GREENVILLE, N.C. --
A picture is worth a thousand words, and those same words have the power to paint a mental portrait in the mind of the reader. What story, then, can a series of musical notes tell?
A simple line of music can bring to imagination a wide array of emotions and concepts where, like the famous clarinet opening of George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” a clean succession of notes can flow and ripple like a smooth stream of water. Music can tell century-old fables, allowing the listener to not only experience the genre of that time period, but to also feel raw emotion channeled through simple air blowing across reeds and bows across strings.
Yet in a time where the beauty of the musical note has been reduced to allowing guttural screams to pass as lyrics and a monotone computerized beat to pass for instrumentals, the operatic and symphonic genres may be drawing their last dying breaths.
However, with the United States Marine Band, “The President’s Own,” and their annual tours across the nation showcasing high-class musical scores, such music will never die out. This was exemplified when the band took their performance to the Eastern Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. Oct. 3 and the Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, N.C. the following evening.
“We are the oldest continuously-performing ensemble, maintaining a history that started in 1798 by act of Congress,” said Capt. Michelle Rakers, assistant director of the Marine Band. “As long as there is a Marine Corps, there will be the Marine Band, taking this music across the country.”
Comprised of 154 total band members split into two orchestras as well as a small arrangement for the foyer of the White House, the Marine Band stands separate from its sister Marine Drum and Bugle Corps in that none of the musicians are combat-trained Marines; their music is their one and only mission.
“The members don’t go to boot camp, receive no combat instruction, don’t deploy and are assigned to no other units,” said Rakers. “Their priority is to provide the highest level of professional music to the president and the commandant of the Marine Corps.”
The band members do go through their own training regime, albeit not the same as the average active-duty Marine. After approximately 20-plus years of growing up playing their specific instrument, they audition for a spot in the band, going up against at least a hundred other individuals, going through several trial rounds for chances to qualify. After attaining a spot on the band, members are enlisted as staff sergeants and receive a two-month training program in which they learn Marine Corps customs and courtesies and other aspects of active-duty life.
“A lot of Marines look down on the fact that we don’t go through recruit training or get the chance to deploy,” said Staff Sgt. Preston Hardage, trombone player with the band. “However, the fact of the matter is, say, if we get a butt stock to the chops in boot camp, we’re no longer useful to the band. We have to be able to provide the highest level of professional music, and that is our priority.”
As attendants crowded into the Wright Auditorium of the ECU campus, seats quickly became scarce as the young and old alike flocked in anticipation of the band’s performance.
Orchestral arrangements included a variety of marches by John Philip Sousa, 17th director of the Marine Band, an excerpt from “Symphonic Dances” by Rachmaninoff and the popular “Seguidilla” from Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” as beautifully orated by mezzo-soprano Staff Sgt. Sara Dell’Omo.
“I’ve watched the band perform before through video, but never live,” said Chelsea Keane, second year graduate student studying voice performance at the university. “When music is played very well, it can be a truly moving and invigorating experience, and (the band isn’t) letting anyone down tonight.”
For two hours, the Marine Band energized the audience with both the powerful and soothing qualities only a well-practiced ensemble could deliver. The acoustics of the auditorium and the crisp, vibrant notes resonating throughout the air made the music sound as if it were painstakingly perfected in a recording studio and mixed electronically. However, this is certainly not the case as the men and women of the band sat before the scores of listeners and delivered the quality of music that justifies their position as the commander in chief’s band.
To close their performance, the band enthusiastically played the marches to the four Department of Defense branches as well as that of the U.S. Coast Guard with retirees from the services standing during their respective song. The glow of admiration and pride on the faces of the audience were more than enough to tell of the effect the Marine Band had on them.
“It’s the glow of patriotism that comes from the audience that makes it worthwhile,” said Rakers. “Not only do we give them an evening well spent, but we would also like to leave them with a great sense of hope for our country’s future.”
The Greenville and Fayetteville concerts in North Carolina were part of the band’s 2011 concert tour along the East Coast, also visiting Maryland, Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama.