Tuesday October 2, 2012

WESTMINSTER -- Col. Michael J. Colburn is coming home to Vermont.

But he isn’t returning from combat duty in Iraq or security forces training in Afghanistan.

No, Colburn proudly serves his country in a different role -- as the director of "The President’s Own" United States Marine Band. And a portion of the military musicians is scheduled to perform in the Green Mountain State twice this month, during the band’s annual national concert tour.

The band is set to play in Colburn’s hometown of St. Albans on Wednesday, Oct. 10, and at the Bellows Falls Union High School gymnasium on Saturday, Oct. 13. The performance at the high school is slated to begin at 8 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Tickets are available by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to BFUHS, PO Box 429, Bellows Falls, VT, 05101. Tickets may also be picked up at BFUHS during the school day.

"It’s always a wild experience playing in Vermont. And it almost feels surreal whenever (there’s a concert) in St. Albans," Colburn told the Reformer on Friday. "I feel like I know every single person in the audience."

He expects to see some friends and family members at BFUHS, as his father, Verne Colburn, hails from Keene, N.H.

The USMB rotates a five-year cycle, touring in a different region of the country each year. It performs 29 concerts in the 31 days of October and visits New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.


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Nick Pelton, in his second year as director of the 30-member BFUHS band, said he received a call from USMB National Tour Director Andrew Linden in early spring and was asked if the school would like to host the musicians. Pelton said the school was definitely interested but he had to conduct some follow-up work to make sure it was a feasible task.

He said the gymnasium was chosen as the spot, as the band by policy does not perform for audiences with fewer than 1,200 people. Pelton said a planning committee was formed and preparation began within a couple of weeks.

"I was completely thrilled," he said. "It’s a great way to bring together all the people in the community through music, which is an important part of our culture."

Pelton said three students hoping to be named All-State -- sophomore tuba player McKenzie Brandon, junior alto saxophonist Tim Jones and senior trumpeter Emily Vaccaro -- will even get to perform solos before the USMB’s performance.

"I think, at face value, it might be a little intimidating but I think the end result will be that (they become) more motivated and encouraged," he said.

Colburn said his musicians, who travel in two coach buses with their equipment and instruments in other vehicles, are very generous with their time and enjoy talking with young music lovers. He said about 75 Marines from his 154-member band will embark on the tour, while the rest remain in Washington, D.C. -- as the band’s primary obligation is to provide music for the White House.

Colburn’s passion runs in the family, as his father served as the band director of Bellows Free Academy in St. Albans for many years. Colburn first started playing instruments when he was 10 and really wanted to learn the tuba. His size seemed to be a problem, however.

"(My father) thought I wasn’t big enough for it," the colonel recalled. "He said maybe (I could play it) when I got older."

Verne Colburn encouraged his son to try the euphonium, which resembles a small tuba. Years later he took him to see "The President’s Own" United States Marine Band and the high school student got to meet euphonium player Lucas Spiros, who told him he too could play in the USMB someday. The rest is history.

After graduating from BFA St. Albans in 1982, he attended the Crane School of Music at the State University of New York in Potsdam for two years. He said he continued his education at Arizona State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance in 1986. It was at ASU that Colburn had his successful marine band audition.

He went on to get a master’s degree in conducting from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., studying with Anthony Maiello.

"It really is a dream come true (to be the USMB director)," he said.

According to the White House’s website, President John Adams approved legislation on July 11, 1798, to officially bring "The President’s Own" United States Marine Band into existence. It made its White House debut at President and Mrs. John Adams’ first New Year’s Day reception in 1801 and has since performed at every presidential inauguration, making it America’s oldest continuously active professional musical organization.

There is a limit of four tickets per request. The main entrance to the high school will be open at 7:15 p.m. the day of the performance. All ticket holders must be seated by 7:45 p.m. If seats are still available at that time, non-ticket holders will be let in on a first-come, first-served basis.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.