Battle of the (Military) Bands

Nev­er has there been a bet­ter musi­cal metaphor for the dis­as­ter of the Bush Pres­i­den­cy than this audio clip from the vis­it of the Pope Bene­dict XVI to the White House on April 16th. Thanks to my hero, Tom Allen of the CBC (who will be trag­i­cal­ly let go this fall, much to my agony, but enough about that for the time being), his sharp ears picked up this amaz­ing fias­co of Hail to the Chief:


Here’s the quote from Tom Allen’s Junk Draw­er:

Here’s the musi­cal event Charles Ives wait­ed for his entire life. On April 16, 2008, Pope Bene­dict XVI vis­it­ed the White House. Two musi­cal groups were there to wel­come him — the Her­ald Trum­pets from the US Army Band, and the Pres­i­den­t’s Own Marine Band. The Pres­i­dent, not sur­pris­ing­ly, was there, too. Pro­to­col says that any time the Pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States turns up in an offi­cial role, the band has to play “Hail to the Chief.” As you hear from the clip, pro­to­col appar­ent­ly does­n’t say they have to play it in just one key. The sto­ry is that one group came to rehearsal and the oth­er did­n’t, so they end­ed up, at the big moment, play­ing the same piece in dif­fer­ent keys. I’ve received, pre­dictably, con­tra­dic­to­ry reports of which group, the Army or the Marines, fired in the wrong direc­tion, but the result was a direct hit for music fans who like their mil­i­tary bands on the exper­i­men­tal side. It’s fantastic!

I found out this morn­ing that it was because one of the groups was a ‘civil­ian’ group. This was the musi­cal equiv­a­lent of ‘friend­ly fire’ between Amer­i­can troops and Mil­i­tary contractors.

6 Replies to “Battle of the (Military) Bands”

  1. Where did you hear that Tom Allen was to be sacked? This is ter­ri­ble news! He’s the best!

  2. Hi Scot­ty,

    See my entries of March 9th, 28th, 30th and 31st, as well as April 1st and 3rd. The CBC is get­ting rid of most of the Clas­si­cal Music pro­gram­ming (includ­ing the superb Music and Com­pa­ny with Tom Allen) except for the hours of 10AM to 3PM, when just about no one lis­tens to the radio (in oth­er words No Com­muter or Wake Up Clas­si­cal Music, no Evening Clas­si­cal Music, and next to no Week­end Clas­si­cal Music. The cur­rent crop of CBC exec­u­tives like Jen­nifer Maguire (How I hate that woman!) clear­ly sees that stuff as ‘elit­ist’ fare that must make way for ‘more broad rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Cana­di­an music’, which for her and the rest of them means pop music. CBC2 will, in Sep­tem­ber, become an ‘Easy Lis­ten­ing’ network. 

    Com­plain as much and bit­ter­ly as you want, but it will fall on deaf ears. My let­ters, protests and emails have been met with cheery form let­ters. I’m so sad about this that its almost like a death in the fam­i­ly. I will cher­ish the rel­a­tive­ly few years I had wak­ing up to the incom­pa­ra­ble Tom Allen. In the next few weeks, I plan on a lengthy blog entry prais­ing him to the stars and decry­ing the morons run­ning the CBC who are essen­tial­ly trash­ing a cul­tur­al treasure.

  3. Just an FYI regard­ing “Hail to the Chief”. This mis­take was nei­ther the fault of the Army Her­ald Trum­pets or of the Marine Band, both proud and very pro­fes­sion­al mil­i­tary (not civil­ian) units. The mis­take was due to mis­com­mu­ni­ca­tion from the Mil­i­tary Dis­trict of Wash­ing­ton, which tasks these events. Sug­gest­ing oth­er­wise is an insult to these groups, so I hope you will retract your spec­u­la­tion and misinformation.

