Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

'The President's Own' Marine Band Includes a Phi Kappa Phi Member

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

'The President's Own' Marine Band Includes a Phi Kappa Phi Member

Article excerpt

When I graduated from the celebrated Eastman School of Music in 1986, I considered myself an artist with aspirations of making classical saxophone a respected and sought-after platform for musical expression.

I never would have imagined joining the Marine Corps, but 21 years ago 1 did just that and became the first and only female saxophonist in "The President's Own" United States Marine Band.

I auditioned on my 24th birthday and was a little hesitant to accept the job since I would have to enlist for four years. I worried that the military and I might not mix.

The first rehearsal put my mind at ease. The other musicians were artists and professionals and I felt right at home. I knew this was the perfect place for a career, one that would give me a chance to express my musicality and serve my country.

In more than two decades with the Marine Band, I've played for six inaugurations (every one since George H. W. Bush), hundreds of White House functions, hundreds of concerts, and countless funerals, dedications and other historic events. Here are some of my most memorable musical and patriotic experiences with the Marine Band.

One singular sensation

My first big White House event was the taping of In Performance at the White House (which began in 1978 with a recital by pianist Vladimir Horowitz) in August 1988 for the Public Broadcasting Service.

We were conducted by Marvin Hamlisch and backed performances by alumni from the original cast of the hit Broadway musical A Chorus Line, which earned Hamlisch (along with lyricist Edward Kleban) a Tony Award for best score. We also supported entertainer Shirley Jones and comedian/singer Stubby Kaye, among others. The show was recorded in front of the White House with an authence that included President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan.

It was surreal performing outside with the bright lights, glitter and celebrities. I remember getting a photo of the occasion from the White House and being thrilled.

President Reagan was charismatic yet down-to-earth. He always thanked what he called "his" band for performing at events he attended.

He would invite the band to eat at the end of White House events. We were encouraged to partake, and we did!

Standing ovations from comrades

In February 1990 the band traveled to Russia and made history as the first U.S. military band to tour the former Soviet Union. I had a little trepidation about going to a Communist country while the Cold War was still being fought, but apprehensions melted away once we met the warm-hearted people.

Soviet military bands greeted us in each city, performing their national anthem and ours, and women dressed in traditional garb offered us bread with salt, a Soviet ritual of welcome. I got tears in my eyes every time. I was so proud to represent my country!

Every stage hung an American and Russian flag. We had a difficult time communicating verbally, but, as musicians, we could sit down with our instruments and perform together.

In Moscow, we were told that performing Tchaikovsky's booming "1812 Overture" with its anthem "God Save the Tsar!" was frowned upon (since Tsarist rule was long over) and new endings to that piece were passed out. That made me appreciate how free we really are in the United States.

Authences always gave us standing ovations and threw red carnations (the symbolic flower of Communism) on the stage. The applause was so different than what we were used to. Russian authences would start clapping at different speeds, then gradually all clap in rhythm together. That was the signal they wanted us to play encores.

At one hall, authence members came onstage and gave us presents. One person fought his way to the center of the band and gave me a beautiful glass vase. I still treasure it.

All sorts of presents

President Bill Clinton threw the band a 200th birthday party at the White House in July 1998. …

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