Upon graduating from Juilliard, I began to take auditions with the belief that my dream of playing orchestral music in a fine ensemble would come true in short order. But with my local draft board breathing down my neck, the Marine Band, with its unusual entrance requirements (no basic training!) seemed positively heaven- sent. The Marine Corps part of it was difficult for me at first, though. I came from a small town that had sacrificed many of its sons in the Korean War, and when I enlisted, I felt silly daring to wear the same uniform worn by honest-to-God heroes. I conquered my reticence and did the job, but it wasn't until I was assigned to the band that played honors for the victims of the Lebanon Marine Corps barracks bombing in 1983 that I really understood my part of the mission.
I was grateful to wear the Marine Corps uniform for such an important assignment, especially since these young men and women would probably not receive any other kind of honor. In 1992 I retired as principal clarinet of the band after 23 years of making music with some of the finest musicians I've ever known, and I carry many wonderful remembrances of those days and that music. At this point, my musical career is just beginning again, and I can't wait for the next chapters! —Merlin Petroff (BM '65, clarinet)
Thank you for your respect and recognition for our military musicians. In 1969 I left Juilliard for basic training and then attended the U.S. Armed Forces School of Music at the Naval Amphibious Base. Keyboard people were assigned percussion instruments, so I was a bass drummer and cymbals player. I was then assigned to the 399th Army Band, sent to Korea with the Seventh Infantry division band, and became the accompanist for the Eighth Army Chorus in Seoul before returning to Juilliard. —Robert Swan (MM '74, piano)
I just read the interesting article on Juilliard and the military. I spent six years in “Pershing's Own” Army band after graduating from Juilliard. While stationed with the band in Washington, D.C., I earned a master's and doctorate from the Catholic University of America and received a Veterans Administration mortgage on my first house, all due to my military service. It was—and still is—a terrific ensemble of highly trained musicians.—Garwood Whaley (Diploma '65, percussion), founder of Meredith Music Publications
During the buildup of the Vietnam War the U.S. government granted college deferments to young men to postpone their being drafted. I was studying violin with Ivan Galamian and Paul Makanowitzky and had high hopes for my future as a violinist, but those hopes were clouded by the prospect of compulsory military service once I graduated. At that point, my options other than getting drafted and fighting were leaving the country, feigning psychological issues to avoid the draft, or joining a military band. So I made the gut-wrenching decision to audition for and then join the “The President's Own” U.S. Marine Band for four years, but not without a lot of soul-searching due to the growing public controversy about the war. In the spring of 1970, perhaps 50 of my Juilliard classmates staged an anti-war demonstration by lying down in Lincoln Center Plaza one afternoon; while I was sympathetic, I was also ambivalent and didn't participate.
Once in the band, I often found it discouraging to play background music at dinners and receptions for people who weren't listening, but I have some special memories, especially accompanying Frank Sinatra at the White House and playing ceremonial music for President Nixon's farewell speech a week before my enlistment ended, in 1974. His resignation was awe-inspiring because of how smoothly the transition of power took place; there was no military coup, no rioting or blood in the streets, just a constitutionally mandated transition of power. I suddenly saw how incredibly lucky I was to have been born in this country. Although the band was for me a career interruption and I quit the violin afterward, paradoxically military service was very enlightening and has ended up being something for which I’ll always be grateful. I am honored to have been a member of the U.S. Marine Band, a crown jewel of American patriotism. —Jody Gatwood (BS '70, violin), Violin Professor Emeritus, Benjamin T. Rome School of Music at the Catholic University of America
A favorite “President's Own” memory: playing at President Obama's first inauguration, in 19-degree weather, and looking out onto the National Mall with about 1.5 million people in attendance—it was a literal sea of humanity, and it was just amazing! —Chris Clark (MM '97, trombone), “President's Own” U.S. Marine Band