Musical Inauguration Thoughts
By Chris Van Hof ~ Posted Tue, 01/20/2009 - 1:46pm
A big, big day in DC means some primo exposure for a select few musicians. Most of it worked, and somemissed the mark.
For a wind player, a common aspiration is to win an audition into a Washington DC-based military band. These are called the "Premiere Bands," and offer very healthy paychecks and benefits, new shiny instruments, a cool outfit, global touring, no chance of combat service, and a hefty military pension. The downside is playing more Sousa marches than you can possibly imagine. That's a downside, until of course, Inauguration Day rolls around. If you make it into the Marine Band (commonly called "The President's Own"), then you get a front and center seat to watch history unfold, and suddenly all those Sousa marches make sense (or...cents...? zing!). So as I drooled over the super-coolness of what it would be like to play for a Presidential Inauguration today, I was paying close attention to the music surrounding the ceremony. Here are some thoughts:
1. Herald trumpets are bad enough to try to play in tune, let alone when you've been standing (and not playing) in 27 degrees for hours on end. Boy did the fanfares sound bad today--but let's cut those guys some slack. I know they're all great muscians, and they had the cards stacked against them (not unlike starting your Presidency with two wars and Depression, Part Deux).
2. Can someone explain why we heard a march from Vaughan Williams' "Folk Song Suite" while the Obama girls were arriving on the podium? He's a Brit! We're the colonies, Marine Band! Let's play our music for the President's kids at least! (Not that Vaughan Williams is bad, but still: I'm just saying)
3. Aretha Franklin should be named the Secretary of Soul. For life.
4. I'm sorry, but the new piece by John Williams, "Air and Simple Gifts" was incredibly disappointing. We had an opportunity to present a stunning piece of chamber music, and we got this:
I love John Williams, don't get me wrong. I love him for Star Wars, the Olympics, and the Fourth of July. But this was boring, unoriginal, and unrepresentative of the power of American classical music composers (John Adams? Christopher Theofanidis? Libby Larsen? David del Tredici? Richard Danielpour?). This is not to say that the artistry on display from the members of the star-studded quartet was not superior, because it was. But with a global stage and probably a billion people watching/listening, could we not have gotten something a little more, I don't know, special? This struck me as a quickly-written composition without much substance. But I am hopeful that it may represent an open mind about support for the arts in the new administration.
5. Being in the Marine Band would still be--I think--the coolest job in the world.