Semper Fidelis: The United States Marine Band Performs at State High


Chase Mitchell

The Marine Band performing at State High.

Chase Mitchell, Staff Writer

“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band made a stop in State College for their second show of their Northeastern Tour, putting on a spectacle at the State High Performing Arts center on Monday, Oct. 3, 2022. The group is under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel Jason K. Fettig who is the 28th director of the band, following in the footsteps of icons like John Philip Sousa. 

The performance was rooted in history with pieces by The March King like The Pathfinder of Panama, and The Stars and Stripes Forever. However, the concert also blended in some new works like Press On by Jessica Meyer and Come Sunday by Omar Thomas. 

The Marine Band was founded on July 11, 1798, by an act of congress and is the oldest continuously active professional musical organization in the country. They are the only musical organization whose primary mission is to provide music for the President of the United States. The group has performed for every President since John Adams and has been playing at events in the White House since their debut there in 1801.

State College Band Director Paul Leskowicz, who organized the concert, described his enthusiasm for the event. 

“It’s a great honor and privilege to have these musicians come here to our school and perform for our community and our students. Personally, it’s professionally satisfying as well, to see that level of musicianship right here as a live example for our students that they can aspire to and work to emulate in their own playing in our own school ensembles as well,” Leskowicz stated. 

Leskowicz then further proclaimed, “Our military musicians do a great deal to serve our country in various ways. Providing hope and moments of uplifting musical experiences really raises the heart and the soul, so we’re grateful for them, that they spend so much time honing their craft at performing music at the highest possible level and then to have our government support that in these ensembles, not just in the Washington D.C. ensembles, but the other field ensembles throughout the whole military.”

Whether you were a veteran watching with your grandchildren, an actively serving member of the military, or even if you have little interest in the military, it was a performance that everyone enjoyed.

The group kicked off the show with The Pathfinder of Panama, a jolly march written by John Philip Sousa dedicated to the Panama Canal and the Panama-Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco in 1915. 

Slowing things down a bit, the band then performed Burnet Tuthill’s Overture Brilliante. Marine Band Director Col. Jason K. Fettig chose a diverse mix of programs from traditional band repertoire and marches to instrumental solos, which is a nod to the group’s 17th Director, John Philip Sousa. 

Moving on, the group played Colonial Song written by Australian composer Percy Grainger. A highly sentimental piece, Grainger initially wrote Colonial Song as a work intended for piano and a gift for his mother, but it is now a commonly used heart-warming piece for concert bands.

Speaking of piano, the band moved to works by jazz composer George Gershwin with his Three Preludes, featuring soloist SSgt Kristin Bowers on the clarinet. Three Preludes is a collection of short piano pieces by Gershwin, which were first performed at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City in 1926. Each prelude is a well-known example of early-20th-century American classical music, as influenced by jazz. Jay Norris transcribed the pieces for an ensemble like the Marine Band to be able to play.

The group then performed a two-movement tribute to the Hammond organ’s role in black worship services. The first movement, Testimony, is a blues piece that features a tenor saxophone in the beginning and it sounds like Clarence Clemons is up there on stage. The second movement, Shout!, is an incredibly upbeat piece meant to represent The spirit taking over the service. After performing this riot of a piece that brought excitement to the whole crowd, the band then took an intermission leaving everyone on their seats wondering what they were going to play next. 

Upon returning from break, the band resumed with Celebrate Discovery! by everyone’s favorite, John Williams. This piece is full of joy and has an uplifting feeling to it. It is very reminiscent of the Olympics theme, which Williams also wrote, but is much more exciting and more triumphant.

After Williams’ fanfare, the group played Jessica Meyer’s Press On, which was commissioned specifically by the “President’s Own” Marine Band earlier in this year. Meyer wrote in a personal entry over the piece that she chose the title because “choosing persistence in the face of adversity or uncertainty has been a test for all of us in recent years. One’s mindset and determination is key, even when the future throws us another curveball yet again.”

The band then performed a phenomenal rendition of some songs from The Great American Songbook, arranged by SSgt Scott Ninmer, in a Big Band type feel with Vocal Soloist MGySgt Kevin Bennear showing off his impressive vocal chops in a performance that earned the audience’s roaring applause. 

Moving back to marches, the band’s penultimate song was The Stars and Stripes Forever, which is arguably Sousa’s most recognizable piece and stands out among the rest. It was a very uplifting, patriotic performance of our nation’s national march and the crowd loved it. 

To close things out, the band played A Salute to the Armed Forces, a medley in which every branch of the military’s song gets played and people in the crowd who served in each branch have the opportunity to get recognized and take pride in their service. Music truly has an effect on people and the world like nothing else. 

The medley was a very fitting end to the incredible concert which was a very heart and soul-raising performance, just like Leskowicz said.