Music alumni perform at presidential inauguration

Written by: 
Margarita Venegas

As Washington, D.C., prepares for President Barack Obama's second inauguration, family and friends of Staff Sgt. Meaghan Kawaller ('06) will be glued to their TVs, hoping for a glimpse of the clarinetist.

Kawaller is one of about a half dozen UNT alumni who will perform "Hail to the Chief" for Obama, "Hail, Columbia" for Vice President Joe Biden, and marches and other songs with the U.S. Marine Band. This will be the 54th consecutive presidential inauguration at which the band, nicknamed "The President's Own" by Thomas Jefferson, will perform.

"Oh, I'm excited," says Kawaller, who won an audition to play with the band in August 2011. "My friends and family -- they're proud."

Kawaller has performed with the band since October and says it's exciting and a lot to take in. From her first day, she knew she was surrounded by those who shared a bond.

"When I was introduced to the band and they said I was from UNT, I heard other alums in the background cheering," Kawaller says.

There are more than 100 UNT College of Music alumni who play in about two dozen elite military ensembles. Those who welcomed Kawaller to "The President's Own" Marine Band included saxophone players Steve Longoria and Gregory Ridlington ('95) and euphonium players Hiram Diaz, Mark Jenkins ('03) and Ryan McGeorge ('04). Also in the band but not performing in the inauguration pieces are Cynthia Rugolo ('87), who plays piccolo, and vocalist Sara Dell'Omo ('01).

For Gunnery Sgt. Jenkins, who celebrated his 10th year with the band last July, the music portion of the inaugural events is straightforward and he expects it to go easily. He says the band plays "Hail to the Chief" and marches regularly as it plays at the White House often.

This week, the band members have been busy and focused on getting through rehearsals -- including a 3 a.m. practice Sunday morning at the Capitol. They also prepared accompaniments for Kelly Clarkson, who will sing "America," and will work with Beyonce, who will sing the national anthem.

The best part, says Jenkins, who played at the second inauguration of President George W. Bush and Obama's first inauguration, will be the activities on that day.

"When I took part in Obama's first inauguration, we stepped on the platform and saw a sea of people," he says. "It was pretty amazing to be a part of that."