When an online clip of Barack Obama singing Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" went viral earlier this year, the public may have assumed the President now provided the musical talent of the White House.
But since it was established by an Act of Congress in 1798 - making it America's oldest professional musical organization - "The President's Own" United States Marine Band has been the unsung, but not unheard, musical heroes of The Capitol through the group's White House performances, public concerts and concert tours.
"[The President] knows that we're always ready and eager to make music with him when he so chooses," said Col. Michael J. Colburn, the 27th director of the band, a title formerly held by such famed conductors as John Philip Sousa.
Col. Michael J. Colburn, the 27th director of the United States Marine Band, conducts during President Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009. The band will perform at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School.
"The President's Own" will be ready and eager to make music with the local audience when the band performs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4 in the Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School. Tickets are free and will be available in limited quantities beginning Thursday.
Colburn, who joined "The President's Own" in 1987 as a euphonium player, said he is glad the band's concert tours gives them the opportunity to perform for audiences outside of Washington D.C.
"When we get out there on the road, we really enjoy playing for audiences that don't get to hear the Marine Band very often," he said. "Those audiences are the most excited and enthusiastic about hearing our group. ... There is nothing a musician loves more than hearty applause after a performance."
If you go
What: "The President's Own" United States?Marine Band
When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 4
Where: Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School Auditorium
Details: Free tickets for the event will be available Thursday on a first-come first-served basis at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, Hollidaysburg Area YMCA and the Altoona Mirror. There is a limit of four tickets per person.
Colburn said the band performs "a good variety" of pieces on concert tours including staple patriotic tunes, as well as those that are more demanding and show off the skills of these seasoned musicians. Their program on Oct. 4 will include Johann Sebastian Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" and Sousa's marches, "Semper Fidelis" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever"
But less-expected selections from the Marine Band will include "A Tribute to Bing Crosby," arranged by band member Staff Sgt. Ryan Nowlin and featuring concert moderator and baritone singer Gunnery Sgt. Kevin Bennear.
"He has a wonderful baritone voice, and can even croon like Bing Crosby," Colburn said. "I think for the older audience members especially, this will bring up some wonderful memories."
The band will also open with Roland F. Seitz's "The University of Pennsylvania Band March." Colburn said that on concert tours, the band always tries to perform one piece selected with the audience in mind.
"We thought it'd be nice to perform a march with local ties," Colburn added, as Seitz was a Pennsylvania composer.
Master Sgt. Chris Rose, assistant principal percussionist for "The President's Own," said he's excited this year's tour brings him back to the local area - he grew up visiting his grandparents in Martinsburg. Rose's grandfather, the late Paul Fisher, was a musician and school band director.
"My role model when I was a kid was my grandfather," Rose said. "He was like my hero. He'd probably be pretty excited now to see me in the [Marine] Band."
Rose has been playing with the band since 1997. He has had the chance to perform across the country and overseas, including as a soloist at a symphonic band conference in Switzerland where Rose said the Marine Band was "the main attraction."
"Sometimes we're treated like rock stars," he said.
Despite the musical feats they perform on stage, Colburn said the band also finds it important to be personable with their audiences.
"I'm sometimes worried that we're up there, under those bright lights in our shiny uniforms, and I worry that we don't seem real, especially to young people," he said.
To help bridge that gap, Colburn has worked to expand the band's educational outreach efforts during his tenure as director. This local performance is something Scott Sheehan, music department chairman for the Hollidaysburg Area School District, said should be a great learning opportunity for his students.
"For having the reputation that they do, it is great how personable they are," he said of the Marine Band. "They definitely make the time to talk with audience members, talk with students, and just make the experience worthwhile for everyone in attendance."
Because "The President's Own" only tours outside of a fixed East Coast area every six years, Sheehan said this performance will be a "rare event" that he urges the local community to take advantage of.
"'The President's Own' is really one of the finest bands in the world," he said. "They have a world-class reputation for musical excellence."
Mirror Staff Writer Beth Ann Downey is at 946-7520.