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” since the days of Thomas Jefferson, the Marine Band’s mission is to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Meet Staff Sergeant Chmara, saxophonist with “The President’s Own” Marine Band. He is a past winner of the North American Saxophone Alliance Competition (2000), and The University of Michigan Concerto Competition (2002) among many other impressive musical accomplishments. Find out more about his journey from playing saxophone in a high school band, to performing at the United States White House as a member of “The President’s Own.”
TTN: Tell us a little about your musical background.
JACOB: I’m a product of a high school band program. When I was young I was lucky enough to have a couple of people along the way that said “hey, you are pretty good at this.” I did a couple of summers at the Interlochen Arts Camp. After high school I attended The University of Michigan School of Music, where I was an undergraduate in saxophone performance.
TTN: Did you pursue performance directly after college?
JACOB: I was all set to go to grad school in instrumental music performance after graduation. I think a lot of people go into music in college with idea the that they are going to teach. I was particularly naïve, so much so that I didn’t think it all the way through to the end game. When I got to the end of my undergraduate degree I could have gone to grad school, but at the eleventh hour I did a 180 and decided to take the degree and sit on it for a while and go out and play. I had played bass guitar in high school, but I had left that behind in college. So I picked that back up, got together some fundamentals, and started freelancing. I scraped by and did some gigs, joined a band and did some regional touring. My first two years after graduating I also had a part-time day job at a string instrument company. I was living in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the time, and I actually quite enjoyed that lifestyle. But after I met my wife, and we had a daughter, I started to burn out on the free-lance thing.
TTN: How did you get from the point of being an undergraduate in performance, to being a member of “The President’s Own?”
JACOB: My freshman roommate who is in “The President’s Own” (clarinet), called me and said there was an opening with the Marine Band. He wasn’t sure if I knew they did open call auditions, where they invite people to come and audition. At first I thought “There’s no way I am going to do that!” but then I thought about it and I called back and said I would give it a try. Keep in mind that at this time I had basically put down the saxophone for four years.
TTN: I understand the audition process is very competitive, what was that like?
JACOB: It’s a lot like an audition for an orchestra or any other professional music group. Marine Band auditions are posted on the website prior to the audition date and are open to any qualified applicants. People submit resumes and an application in order to make sure they meet the preliminary requirements, then show up on the day. You are given an audition packet with materials. I buried my head and practiced like I hadn’t practiced in a long time, but I had lots of help from other musicians and saxophone players in town. I played for them and asked for their opinions. I played for my college professor, other musicians, etc.
TTN: How long have you been a member of “The President’s Own?”
JACOB: I’ve been a member for six years.
TTN: So you are a musician, but you are actually a member of the military? How does that work?
JACOB: Yes, I am an active duty member of the Marine Corps. Once I was chosen, I had to go through the process of enlisting just like anyone else. I went to the local recruiter in Ann Arbor and went through MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station), took the ASVAB, the physical, all of that. The Marine Band is unique because our mission is specifically to provide music and ceremonial support to the White House and to the Commandant of the Marine Corps. All our basic training is in-house, administered primarily by the Drum Major and the Assistant Drum Major.
TTN: What was the most surprising thing to you about being in the band?
JACOB: I was pretty well prepared for the experience because I knew some people who were already in the band. However, one of the things that did surprise me was how flexible and versatile you have to be to fulfill the various requirements. We have to march, and we must be able to play a wide variety of music, and the band members get mixed and matched in a lot of different ways. A short list of Marine Band ensembles includes: Concert Band, Ceremonial Marching Band, Brass Quintet, Woodwind Quintet, Dixieland Band, Traditional Irish Ensemble, Harp/Flute Duo, Jazz Combo, Dance Band, Jazz Big Band, “Free Country” Ensemble (traditional and contemporary country music).
TTN: What is your day like, how often are rehearsal, concerts, etc?
JACOB: Our commitments are assigned to the musicians as they come. We have our own Operations office that passes down the schedule on a weekly basis. Since we are the primary pool of musicians for both the White House and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, our jobs tend to be rather diverse. On any given week during the summer, you might be tasked with, say, a full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, a White House arrival ceremony, a change-of-command ceremony at Marine Barracks Washington, a patriotic opener for a DC-area civic event, and a Friday Evening Parade, just to name some of the more common applications of the Marine Band. And of course we also play sit-down concerts, both outdoors and in concert halls around the DC Metro area, not to mention our fall tour which sends the band out to various regions of the US to play concerts during the month of October.
TTN: How many times have you played at the White House?
JACOB: Maybe a couple of dozen times. It’s always exciting to play there, and a little surreal.
TTN: What are you working toward currently?
JACOB: I’m going to be playing with the Marine Chamber Orchestra, (part of the organization) during the summer they do a concert series and I’ll be playing a solo with them on August 17, 2013 at the Northern Virginia Community College, in Schlesinger hall.
TTN: Would you recommend the opportunity of being in the “President’s Own” as an option for young exceptional musicians? Why?
JACOB: Yes, certainly it’s a great opportunity. Obviously you have to be comfortable with being a part of the military and meeting those requirements. “The President’s Own” is widely regarded as the country’s most prestigious military musical organization. I believe the last time I heard the band has something in the vicinity of a 75% retention rate with regard to members that carry out a full career with the band (20+ yrs) versus those who don’t.
Learn more about “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band
Play the saxophone? Audition December 2, 2013. Details Here
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