Before veteran trumpet player John Hagstrom joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1996, he spent six years honing his craft as part of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. These ensembles actually have some striking similarities.
“The Marine Band and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra are both striving for an ideal,” Hagstrom said. “Not by trying to be ‘just good enough for now’ or ‘just a little better than some other group,’ but being accountable to what we can imagine. What I find invigorating, but also exhausting, is that both of these organizations are faithfully committed to imagining higher standards and then achieving them.”
Hagstrom, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library Chair in the CSO’s trumpet section, has produced an hourlong video that highlights the trumpet’s key role in military and orchestral music. Weaving together several elements — Hagstrom’s live trumpet demonstrations, interviews with Marine Band directors past and present, and archival footage — “Tribute to Veterans: Trumpeting the Power of Music” honors two quintessentially American art forms. The video will be released on several platforms on Nov. 11, which marks the annual national observation of Veterans Day.
“It integrates military values with CSO values,” Hagstrom said, “which is teamwork, strategy and diligence leading to a shared excellence.”
In his video introduction, Hagstrom explains that the trumpet and its distinctive sound is “at the center of many of the moments that bring us together as a nation, and as a leading voice within so much of the music performed by the Chicago Symphony. Its powerful sound is also central to the experiences of those who have served our country.”
Current Marine Band director Colonel Jason Fettig, one of three interview subjects, speaks of the “very visceral connection that happens right out of the gate when someone hears a military band play, and certainly when they hear ‘The President’s Own’ Marine Band play, we feel that across the whole spectrum of our duties.”
During the meticulously edited presentation, Hagstrom performs bits of historical military and orchestral music on the trumpet and other related instruments, including the bugle. Along with his spoken segments, those excerpts are further contextualized by snippets of CSO and Marine Band performances. There’s also a featured composition by Marine Band assistant director Maj. Ryan Nowlin called “Let Freedom Ring.” Set to the tune of “America (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee),” it is partly an homage to Nowlin’s grandfathers who served in World War II.
Hagstrom’s family, too, has a military pedigree, including uncles and cousins who served in various branches. But that’s not what drove him to create this video. It’s all about the music, he stresses, which has the power to unite people of different — sometimes very different — backgrounds and beliefs.
Fettig echoes and expounds on those sentiments. As a publicly funded concert ensemble, he notes, the Marine Band performs for American citizens of all stripes, as well as veterans. “All of these people are often in the very same room where we perform, and in many cases, they’re part of the same community. But they might not know each other. They might not really have anything to do with each other’s lives. One of the most enjoyable parts of my service is introducing these people to each other through music.”