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United States Marine Band entertains crowd at Maryland Theatre

April 14, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

HAGERSTOWN - The sounds of the United States Marine Band brought veterans and music lovers to their feet during a free concert Thursday at The Maryland Theatre.

But for one retired U.S. Air Force senior master sergeant, a rousing performance by the band known as "The President's Own" wasn't enough to draft complete commitment.

"If you attend all of them, you will find that the Air Force band is definitely better," Charlie Batt of Hagerstown said. "I'm not just saying that because I was in the Air Force."

Batt was part of an enthusiastic audience that turned out to see the U.S. Marine Band, which performs about 300 times a year at the White House, according to press materials supplied by the band.

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"I'm retired from the military myself, and I always try to make these military band concerts, and these guys are really great," Batt said.

Maryland Theatre Executive Director Brian Sullivan, who estimated about 400 people attended the concert, said he was disappointed by the turnout.

"You can talk about patriotism, but you've got to show your colors," said Sullivan, who served a stint in the Reserves after 12 years in the U.S. Army.

Vicki Willman, development manager for the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, said she learned an appreciation of the musicianship of the service bands as a young drummer.

"I grew up playing in bands since fifth grade, and the opportunities to hear 'The President's Own' are few and far between," she said during intermission.

According to Staff Sgt. Kay Summers, a public affairs officer for the band, members of the group, which numbers 155 professional musicians and support staff, play about 500 engagements, including conferences, state funerals, presidential inaugurals and touring shows, a year. The band's primary mission is playing for the President and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, Summers said.

During regular tours of parts of the country, the band draws a lot of Marines and veterans, Summers said.

"The rationale is that it's good for the Marine Corps, for the band, to be out there telling the Marine Corps story," she said.

Tickets for the shows always are free, Summers said.

"It's important that everybody have an opportunity to see the band," Summers said.

According to Sullivan, the theater picked up the cost of providing crew members to help staff Thursday's concert.

He said he would have liked to see a larger, more diverse crowd at the concert to show support for veterans.

"It's just that we don't do anything for our veterans. We really don't," Sullivan said.

As the audience stood to cheer the band, Willman walked into the lobby.

The band played "Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa, its 17th director, as Willman expressed her thanks for the free show.

"There's nothing like musical excellence," Willman said.

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