Larry Krantz Flute Pages: Inauguration of President Obama by Cynthia Rugolo
Inauguration of President Obama
...experiences of a military flute player
by Cynthia Rugolo
For those of you who may remember my series of emails about my experiences during President Reagan’s State Funeral (which can be found in its entirety here on Larry Krantz’s Flute Pages), I am willing to provide a more detailed description of my experiences with our preparation and involvement in the Inauguration of President Obama.

For the military musician, the day presents some unusual challenges. All of the premiere military bands and some specialty musical units are involved in some way, each with their own story to tell. I would love to hear the perspective of someone from the Old Guard, for instance, or “Pershing’s Own”.

As always, I ask everyone to please remember 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.

Preparations for an Inauguration begin long before the event. For more information on the planning of the event as a whole and all the committees involved, I can recommend the following websites:


Inauguration of Obama

Armed Forces Inaugural Committee

For the US Marine Band, this is the 53rd consecutive presidential inauguration; our first appearance was at the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801. It was Jefferson who gave us the title “The President’s Own”. Our mission is to provide musical support for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.

The Marine Band has many roles during an inauguration. We provide the music for the ceremony, we march in the parade, we perform at the Inaugural Balls, we perform at the National Cathedral the following morning for the National Prayer Service, and we provide music as requested by the White House for open houses and reception in the days immediately following the Inauguration. The day itself can be a true 24 hour day for some band members.

Personally, this is my fourth presidential inauguration. While there is a certain formula to preparing for and performing in an inauguration, each has its own distinct set of circumstances. Preparation begins months before; every detail is planned far in advance, from the larger ensemble and personnel issues to the individual and very personal preparations. . (On a personal note, I began growing out my very, very short hair following the 2007 Concert Tour. It takes a long time to have enough hair to cover the ears, and after two or three inaugurations, I was tired of frozen ears.)

The “highlight” of inaugural preparation is the Dress Rehearsal. This is usually held a week before the Big Day, on a Sunday. Our departure from Marine Barracks is at 4:15 am. Everything is rehearsed at the Dress Rehearsal, from the motorcades and convoys to our security screening areas to the ceremony and through the parade. Washington, DC effectively closes all the roads required for the ceremony and parade around 4 am, reopening around noon.

The ceremony rehearsal is more than a rehearsal of the sequence of events. Substitutes are chosen for each of the official participants; they are chosen based on physical similarities to the participants so that camera angles and stage markings may be made accurately. Once the staging run through is completed with all its stops and starts, a dry run is made, complete with musical selections (during which I find the trill keys on my piccolo have decided to stop working properly).

The Parade Dress Rehearsal involves all the military components of the parade. One local high school, selected for participation in the parade, decided to join the military bands for the dress rehearsal. In place of the other parade elements, whether high school band or horse troop, a member of the military marches, bearing a placard with the name of the unit that will march there during the actual parade.

With the Dress Rehearsal behind us, we needed only to rehearse and record the music for the ceremony. I have been asked many times why we need to record the music for the ceremony; it is a fairly simple answer. It’s January. The temperatures may easily fall below freezing. If it remains below 20 degrees for any length of time, the valves and slides of the brass instruments will freeze, rendering them impossible to play. Should this happen on a parade, the Band has a march called “Frozen Horns”, composed of a series of fanfares and bugle calls played without the use of valves. We used it for my first parade dress rehearsal in 1993; we were the only Band playing on that Dress Rehearsal. It doesn’t work for the ceremony, however. Our preference is always a live performance, but Mother Nature occasionally has other ideas.

The estimates for attendance at the inauguration were ranging from one to five million. Washington prepared for unheard of numbers of people to arrive over the weekend. A variety of road closures and checkpoints were put into place, with changes to the mass transit system made to accommodate the crush. Because of the expected traffic nightmare, the majority of the Band chose to spend the night at the Band Facility.

On the day of the Inaugural, Roll Call was held at 4:30 am. Our convoy of buses departed with a police escort, joining the rest of the military elements at Anacostia for the security screening. At 6:30 we were escorted to the Capitol, where we were sequestered in the Capitol Dining Room until 9:30. Walking through the Capitol and out doors to take the stairs beneath the media scaffolding, we had to squeeze our way past eager attendees to reach our seats.

It wasn’t until I reached my seat below the podium that I had a chance to look up and look out across the Mall. Even though I had heard endless estimates about the crowd size over the past weeks, I was not prepared for the sea of humanity stretching from the Capitol past the Washington monument and beyond. The distance from the Capitol steps to the Washington monument is 1.2 miles; people as far as I could see.

To be honest, I nearly burst into tears; as I watched, cheers and waving flags washing forward until the entire Mall appeared to be moving. I had to take my seat, though, but I could not resist looking out over the Mall during the San Francisco children’s chorus.

