First, I'm sorry this has taken so long to get out. It just kept getting longer and longer as I tried to include answers to all the questions. So I'm sending this out in installments. I just ask that everyone please remember that this is strictly my opinion, viewpoint, and experience, not that of the US Marine Band or the US Marine Corps. I have tried to be as accurate as possible.|
Musicians in the military face a unique set of challenges. I often compare my job to freelancing (orchestral concerts, band concerts, wind ensemble concerts, chamber recitals, Music in the Schools, concert tours, background music and more) with some ceremonial aspects tossed in (arrival ceremonies, parades, military tattoos, mess nights, inaugurals, change of command ceremonies, retirements, etc.). Everything is done with a bit of "pomp and circumstance".
In the Marine Band, we have the added benefit of being "The President's Own", the group that provides the musical support for the White House, performing there over 200 times a year. We are uniquely positioned to witness a piece of history with every performance at the White House. The Marine Band is the oldest professional musical organization in the United States.
As most of you know, our chamber orchestra performed for President Reagan's funeral service. All the premier military bands (Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force, and Marine), as well as several Field Bands, had a part in the events the week following President Reagan's death, all according to Reagan's funeral plan, a 138 page document, detailing all the wishes of the Reagan family. For those who watched the events in both California and DC, note that a musical ensemble was present at every stage of the proceedings. Imagine the week without those musical ensembles. Would you have been affected in the same way?
Because of the large number and age of the former presidents, we are required to contact our Operations Office as soon as we hear of the death of a president, former or current. This is required even if we are on vacation, overseas, convalescing, etc. At this time we are informed as to the status of the funeral. A State funeral requires everyone to report home in person by an appointed time. (This little rule caused some consternation on a trip to France with my husband several years ago - we saw the American flag at half staff at the American Embassy. Not speaking French, we hadn't seen a paper or TV for two days. I badgered the guard until he told me the flag had been lowered out of courtesy for the death of a foreign ambassador. I cannot describe my relief at not having to fly home immediately!)
When President Reagan died on Saturday, my husband and I were in North Carolina. We had just driven a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway (no radio reception). As we headed towards Asheville, we tuned in to an NPR show. As I listened, I heard what sounded like a retrospective of Pres. Reagan's life. My husband pulled in to a parking lot, and we listened, anxiously. When the announcer said Pres. Reagan had passed away earlier that day, I immediately called in to Operations. The message on the machine told us we would be informed as information became available. Ultimately, we were all required to report Monday morning. Those overseas or out of state had until Tuesday morning.
On Monday, our part in the basic plan was laid out for us. Wednesday would be the funeral procession, Friday would be the funeral service. Rehearsals were announced. The library went into overdrive to have music ready. Each of the military bands are assigned three pieces to perform during the processional, based upon the information given in President Reagan's funeral plan. Wednesday's music had to be copied and attached to the red cards we use to back our music when we don't use flip folders. The folders for the funeral service had to be built, complete with contingency music. Assignments to the orchestra wind section had to be made (all six of us rotate). Our Wednesday and Thursday night concerts were canceled, but other regular performances and commitments still had to be rehearsed and performed.
For any State Funeral procession, a 99 piece block band is used. This is also used for Inaugural parades. Since the Marine Band has between 95-100 wind and percussion players at any given moment, this sometimes requires a little creative thinking. Of the 95 or so players, one or two usually are unable to march for whatever reason. Our newest flutist was not yet through the check-in procedure and was still in the process of getting uniforms. The tour advance was still on the road. Two people were out for recent medical concerns (myself included, for recent surgery). Fortunately, a large number of our support staff are instrumental musicians employed as librarians or public affairs specialists. The double reed players pick up another instrument that is marchable. The drum major posts a chart with each person assigned a particular position. This is generally done by height and instrument to create a more uniform look. >From experience, I can honestly say it is no fun to march directly behind a six foot plus person - it makes it really difficult to catch the drum major's instructions and "surprise" cut-offs.
