By Julia LeDoux, Pentagram staff writerJanuary 20, 2013
WASHINGTON (Jan. 20, 2013) -- When The Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps marches down Pennsylvania Avenue Jan. 21 during President Barack Obama's second inaugural parade, the 70-member group will be taking part in a tradition that can be traced back more than 230 years.
"This is one of the things I'm most excited about," said Staff Sgt. Tory Paolantonio, a classical fife player who will be performing in his first inaugural parade Monday. "We just learned a new set of marching sequences. The process of learning, it's always changing."
Founded on Feb. 23, 1960, the Fife and Drum Corps, which is based at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, Va., has served as the official escort to the commander in chief during every inaugural parade dating back to President John F. Kennedy's in 1961. But, fife and drum corps' have played a role in every inaugural since George Washington was sworn into office as the nation's first president in 1789, explained Fife and Drum Corps Commander and Band Master Chief Warrant Officer 4 Frederick Ellwein.
"Troops did not march without fife and drum at that time," he said.
For the past several weeks, the band has been practicing for the big event on the installation, marching on Sheridan Avenue to make sure they have every musical note and step they take just right. Ellwein pointed out that preparations for the inaugural parade actually started back in April 2012 when the band's production team began arranging appropriate historical music for the event. Among the tunes the band will perform is "General Washington's March," and when the group arrives at the presidential viewing stand, they will salute Obama with what is known as a "troop step."
"It's a specialized step; a half-step with pointed toe," explained Ellwein. "We perform that unique and difficult step while performing appropriate music."
This is not Ellwein's first time performing at a presidential inaugural parade. He led the South Dakota State University band when it marched in President Ronald Reagan's first inaugural in 1981.
"It was an awesome experience," he said. "It was a stunning experience."
During the parade, Ellwein and his band mates learned that a group of hostages that had been held in Iran for 444 days had been freed.
Sgt. 1st Class Mark Riley will be performing in his second inaugural on Monday. He also took part in Obama's first inaugural in 2009.
"It's incredible," he said of the experience. "The word that I would use to describe it is incredible. You go through all the rehearsals, [then] you see the whole event blossom."
Monday's parade will be bittersweet for Sgt. 1st Class Donald Francisco, who will be performing in his sixth and final inaugural ceremony in advance of his retirement later this year.
"When I got here, I planned to stay a while," he said with a laugh.
Francisco, a senior instrumentalist with the Corps, performed for the first time in an inaugural when President Bill Clinton was sworn into office in 1993. He said out of all the inaugural parades he's been involved in, Clinton's first inaugural was his favorite one.
"That's because I played at an inaugural ball that night," Francisco explained. "I was on the stage when [Clinton] walked in."
Ellwein added that his Soldiers will be faithful to the Revolutionary War era they represent in both the uniforms they wear and the music they play.
"They are so impressive and full of depth," he said.