Member Of U.S. Coast Guard Band Marches His Last Inaugural Parade

Jan 20, 2017

Friday's presidential inaugural parade will include more than 8,000 participants. One of them is Master Chief Musician Jonathan Towne. He’s a member of the New London based U. S. Coast Guard Band. This will be the eighth inauguration he’s performed in -- and also his last. 

Towne has been playing clarinet with the band for over 28 years. He’d been a member for only five months when he took part in the inaugural parade for President George H. W. Bush.

"I was amazingly excited about it," said Towne. "Marching in front of the president -- you know when you go before the reviewing stand right behind the White House -- very bright television lights as you’re coming up. It’s just like, wow, here we go. And it’s over pretty quickly, but it’s really great to do it."

By President Clinton’s second inauguration, Towne was Drum Major. And today will be the sixth time he leads the Coast Guard Band in the parade. He’s retiring, so the Trump inauguration will be his final march down Pennsylvania Avenue in the ceremonial bearskin hat worn by all drum majors in premier military bands. He’ll be hard to miss.

“I’m pretty tall. I’m 6’2” and then you get this hat that goes up another, I don’t know, 10 or 12 inches," said Towne. "I did have to get used to it, because when I use the mace -- that long stick, pole that I hold to give the signals -- you’ve gotta be careful not to hit it, although it’s on pretty firm. I’ve never knocked it off my head."

Credit US Coast Guard Academy

The Coast Guard Band will be the smallest military band at the inauguration. They’ll march 45 members and play only one piece of music -- Semper Paratus -- the official marching song of the Coast Guard, and probably the least known of the five official marches, said Towne.

"Maybe just because our numbers are so small," he said. "You know, the other four I think are pretty well known. I knew them before I got in the Coast Guard, but I didn’t know the Coast Guard’s."

As Towne reflected on past inaugural parades, he characterized them by weather conditions. His first, he remembered, was the windiest.

“We turned the corner to come up Pennsylvania Avenue, and I believe we were just going directly into the wind," said Towne.  "All these military covers had blown off of people's heads and were blowing down the street. So I was like, wow, there goes another one, there goes another one.”

Towne remembered President Obama’s two inaugurations as the coldest and then the warmest. He said he’s been watching the forecast for this one since last week.

I asked if any of the band members ever talked politics, but Towne’s not going there.

"It’s always an honor to play whether you agree or not with who the president is," he said. "You’re playing for the office of the presidency and that’s always just a great honor and it’s just such a huge part of our democracy to have a freely elected president and not every country has that."

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Master Chief Musician Jonathan Towne will retire in 2018.