America's oldest musical organization inaugurated a new leader Saturday evening during a "change of command" concert and ceremony at the Schlesinger Concert Hall in Alexandria.
After leading the U.S. Marine Band for eight years, the 26th director of "The President's Own," Col. Timothy W. Foley, passed the baton to Lt. Col. Michael J. Colburn, assistant director since 1996. Before relinquishing the podium completely, however, he conducted the program's first half, demonstrating the premier wind ensemble's continued versatility and polished perfection.
Foley's precise conducting style conjured the thrilling cymbal-crashing moments you expect to hear from a military band. But it was the group's many softer moments, at times so translucent you could hear the delicate harp flourishes, that made for an exciting performance.
From the wistful melodies of Percy Grainger's "Hill-Song" No. 2 to Victor Herbert's winsome "The Three Solitaires," featuring Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Harding, Staff Sgt. Michael Mergen and Staff Sgt. Joel Williams on cornet, the band responded readily to Foley's subtle gestures -- a simple hand-clasp, an elevation of his left hand -- with poignant intensity and seamless phrasing. Foley's predecessor, retired Col. John R. Bourgeois, returned to the podium to conduct John Philip Sousa's "Convention of the Cordials and Wines." The Marine Band's bombastic entrances coincided with the former leader's sudden motions on the podium, but for the most part his conducting remained minimalist, his hands rarely leaving the confines of his midsection.
For this historic occasion, each half of the concert program was bookended with marches by Sousa, who was the Marine Band's 17th director. Foley ended his directorial tenure of the President's Own with the Marine Corps' official march, Sousa's "Semper Fidelis." He received a lengthy ovation, one well deserved after a 36-year career with the group -- 11 years as clarinetist and 17 years as assistant director.
In the ceremony officiated by Gen. William L. Nyland, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, Foley passed the 1892 Sousa baton to Colburn, designating him the Marine Band's 27th director. After remarks by all three, Colburn took the podium to lead the all-American second half.
With a bouncy, fluid conducting style, Colburn assured that the country's 206-year-old musical tradition is in secure hands. He inspired long crescendos with the heft of a 747 taking off in Sousa's march "The Directorate," maintained a zippy momentum in Bernstein's "Candide" Overture and coaxed a lazy undulation in an arrangement of Gershwin's Second Prelude from the Three Preludes.
The only aural hint of the leadership shift arrived during a few measures of Morton Gould's "American Salute" -- a slight rushing in the vibraphone accompaniment. But the new director handled it deftly, a mere aberration that was soon erased by the winds' haunting melody weaving its way through.
To end the concert, the band pulled out Sousa's perennial crowd-pleaser "The Stars and Stripes Forever."