  4. Not only was this fias­co in two dif­fer­ent keys, but one band played it at a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent tem­po. I am not sure what you mean by “civil­ian” group, since both musi­cal enti­ties are mil­i­tary. Hav­ing watched the video clip sev­er­al times, my hus­band and I came to the con­clu­sion that, as you said, some­one did­n’t come to rehearsal. Of course, it is more like­ly that some­one (one of the band­mas­ters) was unclear who was doing what. 

    Hav­ing lived in Dan­bury, CT, I had oppor­tu­ni­ties to play Charles Ives (and his grandaugh­ter’s) compositions…as odd as those were, at least they were INTENDED to sound that way. I know that no band­mas­ter wants his band to look or sound like this mess.

    As a musi­cian (and mar­ried to a mil­i­tary band­mas­ter as well), I felt quite bad­ly for both groups. With some­thing as high­ly exposed as this, there will sure­ly be a LOT of fall out…you know the guy who gacked a note in TAPS dur­ing Pres­i­dent Kennedy’s funer­al was relieved of his position.….wonder which of these guys is gone?

  5. Insid­er -
    I heard on the radio yes­ter­day morn­ing anoth­er addi­tion to the sto­ry (from Tom Allen again, although he did not give his source) that one of the bands was not in fact a mil­i­tary one. Giv­en the admin­is­tra­tion’s fond­ness with ‘out­sourc­ing’ mil­i­tary activ­i­ties to civil­ian con­trac­tors in many gov­ern­men­tal tasks (See: Iraq), I would­n’t at all be sur­prised if that was the case.

    Who­ev­er is at fault, it’s the kind of stu­pid­i­ty and pub­licly seen (or in this case, heard) incom­pe­tence that is one of the hall­marks of the Bush Admin­is­tra­tion and his appointees. Whether or not the groups were mil­i­tary or not is irrel­e­vant. This was anoth­er lit­tle embar­rass­ment in a long string that stretch­es eight years. Even third-world nations can man­age the play­ing of music in one key for a vis­it­ing dig­ni­tary. This per­for­mance was in the key of FUBAR, a term the Mil­i­tary Dis­trict of Wash­ing­ton should be famil­iar with.

    Lin­da -
    I got the chance to play some Ives in school in Cincin­nati and par­tic­u­lar­ly remem­ber a per­for­mance of ‘Cen­tral Park in the Dark’ where I got to bang out (on the piano) some clus­ters in a dif­fer­ent rhythm and tem­po from anoth­er group. It was great fun, but ini­tial­ly a hard thing to man­age (kept want­i­ng to smooth out the crunch­ing of the gears that seemed out of whack).

    I would­n’t wor­ry too much about the bands. I don’t know what hap­pened to these guys, but giv­en the way peo­ple have been rep­ri­mand­ed (not — see ‘Heck­u­va job’ Brown for­mer­ly of FEMA)by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, they could very well get the ‘Medal of Freedom’.

  6. As a vet­er­an of the U.S. Army Strings I can only laugh and say that this sto­ry does­n’t sur­prise me a bit. 

    I remem­ber when the Army pledged to con­tribute the back­up pro­fes­sion­al choir for Jessye Nor­man at Clin­ton’s sec­ond inau­gu­ra­tion after she declined the com­mu­ni­ty choir orig­i­nal­ly sched­uled. Con­ve­nient­ly for­get­ting that the pro­fes­sion­al singers of the U.S. Army con­sist of a large male choir (sort of a coun­ter­part to the famous Sovi­et Red Army male choir) and a tiny madri­gal choir! After she asked at the rehearsal where the women were, the sergeant major in charge decid­ed to send in the (most­ly female) strings! Embar­rass­ing, but at least I can say I’ve sung at an inauguration!

    Let’s see, what else…oh, yes, play­ing a med­ley of “Ger­man Dances” to wel­come the Aus­tri­ans, and insen­si­tive­ly for­get­ting that the Argen­tini­ans had specif­i­cal­ly request­ed that we not play “Don’t Cry for Me, Argenti­na” to wel­come their diplo­mats and head of state…

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