition for Notre Dame to host the military service bands when on tour. Recently, Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes” March and MIA Army veteran Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade” and “In the Mood” were played for the military appreciation game on October 28 against Pittsburgh.
Sean Martin, the Center’s Associate Director of Programming and Engagement, is responsible for coordinating and selecting the artists for the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center Presenting Series. He told the Rover, “We want to make sure that we are bringing a wide variety of performing arts in the disciplines of music, dance, and theatre. But most importantly, we want to make sure the artists we choose uphold a standard of excellence within their respective fields. ‘The President’s Own’ Marine Band is a perfect example of that.”
DPAC continues its presenting series hosting Lalo Cura and Orange Moon through the beginning of December. For more information on future events, visit DPAC’s Presenting Series Information Page.
Lydia Poe is a sophomore majoring in management and international business with an Italian minor. She is an avid fan of visiting Washington, D.C. and highly recommends stopping by the oldest Marine Barracks at 8th and I to watch the “The President’s Own” conduct their Friday Evening Parade. If you ever find yourself lost and need help navigating the Metro, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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