The main emotion I felt last night at Strathmore, while I watched The President’s Own United States Marine Band, was pride. These very talented musicians gave up the chance for a professional career to join the armed forces. Many of them have served tours of duty. More than a few have been in the marines more than 10 years When they all came out in their bright red uniforms with shining brass buttons with their perfectly shining instruments, the brass gleaming, the only first word that came to mind, if you live in this country, was pride.
These men and women stayed perfectly in tune and played from the heart. Their abilities in their chosen instruments, including their own voice, were undeniably superb. Last night, under the leadership of their Director, Lieutenant Colonel Jason K Fettig, they saluted veterans from World War II and their families. Of course, they started off with a moving rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.
Often, they used pieces written for full orchestras that were transcribed into music for a band. The only stringed instruments were a harp and bass fiddle, and yet, you never noticed the strings are missing. The transcriptions were flawless. The first was Midway March by John Williams written for the movie Midway just after his win for Jaws. This piece is a fine example of Williams’ ability to write memorable marches. It was transcribed by Paul Lavendar, and was definitely a rousing beginning.
Next, we heard the more familiar music of Rodgers and Hammerstein arranged by SSgt Scott Ninmer. Singing the lyrics were GySgt Sara Dell’Omo, mezzo-soprano and MSgt Kevin Bennear, baritone.Their spectacular voices perfomed some of our favorites from the musical South Pacific. The two also reminded us of the plot of the movie along the way,for those who may not have ever seen the show or movie or whose memories are a little vague. The final duet of “Some Enchanted Evening“ was my favorite.
We were then treated to music from Band of Brothers, written by Michael Kamen and arranged by 1stLt Ryan J. Nowin while listening to the renowned journalist, novelist and former marine, Jim Lehrer read a letter at Christmas to his children from 1stLt Leonard Smith Isacks Jr., USMC in 1944. The marine died a shortly after the letter from injuries occurred on Iwo Jima. It was a tearful reminder of the sacrifice of those men and women during World War II.
At the end of the first half of the concert, the band skillfully played Aaron Copland’s Finale from Symphony No. 3 which includes much of the music from Fanfare for the Common Man. The music was transcribed by MSgt Donald Patterson. Copland is probably one of the best American composers, and this piece is one that we all recognize immediately. It was played with great feeling and precision. (These marines may sit perfectly still except for a few tapping feet, but they have their own style and certainly feel their music.)
The second half began with several members of the band playing the wonderful Louis Prima piece that Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa made so famous, Sing Sing Sing. The drummer, whose name I wished I knew so I could acknowlege him, was more than equal to the task, as were all the musicians. This was not listed in the program and was a nice surprise.
It was followed by the most recent pieces of the night, American Symphony by Adam Schoenberg. It was the world premiere of the transcription by MSgt Donald Patterson. Although several parts were written for violins and celli, you never noticed their absence. The use of other instruments to fill that absence was amazing. The piece was written after the election of President Obama and is filled with the feeling of hope many had at the time. Mr. Schoenberg states the piece pays homage to Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber. and George Gershwin. Mr. Schoenberg was there to take a bow.
Again, Mr. Lehrer came out to read the words of Abraham Lincoln in Copland’s Lincoln Portrait. It is actually written to include the text of President Lincoln’s speeches and letters. It was written shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was written, according to the composer, to “suggest something of the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln’s personality…, something of his gentleness and simplicity of spirit.” He stated further, “The quotations from Lincoln’s writings and speeches are bound together by narrative passages, simple enough to mirror the dignity of Lincoln’s words.”
The concluding piece, A Salute to the Armed Forces of the United States of America, arranged by Thomas Knox, paid tribute to each branch of the armed forces. There is nothing more patriotic than listening to the President’s Own United States Marine Band play military music. The Director had members of the audience who were or had been in the armed forces or who had family in the service stand. Then, I realized that although they are called The President’s Own, they really, in this country, belong to ‘we the people’ and that the feeling of pride comes from that.
The band will be playing next on Sunday, March 8 and Sunday, March 22, 2015 at NOVA in Alexandria, VA as well as several other sites in the DC Metro area. If you have the chance, go to see them. The musical selections may be different, but the talent is the same. Find out about their free concerts on their website.
The President’s Own United States Marine Band performing Time Capsule 1945: The 70th Anniversary of the End of World War II was performed on Monday, February 23, 2015 at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For all future Strathmore events, check their calendar of events.
WILLIAMS/ trans. Lavender | Midway March
RODGERS/HAMMERSTEIN/ arr. Ninmer* | Scenario from
Master Sgt. Kevin Bennear, baritone soloist
Gunnery Sgt. Sara Dell’Omo, mezzo-soprano soloist
COPLAND/ trans. Patterson* | Finale from Symphony No. 3
RODGERS/ trans. Leidzen | Guadalcanal March
SCHOENBERG/ trans. Patterson* | American Symphony
world première of version for concert band
COPLAND/ trans. Beeler | Lincoln Portrait
Jim Lehrer, narrator
Here is a copy of their 2015 concert season.