Magazine article Insight on the News

Foley Fine-Tunes 'President's Own'; Col. Timothy W. Foley Is Tasked with Keeping the U.S. Marine Band Firmly Rooted in Its Great Tradition While Also Ensuring That the Group Marches Forward

Magazine article Insight on the News

Foley Fine-Tunes 'President's Own'; Col. Timothy W. Foley Is Tasked with Keeping the U.S. Marine Band Firmly Rooted in Its Great Tradition While Also Ensuring That the Group Marches Forward

Article excerpt

Byline: Stephen Goode, INSIGHT

Col. Timothy W. Foley became the 26th director of the United States Marine Band on July 11, 1996, the organization's 198th birthday. The Marine Band debuted at the then-under-construction White House on New Year's Day 1801, when John Adams was president. In March of that year it played for Thomas Jefferson's presidential inaugural, and a tradition was set: the U.S. Marine Band has performed at every presidential inaugural since that time.

Jefferson, who played the violin, dubbed the band "The President's Own," and it is a moniker that has stuck. Americans are familiar with its performances at the White House and on the 50-day tours that members of the band take every fall, a practice begun a century ago under John Philip Sousa, the group's legendary 17th director and the composer of such great marches as "The Stars and Stripes Forever."

Foley began study of the clarinet back in his hometown of Berwick, Pa. "I wanted to play a musical instrument and my folks decided to give me a clarinet because the clarinet was the least expensive. They figured that if I quit after a couple of weeks, why then they wouldn't have invested too much in it," he tells Insight.

But the instrument took. Foley worked with a Philadelphia orchestra clarinetist while still in public school and then studied at Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. He's been with the Marine Band since 1968, when he began as an assistant solo clarinetist. He eventually became assistant director and now is director. Insight spoke with Foley at his office in the Marine Barracks on Capitol Hill, the Marine Band's home and the place where it provides popular concerts on Friday evenings every summer. It's Website is www.marineband.

Insight: The Marine Band has a great tradition behind it. In July it will be celebrating its 205th birthday. How much does that tradition play in your thinking about what the band should be doing, what music it should play?

Col. Timothy W. Foley: It's a huge part in your thinking. You do think of yourself as a part of a historical and musical continuum. The Marine Band is, after all, the oldest musical organization in the country on a continuously active basis.

It's our mission to provide music for the president and the commandant of the Marine Corps. The only president we didn't play for was George Washington. You're aware of looking backward and forward. You're thinking about where the band came from, and you think about keeping the flame alive and looking forward to where you want the band to go.

We're all about tradition, but we don't want to do the same thing over and over. We've got to be out in front in terms of the music we perform, the people with whom we perform, the people we commission to write music for us. Our overall musical standard must be that of the leading musical organization of our kind.

Q: You're a band that plays all kinds of music, not just marches and patriotic tunes. But perhaps the public isn't aware just how versatile your musicians are.

A: When people talk about the Marine Band they sometimes refer to us as the "Marine Marching Band." The two words, "marching" and "band," seem to go together. But actually we're not a marching band. We do march at the summertime Marine Barracks concerts on Friday, and when we do a funeral in Arlington [National Cemetery] we march from the chapel to the grave site. But other than that, next to nothing, so the band is really a sit-down concert organization, which we have been since we came to Washington and played concerts on the banks of the Potomac River in 1801 when we were getting established here in the nation's capital.

We've got about 110 musicians. There's one singer and 25 string players, brass, wind, percussion. We have a chamber orchestra, a dance band, a country band.

What makes the Marine Band unique is the same thing that makes the Marine Corps unique. …

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