"The President's Own": Now directed by Oberlin's Own--LtCol Timothy W. Foley '64

By Mavis Clark
Photographs courtesy of the United States Marine Band

Founded in 1798 and for the last 200 years, the U.S. Marine Band has performed for every United States president since John Adams. It was Thomas Jefferson who named the group "The President's Own," marking the Marine Band's primary mission.

For the last two years, Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Foley '68 has served as director of "The President's Own" Marine Band and music advisor to the White House. For the last 30 years Foley has been a featured clarinet soloist with the red-coats and has performed as conductor and clarinetist in numerous chamber music concerts.

Performance of the U.S. Marine Band

International dignitaries and leaders for whom Foley has played include the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin, Jordan's King Hussein, Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin, South African President Nelson Mandela, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and Morocco's King Hassan II.

LtCol Timothy W. Foley '64

How did an earnest Oberlin Conservatory student, a product of the '60s, when peace rallies at Oberlin abounded with sit-ins, marches, demonstrations, and vigils choose a full-time military career? Timothy Foley was an exception. He volunteered to serve in the Marines and was processed through immediately following his graduation in 1968.

When we asked Foley how his classmates reacted to his decision, he said, "I used discretion in discussing my Marine Corps plans with friends (and faculty!) at Oberlin. Most of them wouldn't have understood, but for me, it was either enlist or be drafted. Although I was a music education major, it dawned on me in my senior year that I had no aptitude for teaching. Two faculty members at the Conservatory had served a hitch with the Marine Band: professor of French horn Robert Fries and oboe professor Wayne Rapier. It was Rapier who made me aware of an opening in the band's clarinet section, and encouraged me to take the audition.

"At that time my grandfather was the youngest living veteran of the Spanish American War, having lied about his age and enlisted when he was 15. He had served as a gun pointer aboard one of the ships in Dewey's fleet in Manila and I knew from him that the Marine Corps was a great organization.

"Once in Washington, I had little trouble adapting to Marine life. After all, being a musician involves great self discipline and focus. Oberlin may have been a laissez-faire experience on some levels, but majoring in music at the Conservatory demanded the same qualities of reliability, attention to duty, and creativity as the Corps. The demands of military service are undoubtedly rigorous, but wonderful Oberlin teachers like George Waln, Robert Melcher, and Inda Howland weren't known for cutting much slack, either! I just didn't see it as a big adjustment.

Staying in Touch with Oberlin

"I returned to the Oberlin campus a few years ago after more than 25 years' absence. It was a wonderful and strange experience, common to those of us who were there in the turbulent '60s. It all seems so benign now! I've stayed in touch with several Oberlinians, including my teacher, George Waln, and my Oberlin roommate and friend of longest standing, Michael Barone. Mike has been at Minnesota Public Radio as long as I've been here in Washington, and we've watched each other grow up and old from afar.

Foley conducting

Memorable Moments
in a Lifetime Career

"One of the happiest was playing at Ronald Reagan's first inaugural in 1981. Just as the Marine Band was about to play America the Beautiful, we heard that the hostages had been released from Iran. It was indeed a beautiful moment.

"The saddest and most emotional for me, personally, was conducting the band at the ground-breaking and dedication of the Vietnam Memorial. This was our war.

"When I began my conducting duties here, I had the unbelievable privilege of introducing some of the most beautiful and important works in the wind music repertoire to the band, works that had never been performed for an audience by these musicians-works like Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind Instruments, Grainger's Lincolnshire Posy, Dahl's Sinfonetta, Dvorak's Serenade for Winds, the Mozart Serenades, and others. These were mostly works I had learned and played at Oberlin under the direction of Kenneth Moore who directed the Oberlin Wind Ensemble.

"I will never forget conducting the music of Beethoven with our Chamber Orchestra at the White House for Nelson Mandela's first official visit to the U.S. Finding the right musical salutation amid all the necessary protocol, pomp, and circumstance was a challenge, and it seemed to me that the right choice was that of the composer of Fidelio. For me it was an experience of overwhelming power.

"Another special event was our memorable 17-day concert tour of the Soviet Union in 1990. It was a time of great political instability and uncertainty, but we were treated like royalty. The Russian military seemed to be desperately wanting, just for the bare necessities of life, but they just couldn't do enough for us. As musicians it was a perfectly natural thing for us to make many good friends in 'the evil empire.'

"The July 10th celebration at the White House this year in recognition of our 200th anniversary was totally unique. For the first time in history we were the honored guests at a White House function. That weekend was even more special for me. My beloved clarinet teacher from Oberlin, George Waln, came all the way from California to be with us at this event and to attend our bicentennial concert July 11th at Kennedy Center.

"From a conductor's vantage point, standing on the podium and facing the band provides an unforgettable sight and sound as the Marine Band plays The Stars and Stripes Forever in a summer concert. I can look out across the entire length of the Mall and see the Smithsonian, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln, Jefferson, and Vietnam memorials. Accompanied by the music of John Philip Sousa, it's a hair-standing-on-the-back-of-the-neck experience."

In closing, Foley said, with his usual modesty, "I am very honored that you would include me in the alumni magazine, but most importantly, it's the band that gets the credit. I'm very happy that your readers might become more aware of what this great organization is all about!"

Editor's note: Foley responded to a series of questions prepared by the Oberlin Alumni Magazine. Highlights from his recollections are included in this article.