U.S. Marine Band

When Jeffrey Strong graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in music performance, his plan was to find work playing trumpet in a symphony. Instead, he ended up joining one of the most elite orchestras in the country — the U.S. Marine Band. He plays and tells the story of the group known as "the president's iPod."

RACHEL MARTIN, host:

When Jeffrey Strong graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in music performance, he thought he'd get a job playing the trumpet in a big city orchestra like most of his friends. Instead, he ended up cutting his hair, putting on a uniform and joining The President's Own, the oldest professional music group in the country, the United States Marine Band.

(Soundbite of music)

Staff Sergeant JEFFREY STRONG: I started playing the trumpet in sixth grade. Every year in the holiday season, my dad would play Miles Davis CDs, so the trumpet was always in my ear.

(Soundbite of trumpet)

SSgt. STRONG: For a lot of high school kids, Friday nights might have been going out and getting into trouble or whatever. And we would usually go to someone's house and play music from 5 or 6 o'clock until 2 or 3 a.m.

(Soundbite of music)

SSgt. STRONG: I knew about the Marine band when I was younger. I remember actually talking about it with my friends when I was in high school and saying: Gosh, you know, the band sounds great. Could you imagine getting in there someday? But that also seemed like it would be impossible.

(Soundbite of music)

SSgt. STRONG: There were 110 trumpet players for the audition I took.

(Soundbite of music)

SSgt. STRONG: I remember my first rehearsal with the band when we started off with a march, and I got this big grin on my face, and I had to stop playing because I was so taken aback by how cool it was.

(Soundbite of music)

SSgt. STRONG: One of the first things you'll notice when you come to one of our concerts are our bright red coats. And that's a tradition that goes back to when we were on the battlefield so that we could be seen and told what call to play to give directions to the troops.

(Soundbite of trumpet)

SSgt. STRONG: My first time playing for the president was actually for the Easter Egg Roll. And we were sitting up on the balcony, and then the double doors up there open up, and out steps the president.

(Soundbite of song, "Hail to the Chief")

SSgt. STRONG: And it was really awesome. We do a lot of stuff at the White House. We have upwards of 300 events that we will do at the White House every year. And we really have to be able to provide music for whatever the president wants.

One of the other trumpet players in the band said to me when I first got here that we're like the president's iPod, whatever he needs. So when George Bush was in office, we put together a country band. And when there are holiday receptions, we have a chamber orchestra that goes over and plays holiday tunes and waltzes and people dance.

(Soundbite of music)

SSgt. STRONG: One of the most important things for me is playing "Taps" in funerals. I've had a lot of friends who have done service overseas, and I've lost some very close friends. And so for me, the opportunity to provide that service was something very important.

(Soundbite of song, "Taps")

SSgt. STRONG: When you play "Taps" to honor the person who gave their life, it could be a retired lieutenant colonel, or it could be someone who was recently killed in action, it could be daunting.

(Soundbite of song, "Taps")

SSgt. STRONG: But no matter how nervous I am, I'm always able to calm my mind and calm myself down. And I think it's because of how important that moment really is.

(Soundbite of song, "Taps")

SSgt. STRONG: It may be simple, but it's still a very powerful and beautiful piece.

(Soundbite of song, "Taps")

MARTIN: Staff Sergeant Jeffrey Strong, trumpeter with the United States Marine Band.

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