Soundtrack to history

  • Lt. Col. Jason Fettig conducts the President’s Own Marine Band in 2014. Courtesy of Rachel Ghadiali

  • On July 12, 2014, the Marine Band performed a Change of Command Concert conducted by retiring Director Col. Michael J. Colburn, former Director Col. Timothy W. Foley, and incoming Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig. The Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James F. Amos officiated Col. Colburn's retirement ceremony and was assisted by Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Micheal P. Barrett and Marine Band Drum Major Gunnery Sgt. Duane F. King. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Master Sgt. Kristin duBois/released) MSgt Kristin duBois—Courtesy

  • GySgt Brian Rust—Courtesy

  • On July 12, 2014, the Marine Band performed a Change of Command Concert conducted by retiring director Col. Michael Colburn, former director Col. Timothy Foley, and incoming Director Lt. Col. Jason Fettig. Courtesy of Kristin DuBois

Monitor staff
Thursday, October 05, 2017

Thirty years ago, Jason Fettig studied clarinet at Concord Community Music School.

Now, he is the director of the President’s Own Marine Band, performing regularly at the White House for the president.

The Marine Band is America’s oldest continuously-active professional musical organization. Founded in 1798, the band has performed for every U.S. president since John Adams. Known as “The President’s Own,” the Marine Band’s primary mission is to provide music for the president of the United States and the commandant of the Marine Corps.

Fettig said he likes to think of the Marine Band as “the soundtrack to American history.” The Marine Band plays at major White House events, such as the inauguration and inaugural ball. But they also play for regular Americans, too. The band goes on tour every year during the month of October, visiting different regions of the United States.

This year, the Marine Band is touring the Northeast. They will hold two free concerts in New Hampshire this month: one in the Concord High School gymnasium on Oct. 13, and another at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on Oct. 15.

Fettig started playing clarinet when he was just eight years old. He was a serious student, and accepted to Concord Community Music School’s elite “scholarship wind quintet,” when he was an upperclassman at Central High School in Manchester.

The quintet is an honors group of five young musicians, providing them with advanced guidance by professional musicians at no cost.

One of the musicians Fettig worked with during his time at the music school was Thomas Oboe Lee, composer and teacher at Boston College. Another was Grammy-winning composer Robert Livingston Aldridge.

“It was a truly exceptional gift for me as a student,” he said.

Fettig said that experience helped kick start his passion for music.

After he graduated Central High School in 1993, he went on to study clarinet performance and music education at the University of Massachusetts.

In 1997, Fettig joined the Marine Band as a clarinetist.

Fettig said his favorite aspect of the Marine Band is the diversity of music the band plays. One of the Marine Band’s hallmarks, Fettig said, is to play “any type of music that is required.”

This means traditional band repertoire, marches, instrumental solos and sometimes a bit more – Fettig said the band has played jazz and Broadway tunes in their time, too.

“When we put together tour programs we try to make sure there is something for everyone,” Fettig said.

They always play something composed by John Philip Sousa – the band’s 17th director – who started the tradition of touring the band in 1891.

Sousa was the director in Benjamin Harrison’s time. He is remembered for his dedication to sharing the band’s music with all Americans – not just those in the nation’s capital.

“He thought it was a travesty that that band didn’t leave D.C. very often,” Fettig said. “Even though they were the president’s band, he considered it to be the nation’s band. He asked permission if he could take it out of Washington and on tour.”

Fettig has played in New Hampshire before, but this is his first time touring as the band’s director. He was made assistant director in 2001, and director in 2014.

Donald Trump is the fourth president Fettig has performed for, starting with Bill Clinton in 1997. He said playing at the White House is something he doubts he will ever get used to.

“When you’re at an event in the White House – in that special and sacred building, you get a front row seat for history,” Fettig said. “It’s a unique feeling and one that you never get tired of.”

The Marine Band has been present at many major American historical moments in time.

In 1848, The Marine Band participated in ceremonies celebrating the laying of the cornerstone of the Washington Monument. In 1863, the band accompanied Abraham Lincoln to Gettysburg for the dedication of the National Cemetery and the famous Gettysburg Address. The Marine Band led the funeral procession of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

Today, the 130-person band plays 1,000 commitments every year. Band members rank from staff sergeants to sergeant majors. When they go on tour, a portion of the band stays behind to fill in as needed, whether it be a funeral at Arlington Cemetery, or a performance at the White House. Sixty musicians will play at Concord High on Oct. 13.

Fettig said that something he wants audiences to keep in mind during the performance is that music is about community.

“This feeling of coming to a special event, and event where we can all feel for those two hours, part of the same community,” he said. “Music is truly a great unifier.”

Fettig said it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to return home to perform for many people who supported him early in his music career. Fettig’s parents still live in Manchester, and his two step-sisters and their families also live in the state.

“There is no question in my mind that I would not be doing what I am so fortunate to do today with The President’s Own had it not been for the support from my family and teachers and the experiences I had growing up in New Hampshire,” he said.

Concord Community Music School President Peggy Senter – who taught Fettig in high school – said it’s been an honor to keep in touch with him over the years.

“It’s been amazing to be able to know him throughout his career and watch him keep on succeeding,” Senter said. “We just glow with pride.”

Both New Hampshire concerts are free, but tickets are required. Tickets are limited to four per request. You can find them at marineband.ticketleap.com/usmbtourconcord.