For Marine Band, History Resonates
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.
Playing at Reagan's funeral last month is among the most memorable moments of Gunnery Sgt. Mark Latimer's career. But Latimer, 36, a Leesburg resident who is the band's principal percussionist, said he also appreciates his position as a rare stable job in music.
"In the music business, it is so competitive and the jobs are few and far between," said Latimer, who joined the band in 1997. "Many of the orchestra jobs are not secure."
Gunnery Sgt. Janet Bailey, 31, grew up in McLean but learned of the Marine Band only after she began freelancing as a violinist. Her audition for the band was only her second one and, though she had no military background, she took what she heard was a good job.
Bailey, who now lives in Round Hill, said she has little contact with Marines outside the band but that its traditions reinforce its role in the service.
"I've had to learn a lot about what the Marine Corps is all about," she said. "We're a little bit isolated in the band because we all come in as staff sergeants and we really only play music."
Bailey primarily plays with the band's chamber orchestra and in small ensembles. "It's a close-knit little group of people, all really talented musicians," she 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 has 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.
The baton that Foley passed to Colburn was given to Sousa in 1892 and bears his name in gold engraving. Sousa's Tiffany lamp, with a blue and green stained-glass shade decorated with outlines of fireflies, stands in a corner of the director's office. Across the room, a cabinet holds medals Sousa won for skeet shooting and other outdoor activities. The new band barracks may be named John Philip Sousa Hall.
Another Sousa portrait overlooks the room where band members often practice, an ever-present reminder of the tradition to which band members belong.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company