ORONO, Maine — He arrived in Maine on one of the coldest, wettest, sloppiest days in recent memory, but U.S. Col. Michael J. Colburn said graciously on Saturday that he was pleased to be back in New England, the dank weather notwithstanding.
“I always enjoy working with students, especially in New England,” he said. “I am still very attached to this part of the country.”
Colburn, a native of Vermont, is the director of The President’s Own United States Marine Band, founded in 1798 and the oldest continuously active professional musical organization in the nation.
Colburn is visiting Orono to lead a series of conducting workshops for area secondary-school teachers as well as student rehearsals and performances at the University of Maine. His visit will culminate Tuesday evening as, in full and fabulous uniform — think John Philip Sousa, or Sgt. Pepper — he conducts performances by the University of Maine Concert Band and the University of Maine Symphonic Band in a concert at the Collins Center for the Arts on the UMaine campus.
With about 130 musicians, The President’s Own United States Marine Band is responsible for providing music at White House functions, including state dinners, receptions and dances, as well as at inaugurations, parades and other public events. The President’s Own United States Marine Band has played for every U.S. president except George Washington and tours extensively throughout the country. As the group’s director since 2004, Colburn serves as the music adviser to the White House and regularly conducts the Marine band at the executive mansion and at all inaugurations.
Twelve area secondary-school music teachers made plans to attend Colburn’s conducting clinics Saturday morning, but only nine showed up after the walloping April Fools’ Day snowstorm the day before. One of them was Marisa Weinstein, who teaches music at the Warsaw Middle School in Pittsfield.
“I was a little apprehensive because I knew it would be a lot of work and pretty nerve-wracking,” Weinstein said later in the day. “But it was amazing. It was a chance to work with this wonderful conductor and the University of Maine Symphonic Band and to get videotaped and critiqued. It was really wonderful.”
She prepared two movements of the “William Byrd Suite” by 20th century English composer Gordon Jacob and was rewarded not only with Colburn’s insightful tips on her conducting technique but with the high competence of the university student musicians.
In addition to addressing the more technical aspects of Weinstein’s conducting, Colburn told her and the other teachers to interact more directly with the musicians before them.
“He said, ‘You know your music, you know your score. Now get your head up and make eye contact with your musicians,’” she recalled. That silent communication conveys a wealth of messages, she said, including helping everyone feel more relaxed and confident about the music they’re about to play.
“You get used to conducting ‘Hot Cross Buns’ with fifth-graders and making glaring errors,” she said, so the opportunity to train even briefly with the director of such a high-profile band was exhilarating.
In a brief interview between obligations, Colburn, whose father was a high school music teacher in Vermont, said he appreciates the opportunity to work with middle and high school educators as well as with committed college-level students like those at UMaine.
“My personal philosophy is that the [President’s Own] band belongs to the American public and we all owe a debt of gratitude to the music educators who train us,” he said. “I am happy to help repay a bit of that debt whenever I have the opportunity.”
Colburn barely made it to Orono after his flight was grounded in Portland on Friday night due to the stormy weather. His host, Chris White, director of the University of Maine Symphonic Band, drove through the snow, picked him up and brought him to Orono.
Saturday was given over to a busy schedule of workshops and rehearsals.
On Sunday, under sunnier skies, White drove with Colburn to the Stockton Springs home of former University of Maine Symphonic Band Director Chip Farnham for a Maine lobster luncheon before an evening rehearsal for Tuesday’s program. Additional rehearsals were scheduled for Monday.
Tuesday’s performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the Collins Center for the Arts on the UMaine campus in Orono.