Tuesday morning we held a concert rehearsal for a commitment on the following Sunday. On Tuesday afternoon the 99 piece block band met the rest of the marching units over at Fort McNair, home of the Old Guard unit of the Army. The Old Guard is responsible for the caissons (for caskets), the horses, etc. This rehearsal lasted a little over two hours. To the military musician, this means making sure you have hydrated yourself adequately, eaten something appropriate for energy, applied sunscreen (especially on the lips), and any other measures required to prevent dehydration or heat exhaustion. There can be a great deal of time standing in the sun, often at the position of parade rest or attention. We like to use our composite or wooden piccolos outdoors in the heat - the silver ones can get a little toasty in the sun. The brass players will use plastic rimmed mouthpieces to prevent burns. Some clarinetists even use plastic reeds, as real ones tend to dry out in the sun, and they aren't in a position to be sucking on reeds. Musically, our goal is to always give the best performance possible, be it concert or parade, but to be practical, health issues come first.
(While the marching rehearsal was being held at Fort McNair, other rehearsals were being held in or near the Capitol. Some of these were shown on various news channels.)
Tuesday night, a small portion of each marching unit attended a rehearsal on Constitution Avenue. This included the director, the drum major, and some of the brass and percussion. This rehearsal started at 8:30 pm, and ended near 1:00 in the morning Wednesday. Early Wednesday morning, many of these same players were part of two funeral services held for veterans at Arlington Cemetery. These were commitments that could not be rescheduled. Wednesday afternoon, around 2:30, the 99 piece block band departed form Marine Barracks in South East DC for RFK stadium. This was the meeting point for all the ceremonial units involved in the funeral procession. The buses formed up in marching order and at 4:00 drove to the starting point of the processional. The units were given around fifteen to twenty minutes to stand in a shaded area, drink water, remove their hats. Then all units lined up on Constitution Avenue, to wait for the motorcade from Andrews Air Force Base.
Now, bear in mind that President Reagan's airplane did not land until 5:00. At this point, the units were already lined up, waiting, on Constitution Avenue. The Band was standing on hot, black, asphalt, wearing heavy, red wool coats of considerable weight and black patent leather shoes. They were standing, at parade rest, which is more relaxed than at attention, but still relatively immobile. They could not sit, leave to use the restroom or drink water. (On the bright side, the pants are white, and it could be worse - the Army Band wears black coats.) The drum major walks through the ranks, checking for signs of heat exhaustion. One or two peope are removed as they show signs of the heat. Most are able to return to the formation, but ultimately the band marches the processional without three people. All the ceremonial units stood on Constitution Avenue for nearly and hour and a half before the motorcade arrived. The Red Cross had water stations all along the processional route for those in need.
This is easily the most difficult job for the Band, rivaled only by the Inaugurals, which take place in the extreme opposite of conditions. I'll save that story for January, as I expect to play the ceremony, march the parade, AND perform at several of the Inaugural Balls, for a true 24 hour work day! :-)
Once the procession started, the march was a little over a mile, and took roughly thirty minutes. State funeral processions actually have a required speed for marching. I don't recall what the "speed limit" is off the top of my head, but I thought it was interesting. As you near the Capitol, there is an incline, which makes playing more difficult. The good news for piccolos is that most all the music is being played down an octave. Piccolos have a tendency to sound entirely too cheerful on funerals, and, having marched one funeral with a flute, I'd rather "stay under the radar" on piccolo than march with a flute.
The Army Band led the processional because the Army is the oldest branch of service. At the end of the processional they continued to the Capitol. The other bands continued in a different direction, to load the buses and depart.
Thursday morning at 8:00, we held another concert rehearsal for a run out concert on Sunday. At 9:30, the orchestra loaded the buses for the National Cathedral. When we arrived, the Cathedral was a hive of activity. It was already a hot, muggy day. The lawn was spotted with small platforms covered by canopies for news anchors. Camera crews had already laid cable and were working on lighting. The Cathedral was cool and dry after the heat and humidity of outdoors. (By midafternoon, it was almost frigid, and we were all wearing short sleeve uniforms.)
