Col. Michael J. Colburn has participated in seven presidential inaugurations with "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, starting in 1989 for George H. W. Bush. Monday will be his third inauguration as director of the prestigious group.
Of all the duties and responsibilities of the Marine Band, none of them is more special than the presidential inauguration, Colburn said. "It’s a combination of emotions," he said. "It’s thrilling and a little scary and very meaningful to anyone who is interested in American History."
The Marine Band was established by an Act of Congress in 1798. It's purpose is unique — to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
Monday's inauguration of President Obama will mark the 53rd time "The President's Own" have played for an inauguration. The band did not play for the first three: George Washington in 1789 and 1793, and John Adams in 1797.
What is it like to stand facing the Capitol Building just below the inaugural podium?
"I can’t help but think about all who have come before, who were doing the same thing that I'm doing," Colburn said. "You want to make it as memorable an event as possible."
The responsibility requires a focus that sometimes blocks out everything else.
"While you are in the event as director, you're focused on making sure everything goes smoothly," he said. "You can’t really think about the magic of the event while it's ongoing."
But there are moments. One of those moments came during President Obama's first inauguration in 2009. It's a special memory Colburn said will stay with him the rest of his life.
"I turned to salute the Colors behind me and looked out at the Mall," Colburn said. "It was a vista so populated and filled with excitement, the significance of it all washed over me," he said. "It was a spine-tingling moment."
The Marine Band leaves Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., at 4 a.m. Inauguration Day. They play at the Capitol beginning at 10 a.m.
For President Obama's second inauguration, the Marine Band will accompany Beyoncé singing the National Anthem and Kelly Clarkson singing "My Country Tis of Thee."
Then it's time to get in place for the inaugural parade.
"The parade is just the second step in a very full day," Colburn said.
"It’s an overwhelming sensation to lead, thinking of all those military bands and civilian bands that have done this [marched in inaugural parades] for so many years," Colburn said. Along the 1.5 mile route from the Capitol past the White House, The Maine Band will play "Semper Fidelis". Composed by John Philip Sousa, the most famous conductor of The Marine Band, it is the official march of the United States Marine Corps.
"The excitement that accompanies the turn from 15th Street onto Pennsylvania Avenue is palpable," Colburn said.
"When we pass the reviewing stand, we play four Ruffles and Flourishes and the "Marines' Hymn", the official song of the Marines," he said. "The opportunity to salute the Commander in Chief is a moment every Marine dreams of," he said. "If you're a Marine, it makes your blood tingle."
After the inaugural parade, it's on to the inaugural balls. Smaller, 35-piece bands will travel to the official balls.
"It's always been my understanding that the president chooses the first song," Colburn said. "We're told what the first song will be for the first couple dance; they're at least consulted," he said.
Colburn remembers well the first song from the last inauguration. "It was 'At Last' by Etta James, which I know is a favorite of Obama," Colburn said. This year's first song is still a secret.
"We are so grateful to be the band which plays for the presidential inaugurations," Colburn said. "It is a distinction that is a great honor to us, and we are proud to embrace the tradition."
"It’s a long day, but we wouldn’t have it any other way," Colburn said.
"I’m almost as avid a student of history as I am a musician," he said. "I feel this job was made for me."