Friday evenings at the Marine Barracks near the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps performs publicly. It’s a free concert. It’s a delightful way to spend a spring or fall afternoon-into-evening. An easy walk from our old apartment on East Capitol Street S.E., and now, offering a dozen venues for a good dinner on the return.
Except, September 24 through October 10 we had them here in Dallas, at the State Fair of Texas.
Kathryn and I took advantage of Dallas ISD’s State Fair Day to carry out a dozen errands including blood chemistry checks and a run to Kenny’s school, the University of Texas at Dallas, to finish some paperwork for his visa in China. We arrived at the State Fair in mid-afternoon, in time to catch the USMC Drum and Bugle Corps’ entire performance in a venue quite different from their usual spit-and-polish home.
Under the aegis of Big Tex, they performed on the parade ground off to the side of the Texas Women’s Museum. The grandstands were larger than D.C.’s, but covering only three sides and leaving the backdrop open for tourists wandering by to spoil, or add interest to, the photos of other fair goers.
The group’s performance sparkled with brilliant performances in the drum and bugle corps style — we’ve been spoiled by the Duncanville High School Marching Band’s constant level of near-perfection, but were not disappointed in the crisp musicality delivered by the Marines. These were performances to make other musicians smile and clap with joy at the sound, but delivered without a smile or hint of satisfaction in Marine unsmiling style. Such incongruence.
Solos featured young Marines from Texas, no doubt including several who had marched in competition against Duncanville for their Texas high schools. Performances included a Sousa march, and several new compositions from the director honoring, among others, the Navy Medical Corpsmen. In a tribute to Texas, the group played Elmer Bernstein’s “Theme from the Sons of Katie Elder,” a John Wayne movie shot in Clearwater, Texas, more than a generation ago. There were percussion numbers, a calypso, a cover of Gloria Estefan.
The set performance closed out with Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be An American.” This is one of my least favorite tunes to suffer through since most performances turn quickly to maudlin. Not so here. Confined to crisp drums and tight brass, the song avoided sappiness, even when the entire Corps put down their instruments for an a capella rendition of the vocal, sung quietly enough the crowd had to strain to be quiet to hear. This lent a gravity to the lyric that is completely missing from a country band’s high-volume blast.
In the midst of people who didn’t want to pay attention, watched over by the bare-breasted art-deco titaness guarding the Texas Women’s Museum, and in the heat of a Texas October, the USMC Drum and Bugle Corps played as tightly and honorably as they do at more sober and somber venues. It was great.
I was surprised when the group marched off after an hour’s concert, to the “Marine Corps Hymn.” They marched a half-mile to one of the fair’s midways, and performed another mini-concert. Still no visible sweat in the heat.