Florists had turned St. Mary's chapel into a work space, with masses of white flowers everywhere. Some were constructing the large arrangements to be placed near the casket, others constructing elaborate swags of flowers to be draped over doorways and arches. Numerous people with assorted identifying tags were rushing around with clipboards. People were placing placards on each chair, indicating the seating arrangement. We passed through a section identifying various nations, seating for the ambassadors.
The Armed Forces chorus was rehearsing in the High Altar area of the cathedral (in an aerial view, this would be at the top of the cross shape of the Cathedral). We moved into St. John's chapel, just beyond the High Altar. There we unpacked our instruments and music and waited for the choir to finish. ( The Armed Forces chorus had formed for the recent World War II Memorial service at the National Cathedral, a week or so before, so they were already comfortable together and with the conductor.) The choir was seated in the chancel, the orchestra in front, in the sanctuary. For pictures of where we were located, the National Cathedral has a great web site: (The picture that downloads first is the view seen by the orchestra and choir.)
Microphones were already set up; one for the whole group, hovering somewhere over the conductor's head, and one for the tenor, Ronan Tynan. Space was at a premium, even though our orchestra is a chamber orchestra. We had to fit between the communion rail and the pews, and there was a fair amount of percussion equipment and a harp. We also needed room for the conductors to sit (two alternated and one extra as a back-up), the librarian, and our operations chief, who would be the point of contact for cues. The camera woman had to crawl between the cellos and basses to get to her camera in our end of the sanctuary.
Few of us had seen the folders prior to rehearsal. My folder contained only three of the programmed pieces and one or two of the extra contingency pieces. I had mixed emotions about the lack of music in my folder. One the one hand, I would always far rather be playing than sitting, but on the other, this was an historic occasion, and I would be able to pay more attention to the proceedings than I would otherwise.
The first part of the rehearsal was for the combined orchestra and chorus. Following that, the chorus took a break while the orchestra rehearsed. Now, to be perfectly honest, when I saw "Battle Hymn of the Republic" in the folder, I groaned inwardly. First, I have played the piece so many times I have lost count. Second, for those of you who have seen the part, the two solos are written out for both C and Db piccolos. A note on the corner of the music advises the player to "use a Db piccolo for the solos between #5 and #7". They are awkward little solos, in 6 flats, ending on a Db. I always have to cross out the Db piccolo lines, because I'm afraid I'll play it instead of the C piccolo lines, and the library keeps giving me clean copies. When I played the solos in rehearsal, I realized how incredibly present they were going to be. One of the oboes snickered and asked if it was just a little perky for a funeral. Over the years, my goal, with this piece, was to play the solos so they didn't sound dorky.
We were given a lunch break (everyone packed a lunch, knowing it would be a long day) while we waited for the arrival of Ronan Tynan, the Irish Tenor. Now, here, I'd just like to say what a pleasure it was to work with Ronan Tynan; he's such an incredibly nice person. To be honest, I wasn't well acquainted with him as a singer, so I did some research on him following that first rehearsal. He's had a remarkable life, coming to music quite late. He has degrees in Physical Education and Orthopedics, he is a gold medalist in the Paralympics, and now he has a music career as well.
During the lunch break, I saw the harp had been overturned, and the harpist was inspecting something in the base, along with one of the stage crew members. Apparently a foot had broken when it had been shifted sideways. The only other harp available was the one we keep at the White House (another was out for repair), so a little duct tape was applied, and then everyone was instructed to leave the harp in place. She told me later the weight of the instrument held the foot in place - it was only when the instrument was moved that it became a problem. Gotta love duct tape...
After rehearsing with Dr. Tynan, we settled in for the full dress rehearsal of the funeral. Primarily we rehearsed the last four pieces on the prelude, which concluded with Dr. Tynan's Ave Maria. This was to be the cue for those outdoors. A couple other spots in the service were rehearsed, then the recessional. For the recessional, we performed "Mansions of the Lord" by Nick Glennie-Smith, with the choir. The piece is broken into three sections. The choir sings the first section, the full orchestra plays the section section with an underlying muffled drum cadence. The third section is less tragic sounding and more lyrical, with just the strings. If more time was needed, the orchestra cycled back to the middle section.
