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Nothing Like This Week in the U.S. Marine Band’s 223-Year History

January 19, 2021

“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, America’s oldest continuously active musical organization, founded in 1798 by an act of Congress, is believed to have made its inaugural debut in 1801 for Thomas Jefferson, the first president to be inaugurated in Washington, D.C. The Band has performed at all subsequent presidential inaugurations.

But in a first-time event, the 223-year-old band was evacuated yesterday, Jan. 18, from the rehearsal for the Wednesday inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president. It all happened amid the armed camp that Washington’s become after the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol.

The U.S. Secret Service said in an announcement that the Capitol complex was shut down “out of an abundance of caution” and the rehearsal resumed later in the day. The lockdown and evacuation became just another incident in advance of the nation’s most unusual and suspenseful change of administrations.

But the Band can weather it. Just how old is the group? John Philip Sousa, who initiated its concert tours in 1891, was its 17th director.

The man now in charge, Colonel Jason K. Fettig, has asked American composer Peter Boyer to compose a special fanfare to be performed at the 2021 inauguration. Boyer’s new work, Fanfare for Tomorrow, will be performed as part of the one-hour prelude music to the event.

Boyer, who has a long association with the Band, this time had just over a week to compose and orchestrate the piece. Boyer says Fettig had cautioned him about writing too high for the brass, due to the very cold conditions in which the piece would be performed outdoors.

“While I did keep that in mind while composing, apparently I didn’t do so fully enough ... When I delivered the score to Col. Fettig, he loved the piece, but said that the high trumpet writing, while it would be fine for the Marine Band to play in the concert hall, would be too precarious to perform in the freezing cold.

“So after the first rehearsal, he asked me to transpose the piece down a whole step, to make it less precarious to play. I had just a few hours to create and deliver this lower key version of the piece to the Marine Band. Happily, it seems to have worked out well.”

The Band previously commissioned Boyer to compose a work for its 220th anniversary in 2018, and the ensemble has performed his music some 25 times, including on the group’s 2018 and 2019 tours.

Fanfare for Tomorrow began as a brief piece for solo French horn, originally commissioned by the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra last year, as part of their Fanfare Project in response to the pandemic. Boyer significantly expanded and developed that music for a full concert band for this commission.

“In these extraordinarily challenging days for our country,” Boyer said, “I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute some optimistic music to an historic occasion, at which Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will take their oaths of office as the next president and vice president of the United States. This commission represents one of the greatest honors of my life as an American composer.”

Boyer’s Grammy-nominated work Ellis Island: The Dream of America for actors and orchestra, has become one of the most performed American orchestral works of the last 15 years, with over 200 performances by more than 100 orchestras since its 2002 premiere, and a PBS broadcast last year featuring Pacific Symphony.

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].