“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band awed the crowd and inspired the next generation of musicians in Beckley, West Virginia, Sept. 16.
Though the performance only lasted the night, it made a substantial impact on the community’s youth, exposing them to the arts and an often overlooked career path.
Locals of all ages filed into the Woodrow Wilson High School auditorium to witness the performance, a treat that only comes to town once every five years.
“Great. Phenomenal. Fantastic. It was amazing, I don’t know what else to say,” said Joseph Williams, a senior bandsman at Woodrow Wilson High School. “That’s what I want to do with my future.”
The Marine Corps has more than 300 job fields, including the Musician Enlistment Option Program, one of the few jobs in the military that requires interested persons to pass an audition and interview even before enlisting. Founded in 1798 by an Act of Congress, the “President’s Own” Marine Band is America's oldest, continuously active professional musical organization.
“I heard of the Marine Band, but wasn’t prepared for the performance” said Williams, 18, from Beckley, West Virginia. “It went beyond expectations. My back is on the chair, and I’m sitting with my hands over my mouth in shock.”
The band's mission is to perform for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, but is celebrated for its role at the White House and its annual schedule of more than 500 dynamic public performances.
“The kids don’t see this kind of thing,” said Carolyn Wilson, a 42-year-old Beckley native. “You’re taking them out of their comfort zone, out of their element and they’re getting to see a different part of life. Most of these kids have never been to a concert before much less a military concert – much less the Marines.”
As a part of their training, Marine musicians endure the same 13 weeks of boot camp as other Marines before attending Marine Combat Training in North Carolina and the School of Music in Virginia Beach, Virginia. This unique facility, the largest of its kind in the world, provides basic to advanced levels of instruction geared toward preparing Sailors and Marines for the challenges of performance within a wide variety of military ensembles.
“I’ve wanted to be in the Marine Band since I joined my high school band three years ago,” said Cora Pratt, a senior at Bluefield High School. “My whole family is Marines, so I wanted to take my passion for music and intertwine it with my family’s legacy.”
Graduates of the Naval School of Music go on to become musical ambassadors throughout the United States and abroad as members of U.S. Navy and Marine Corps Bands. Marine musicians support military ceremonies, official functions, community relations, personnel procurement programs, and troop "esprit de corps."
“I like perfection, and Marines seem to strive for perfection,” said Pratt, 17, from Princeton, West Virginia. “I’m excited to see a band so meticulously work their craft. I think seeing this concert will boost my confidence and give me a level of perfection to strive for.”
As Marines, many musicians will also deploy in support of various operations. In combat, musicians will often provide security on a temporary basis during periods of heightened combat intensity when use of the band in its primary role would be impractical.
“My son is a senior at Woodrow Wilson High School and in the band,” said Wilson. “A Marine musician came out and talked to his band and he is so gung-ho right now. He is so excited to the point that he is thinking about going into the military just to be in the band.”
As the band’s performance came to an end that night, the crowd left inspired. The band’s presence opened doors that students may have never known existed.
“The performance was amazing,” said Williams. “I just kept thinking ‘this is me, this is where I’m supposed to be.’”