National Geographic : 1959 Dec
Small car, big horn. The shiny bell of a sousaphone rears above the Volkswagen's open top, hiding the Marine bandsman, who drives to an engagement in Washington. As vacancies occur, the band grants audi tions to applicants from all over the United States. Once a candidate has met the Marine musical and physical standards, he becomes a noncommissioned officer and can look for ward to earning additional stripes and even tually, perhaps, a commission. Like Colonel Schoepper, Captain King and another assistant director, Capt. Dale L. Harp ham, played in the band and rose from non commissioned grades. Bandsmen are spared the rigors of boot camp, and they perform only enough drill to enable them to march smartly in parades. Although not required to bear arms, many of them volunteered for combat duty in both world wars and in Korea. One-man Unit Plays at White House At full strength, the Marine Band numbers 100 men. As occasion demands, it divides itself like an overactive amoeba and sends forth smaller musical units-a string orches tra, a dance band, and any number of jazz combos to play hot or cool on order at Marine parties. The smallest unit of all consists solely of Staff Sgt. Gene Akers (Peabody '56), who sometimes plays piano at intimate White House affairs. On Fridays in spring and summer the band 766 takes part in a military display of color and precision that ranks among the Capital's best free shows. Along with the Drum and Bugle Corps and two companies of Marines stationed at the barracks, it marches in evening retreat parades, with staging and lighting effects that would do credit to one of Broadway's brightest productions. Of the hundreds of engagements played in the course of a year, the Marine musicians' favorite is one that keeps them on their home grounds. Each New Year's morning the band lines up around the back door of the Com mandant's House, a 154-year-old dwelling at the north end of the barracks quadrangle. There it plays a "surprise" serenade to the Commandant-an annual custom since the Civil War (page 764). Last year I watched the band form in the Commandant's garden. A cold rain quickly soaked creases out of bright uniforms. After an opening number, the Commandant, Gen. Randolph McCall Pate, appeared with Mrs. Pate. Master Sgt. William Jones, the band's baritone soloist, sang "Bless This House." The general made a genial speech, professing aston ishment at the whole thing. Then he invited everybody inside, where he just happened to have some hot buttered rum and a buffet breakfast.