(Here is a link I came across to the most amazing photo; it is a 1,474 megapixel image stitched together from 220 images taken with a stationary camera. You can zoom in and drag the photo around. I hope it works - I had fun getting close enough to almost read the sheet music and see YoYo Ma taking pictures with an iPhone.)


When we left the Capitol, it was 9 degrees with the wind chill factor in the sun. Most of our set-up was in the shade. We sat for nearly thirty minutes before playing our first note. When the upper woodwinds came in, it was painful to my ears. While everyone else is in their own world of flatness, my little piccolo was rapidly going sharp to the band. Pitch settles as much as it will during each tune, but the beginnings are tough. I had enormous amounts of water rolling out of my piccolo and onto my lap. I brought three piccolo flags with me for the three hours we would be outside for the ceremony. They all froze very quickly, stiff as a board. I had to use a hand warmer before scrunching the edges to be able to get them in the piccolo. No water seals for me, though.

By the time we reached Stars and Stripes, my fingertips were pretty well numb in spite of the Therma Care arthritis wraps, wrist warmers, and Thinsulate lined white cotton gloves (sans finger tips) I wore. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve performed Stars and Stripes; at this point my fingers are on auto-pilot. I’ve performed it in sub-zero temperatures (when the tuba valves froze mid-way through the march) and in heat index temperatures of 113 degrees (when you worry if it will even stay on your face).

Fortunately for us, we had an hour or so to thaw on the bus before getting ready for the parade. I changed from the thick fingerless cotton gloves to a pair of thin nylon with fingers covered by a pair of thin fingerless cotton gloves with textured beading on the palms and fingers. I have found on Inaugural parades, my hands become quite stiff and cold; the textured gloves help keep the piccolo from slipping.

Eventually we formed into our 99 piece block band and marched to the insertion point. In past inaugurations, the parade participants staged on the mall; with the mall open to the public, the staging area moved to the ellipse. The units involved in the ceremony and the departure of former President and Mrs. Bush stayed near the Capitol and merged into place once the Parade turned onto Constitution Avenue before marching up Pennsylvania Avenue.

Unexpectedly, however, we found ourselves standing for quite some time before the First Division of the Parade even started. We were informed of Senator Kennedy’s collapse at the luncheon (and, I believe, another Senator collapsed from fatigue), a large part of the delay. It was a somber pause, thinking about Senator Kennedy and the history of the Kennedy family.

When we first arrived at the Capitol, we had been told over 350,000 people already lined the parade route – by the time we started the ceremony, it was estimated at 450,000. The previous Inaugural Parade had run into some security issues and large groups of protestors, cutting down on the number of people along the route. With these numbers, everyone’s adrenalin was running high. I love a good street parade with a huge crowd. The enthusiasm is infectious, and energy high.

When we finally stepped off, it was into a stiff, icy wind (this was when I realized my ears had been toasty warm all day). It was a little disconcerting to see thinning crowds at the beginning of the parade route. I kept expecting to turn a corner and find cheering crowds and waving flags. By the time we neared the White House, I no longer expected large crowds; it seems most of the people, between the long day, the frigid temperatures, the delay of the parade, and the expected transportation difficulties, had decided to leave once President Obama and his family entered the viewing stand.

As we approached the viewing stand, from the corner of my eye I saw the Obama family standing and waving, the girls jumping up and down. Some brave and hardy souls were still in the stands, cheering loudly for every unit passing by. By the time we reached the release point, the sun had set. I’ve never marched an inaugural parade in the dark before.

Our day wasn’t done, though. The Band was performing in two of the Inaugural Balls, the Commander-in-Chief Ball, and the Vice Presidential Ball. Departure for those balls had originally been planned for 5:30 pm, and at that time we were still trying to get back the Barracks for Ball personnel to change uniforms. (The outdoor portions are performed in Ceremonial Full Dress, the indoor performances in Concert Full Dress.)

Happy to have the police escort, it still took us a long time to bypass all the road closures on the way back to the Barracks. As we unloaded the buses back at the Band Annex, word was passed to Ball personnel that departure would be in thirty minutes or less. They scrambled to change and eat in that short amount of time, the buses rumbling off in record time to perform for the Inaugural Balls.

Those of us not tasked with performing one of the Balls set about peeling off the layers and collecting our gear before negotiating road closures to make our way home. Not surprisingly, once I made it around a single road closure, my route home was free and clear with even less traffic than usual. I turned on the news, happy to hear Senator Kennedy was already responding to treatment.

I was home by 7:30, after having left the house the day before a little after noon. As physically demanding as the day was, I love participating in the inaugurations. I am always proud to be a member of the US Marine Band, but even more so on this day. It is the very essence of our mission; to provide music for the President of the United States. At the inauguration, we play one final Ruffles and Flourishes for the outgoing President, and we play the first Ruffles and Flourishes for the new President. (And I have a front row seat.)

Cynthia Rugolo, solo piccolo
US Marine Band, “The President’s Own”

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