Regimental Band brings Norwich pride
to inauguration of President Obama © Feb. 15, 2013, Norwich University Office of Communications
Performing in front of the president of the United States in the Inaugural Parade starts with a long, slow, chilly wait. When it finally happens there is a vivid moment under glaring spotlights, and then it is over.
“BAM—there’s the White House. BAM—there's the president,” said Kurt Franke, a Springfield, Va., senior who led the Norwich University Regimental Band down Pennsylvania Avenue during the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on Jan. 21, 2013. “You pass the president, go about two blocks down the street, turn the corner and you get on the bus.”
Norwich’s concert and marching band, the oldest collegiate band in the country, has participated in inaugural ceremonies going back to President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Franke’s family, however, has them beaten. The trumpet player, who serves as drum major when the band marches, comes from a family of military musicians.
His mother, a viola player; his father, who plays the euphonium; and his violinist grandfather have all been members of the U.S. Marine [called the “President’s Own”] Marching Band.
“We’ve had someone playing in an Inaugural Parade since 1957,” said Franke, a mechanical engineering major. “Everybody's excited. It’s something that we’ve always done.”
His father, who retired in March 2012, served as informal “go-to” guy for information when Franke had a parade question, and gave him pointers on how band members should prepare.
“I was really trying to impress on our guys that it’s going to be cold!” said Franke.
And cold it was. They were lucky enough to see Washington D.C.’s temperatures make it into the 40s. But even outfitted with hand warmers and polypro long underwear, the four or five hours they waited in a holding area of the Pentagon after passing through security were uncomfortable.
We’re such a small band. We had to show off.
Senior trombone player
“We didn’t make the warming-tent cut,” said Audrey Seaman, a flute and piccolo player. “We spent a lot of time in the cold.”
If nothing else, the long wait put an end to some of the pre-show jitters, she said. It was a bit nerve-racking to watch some of the other bands line up to leave, but when the call to line up finally came after 5 p.m., they were more worried about getting their instruments warmed up to play competently.
“Even though I’m on the right side [of the marching column], of course I’m going to try to sneak a peek,” said Seaman, a senior English major and battalion commanding officer in Norwich’s Corps of Cadets, where students lead a military lifestyle through the four years of their college career. “I fixed on the president. Then, in a second, it was over.”
Being a small band, their sound seemed small compared with the bands marching before and behind them, added Seaman, but she was pleased when she later heard a recording of their performance of National Emblem, a signature Regmental Band piece by Vermont composer Edwin Eugene Bagley. Playing while marching is always different than a concert, she said, and often hard to hear.
“It’s just a totally different gig, and the sound is different and the intonation,” said Seaman.
Trombonist Charles Thaxter, a senior in the architecture program, has performed at a number of big events such as the Patriot’s Day reenactment in Lexington, Mass., but this was the biggest. Curiously, nobody really talked much about it until they turned in their application materials. Even the invitation to perform failed to ignite the expected elation.
“Even on the drive down, it hadn’t really hit us,” he said.
When did the excitement hit? When they rounded a corner on Pennsylvania Avenue and the floodlights wiped out the deepening twilight. Band members caught glimpses of the president saluting from the parade overlook while raising their instruments to play louder.
“We’re such a small band. We had to show off,” said Thaxter.
All three students called their performance at the inauguration a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just being part of the Regimental Band, however, was an honor and a chance to represent the school.
“I want the rest of the school to see that this is a highlight for the entire school,” said Thaxter. “Not just the band.”