Where I was sitting during the rehearsal, I had a view straight down the center aisle of the cathedral. I didn't have a part on the recessional music, so I was able to watch everything. When the music began, the officiating clergy began their movements. At the point where the muffled drums enter and the orchestra takes over, the Acolytes (carrying the cross and candles) moved into position above the casket and began their procession down and around the casket. My first thought was, "How beautifully choreographed, almost film like." I started to get a lump in my throat, and tried to silently laugh away the feeling - I have a tendency to cry sympathetically. I told myself that it was just an initial reaction to music I had never heard before combined with the emotion of the event, even though it was a rehearsal. But I knew I would be in trouble during the service. (I found out later the music is from the movie "We Are Soldiers" - I may have to rent it, just to find how the music is used in the movie.)
We completed two dress rehearsals on Thursday. I only played on three pieces of music; one in the prelude, two in the service, none in the recessional and postlude. The rehearsals started at 10:00 and ended at 4:00, but my day had started at 5:00 AM, and I didn't get home until 7:00 PM. Friday would be the big day, and nearly as long.
The day of President Reagan's funeral began very early for everyone involved. The orchestra was to meet in Sousa Hall at Marine Barracks at 6:30 in the morning, in uniform, ready to go. This meant waking up at 4:00 AM, showering and dressing and out the door by 4:30 with instruments and a bottle of water. The drive takes me roughly 40 minutes without traffic; I was surprised how much traffic there was that early in the day. It took me 10-15 minutes to find a parking space within safe walking distance. Once my uniform was pressed, I warmed up in the rehearsal hall for twenty minutes, then changed into uniform, grabbed all the necessary equipment and waited in the Band Hall. The morning preparations were crucial - I could have slept an extra twenty minutes and skipped the warm up, hoping to do it later, but I knew those twenty minutes might be all I would get.
We loaded the buses and drove across the city to the National Cathedral. There were many reasons for our early departure - traffic, weather, imminent road closures, security. We arrived at the Cathedral a little after 7 am. The buses drove behind to St. Alban's, the Cathedral day school. We unloaded all our equipment and were herded to the basement cafeteria. Here was the promised food. Coffee, juices, pastries and fruit. Hardly a substantial breakfast, given our schedule, but very welcome, nonetheless, and very thoughtful. We shared the facilities and food with the Armed Forces Chorus, a rare moment to share time. We rarely perform with the other Service Ensembles.
Breakfast was eaten, bathrooms visited. Multiple times, I should say, since we weren't sure when others might be available. (It's a little hard to stay hydrated if you might not see a bathroom for several hours!) At 8:30, we packed up to walk to the Cathedral.
The skies were gray with clouds and mist. It seemed the perfect setting for such a somber occasion. But, upon reaching our security entrance, the mist and drizzle became a problem. All the instruments and cases must be searched and sniffed by the canines, and there was not room inside this entrance. (Normally this is done outside, prior to the security gate.) So we hiked around the Cathedral (in the drizzle, long skirts, and pumps on uneven cobblestone walkways) to an entrance that had a large hallway to one side.
Once through security, we were led downstairs to one of the chapels near the crypts. This would be our holding room until 9:45. There were two televisions set up for us to watch. We were able to see some of guests arrive, but most of the shots seemed to be the camera feed that was being repositioned, and we saw a lot of shots of the ceiling.
We were given programs for the service, enough time to visit the bathroom once again (since there are more men than women in the orchestra, for once our line was shorter!), and just enough time to put together instruments and blow some air through them (noiselessly). Then with instruments, pegs, cleaning rod (Roger's piccolo flag), program, purse with mints and tissues, and bottle of water, we had to negotiate some very steep, narrow, open riser stairs. This was a little unnerving, trying to hold up my long skirt and carry all the paraphernalia without tripping on the stairs. I'm not afraid of heights, but I was not looking forward to the trip back down.
We set up as quietly as possible, while the organist finished his portion of the prelude. At 10 AM we began to play (without a tuning note), and the adrenaline started to subside.
