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For Band, History Resonates

Show tunes, music by George Gershwin and Richard Rodgers, and songs from current movies are favorites, Foley said.

Colburn likens the music selection process, in which he participated as assistant director, to designing a menu for dinner guests. The pieces must fit together, he said, but there must be variety, too.


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While practicing, the musicians resemble any concert band, sitting two to a music stand with bottles of diet cola and water at their feet.

They dress casually, though to adhere to the Marine code the men tuck in their shirts and sport the required fade haircuts.

Publicly, band members wear red coats with gold cords as they serenade presidents and state guests at the White House or accompany funeral rites at Arlington National Cemetery.

For some members, being part of the band is the realization of childhood dreams formed after hearing performances in Reno, Nev., or Interlochen, Mich. For others, "The President's Own" was simply another audition in the job search that somehow landed them on White House balconies and marching in military parades.

Nationally advertised through music journals and top music schools, auditions often draw 50 to 100 people, Ressler said. The winner of an audition is enlisted for duty with the Marine Band on a contract that prevents the musician from being transferred to another unit. Band members do not participate in basic training because they're already highly trained in music, Ressler said.

Because most who enlist join for the music rather than the military service, it often takes time for them to fully understand the organization's history, Colburn said. But the traditions -- which include beginning every concert with "The Star-Spangled Banner" and ending with "The Marines' Hymn" -- slowly become as important as the music. Nearly all the band's members stay until retirement.

"Gosh, in this organization, it's hard to find something that isn't traditional," Colburn said.

And then there's Sousa.

The internationally famous director led the band from 1880 to 1892.

The son of a military trombone player, Sousa joined the band as an apprentice musician at 13 and became a playing member four years later.

Though he left after three years, he returned to direct the band. During his tenure, Sousa began writing the marches for which he is known, including "The Gladiator," "The Washington Post March" and "Semper Fidelis," which is dedicated to the Corps. He wanted to rejoin the Marines when World War I started, but his request was rejected. Instead, he joined the Navy and trained its musicians.

If there's any question about the place Sousa holds in the band's memory, a visit to the director's office settles any doubts. Sousa is immortalized in four photographs and paintings, including one of him in a Navy uniform, and perhaps in a fifth -- there is speculation that, in the front row of a Civil War-era photograph of the band, a young Sousa is hiding between two trombone players.

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