(excerpt from Warrior
Culture of the U.S. Marines, copyright 2001 Marion F. Sturkey)
The armies of the ancient Greeks and Romans knew their stuff.
Their military drummers dictated cadence -- and, perhaps
confidence -- as their legions marched into combat.
By the 1700s in Europe and America, fifers added "fighting
spirit" as they accompanied the military drummers.
The U.S. Marine Corps drummers and fifers evolved into the U.S.
Marine Corps Band, the oldest musical organization in the United States.
On 11 July 1798 the U.S. President, John Adams, signed a
congressional act that formalized the band members as "a drum
major, a fife major, and thirty-two drums and fifes."
There was no war at the time, so the band concentrated on its
music. They held their
first documented concert in Washington on 21 August 1800.
By December of that year their inventory of instruments had
expanded to include two oboes, two clarinets, two French horns, and a
bassoon. During the
presidency of Thomas Jefferson, he declared the new Marine Band to be
"The President's Own," a term that has survived for two
The Marine Band performs at all Presidential Inaugurations and at
numerous ceremonial functions of State at the White House and elsewhere.
During the summer months it entertains weekly at the famed Sunset
Parade at the Marine Barracks in Washington and on the steps of the
Capitol Building. When on
tour the band performs at locations throughout the United States.
John Philip Sousa, the most famous Bandmaster, composed Semper
Fidelis, later adopted as the official musical March of the Marine
Musicians are currently selected through an audition process
similar to that of major symphony orchestras.
Those selected must also pass a physical examination -- it is still
the Marine Corps, troops! But,
successful applicants enlist for four years "for duty with the U.S.
Marine Band only," and there is no boot camp.
Further, each new band member is immediately appointed to the
rank of Staff Sergeant. What
a deal! Historically, more
than 90 percent of Marine Band members serve for 20 years or more.