I only played on one tune (third flute) during the prelude, so I had plenty of time to watch the throngs of people entering the church. Unfortunately, the distance combined with the very tall violinist in front of me made it very difficult to see well. The cool temperatures of the Cathedral, the long hours of the previous day, the early hours of my morning, and the slow soothing music made it difficult to stay awake. Fortunately, I brought mints (sugar free) for this very reason. I often slipped my shoes off to put my feet on the cold marble floor.
When Ronan Tynan stepped near the orchestra for his "Ave Maria", the sleepiness disappeared, and the adrenaline was back. Even though we had rehearsed the entrance of the casket and family multiple times, the whole event was so much more intense. When things settled once again, I found the violinist had shifted slightly, and I had a clear view of both the casket and Nancy Reagan for the rest of the service. During the eulogies I became so dry from sitting so still and breathing cool , dry air, that I felt the urge to cough. Knowing the cameras would be aimed elsewhere, I slipped down in my seat and took a sip from my water bottle (it was stashed behind my purse under my chair).
Finally we came to "Battle Hymn", played because it was one of President Reagan's favorite pieces. (For those that have asked, we performed the arrangement by Peter J. Wilhousky.) I had not played on my piccolo since about 5:30 in the morning. The service had started around 11:30. The first notes in six hours would be those of the two little solos. I had my piccolo covered (in its little Wirkkala piccolo cozy), and I warmed it up my sleeve (nice heavy wool coats) before playing. So, I'm sure you can imagine I might be a little nervous at this point, never mind the fact it was being televised. My comfort was that the whole world wasn't there to listen to me play my little solos. Many people have written to me about how could I play through the tears. To be perfectly honest, at that moment I was more worried about a cold piccolo and the possibility of splitting a note.
Here I would like to digress for a moment, because so many people wrote me about playing through the emotion of the event. Yes, I felt like crying at many points throughout the service, but this service was not the most emotional performance I have ever played. Because we are The President's Own, we are called upon to play many emotional events. After the 9/11 attacks, we sent groups to the Pentagon to play while the rescue workers searched for bodies. We left on our concert tour less than a month after 9/11 and played 50 concerts for emotionally charged audiences that were on their feet in tears during "America the Beautiful" and waving flags and singing during "God Bless America". I have watched the aging Veteran listen to the Armed Forces Medley that ends each tour concert and do his best to rise from his wheelchair, oxygen and all, to be standing for his Service song. We were in Ground Zero on the first anniversary of 9/11. Our history goes way beyond 9/11 - the Band was present for Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, performed a Wartime Concert for Winston Churchill that had him singing along to "Battle Hymn", led the funeral procession for JFK. It does not ever become routine, no, indeed. But I have learned to play through extreme joy and devastating sadness.
The tears did come, as I feared, during the recessional, "Mansions of the Lord". The music alone was enough to make anyone cry, given the circumstances, but to see how frail and heartbroken Mrs. Reagan looked at that moment... Maybe it would have been easier if I was playing - having a focal point other than the event itself.
The orchestra played two more pieces before we left as quietly as we entered. The staircase was as frightening as expected, and I was glad to be on the hard marble floor once again. We were herded back to the holding room (chapel) once more. The televisions were still on but fairly worthless (we had a lovely view of the ceiling). At first there was some dismay to find that our departure would be delayed until all the VIP guests had departed and roads were once again open, but it became a blessing in disguise as we were able to regroup emotionally.
We did not depart for the Barracks until nearly 3:00, and we fought heavy traffic all the way back. By the time we made it back, changed, walked to our cars, and drove home in what was now rush hour traffic (for me compounded by Friday Beach Traffic - I live in Annapolis), I did not get home until 6:30 pm. Tired though I was, I stayed up to watch the service in California.
Saturday was a day for sleeping. Sunday was business as usual - the Band returned to its normal schedule, if there is such a thing, and I left the house at 9 am for a concert in the Shenandoah mountains, returning home at 9:30 that night. Monday we began rehearsals for the recording session and rehearsals for three concerts that week. Last week saw us in recording sessions (every day, all day) in Virginia, with the Medal of Freedom Ceremony at the White House tossed in for good measure. Life goes on for the Marine Band.
For those of you that made it this far, thank you. It was another experience I shall never forget; another one for the scrapbook.