Directors and Leaders of the Marine Band
by Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band, retired
edited by David Werden
In this article I will attempt to put down in writing my impressions, analysis, criticisms, praise, etc. for all of the Marine Band Leaders and Directors who I either saw or whom I played under.
The only Marine Band Leader I will comment upon is Capt. Taylor Branson. However, I did serve under Leader Lt. Col. Santelmann and Director Col. Schoepper, as well as Second Leader Weber, and Directors Harpham, King, Rusinac, Kline. Later Harpham and Kline became Directors. However, that was after I had retired. Anyway, let's get on with it.
Capt. Taylor Branson
I only saw him conduct the Marine Band during one tour concert in the fall of 1938. I was a college student at Penn State and the Marine Band was playing a matinee concert at the high school football stadium in State College. The stadium was only about six blocks from my room so I walked over, bought a ticket, and sat in the bleachers to listen to the fine concert the band presented. Eddie Masters was the cornet soloist and someone played a marimba solo. After the concert I hurried down to the front of the band to where the euphonium players were hastily putting their instruments away in the euphonium trunk. The band was moving to another town, about five miles away, for the evening concert so they had to pack up and move out in a hurry.
When I reached the euphonium trunks, I spoke first to Bill Santelmann, one of the euphonium players while Buddy Burroughs was the other. Since I had heard Don Kimball play solos on the radio quite often, I asked for him. He had, as it turned out, been sent home and Bill Santelmann had been sent out to replace him. I believe that Kimball got sick. The flu, perhaps.
When I watched the Marine Band in the only concert where I could observe Branson conduct, I couldn't figure out the beat. Branson seemed to be conducting one way and the band was playing another way; seemingly neither band nor conductor reaching any compromise. However, Branson knew the correct interpretation of all of the music of which I was familiar. It was just the delayed action beat. That certainly confused me. It did handicap the band, I could see. The attacks were not precise. However, the band otherwise was a fine band and they could certainly handle all of the most difficult music seemingly with great ease. I loved hearing the euphoniums. Where I was sitting, I could hear virtually every note out of them and they certainly did "wail".
Several years later, when I was working at an aircraft factory during the first part of WWII, I started taking lessons from a fine trombone player in Trenton, NJ. This teacher had played trombone in the Pryor band for years and he was the president of the Musicians Local of Trenton. He knew many Pryor, Sousa, Conway Band members. The word I got from him about Taylor Branson and the Marine Band was that the Marine Band was the best band in Washington, DC but Branson wasn't too great. His "delayed action" beat hindered the band. No precision was the word he gave me. He was correct. You simply can NOT have much precision when no one can agree where the beat is.
Really, that's about all I can say about Taylor Branson.
William F. Santelmann
He was a Major when I first got into the Marine Band. I had written for an appointment for an audition on euphonium for I had met Paul Gogel, Marine Band Solo Bb Clarinetist, in 1946 so I had written him to get the lay of the land, so to speak. He had replied that the Marine Band was, indeed, looking for a euphonium player so why didn't I write for an appointment to audition? I wrote to Major Santelmann in July 1947 and requested a date for an appointment to audition on euphonium. Major Santelmann, himself, typed the letter and it was very cordial. Yes, they did want another euphonium player. While the two euphonium players they had did play solos, they were tired of solo work and the band needed someone to be the soloist. He also gave me a date to appear for the audition.
I did appear at the appointed time on the correct day and auditioned. Major Santelmann conducted the audition. Had I known that he had been a Marine Band euphonium player, I would probably have fainted. As it was, I took the audition and was accepted. Major Santelmann told me to go back home and I would hear from him. He would by letter inform me when I was to report for duty. In due time I did receive his letter, had the date to appear to sign up, and did drive down and reported when instructed to do so. After a quick physical exam, I was sworn in that day - Monday, 4 August 1947.
In my first band rehearsal with the Marine Band, I was seated between Kimball on my left and Burroughs on my right. Probably that would keep me out of trouble. It didn't. With my very first note in the Marine Band, I was in trouble. That delayed action beat was something I had never experienced before and, when the Major gave a down beat, I came in loudly right at the bottom of the beat. Everyone else came in somewhere between halfway up and all the way up with the stick. That meant that I was in, and loudly so, maybe a second before everyone else. The Major stopped the band, looked in the direction of the euphoniums, laughed a hearty laugh, "HA, HA!", and exclaimed, "Too early, Lehman. Oh, you'll get onto it." Naturally, all eyes were upon the new kid who "POOPED-IN" too early. How embarrassing. Well, I spent 7-8 years playing under Lt. Col. Santelmann's baton, the last several years as principal euphonium, and I never did "Get onto it" completely. The delayed action beat never did help anything at all, as far as I could see.
Concerning that delayed action beat, I believe that Lt. Col. Santelmann, when he took the baton from Taylor Branson in 1940, did not want to revamp the entire band and institute a correct beat. He was content to let it slide for some future leader to correct. I believe that he realized what he had inherited from Branson. I believe that he would rather have been able to use a correct beat and have the band attack exactly at the downward spot of the beat. However, I feel that he thought that it was simply too tough a job and he didn't want to have to go thru it.
Lt. Col. Santelmann could, and did, use a correct beat most of the time when he was out of the Marine Band and doing his guest conducting, from what I can gather from many musicians who played here and there under his baton. I, myself, played under his baton with the Allentown Band for a whole 12" LP disc full of music and he didn't use any delayed action beat then. I am certain that he would have preferred to use a conventional beat but, unless he slaved with the band to break all the players of playing so far behind the beat, he could not have done anything. He felt that he was FORCED to take it as he got it. The playing of the band suffered. No precision. Too bad.
When I first got into the Marine Band, the rank structure was different from what it is now. First of all, there was a Leader and a Second Leader. That was all of the officers of the band. Underneath the officers were the enlisted men and that rank structure has long since disappeared. It consisted of Principal Musicians, Musicians First Class, Musicians Second Class, Musicians Third Class, and sergeants (buck sergeants).
It wasn't until Albert F. Schoepper took over the baton from Wm. F. Santelmann in May 1955 that the rank of the Leader was changed to Director and that of Second Leader was changed to Assistant Director. One each. A bit later another Assistant Director was added.
However, when I got into the Marine Band, the second in charge, under Santelmann, was Henry Weber, the Second Leader. Mr. Weber was a very mild mannered, almost Milquetoast-ish, man and he was a very nice kind fellow. He had, at one time, been the No.1 Clarinetist of the Marine Band, taking over from the fine principal clarinetist, Emil Rada. Mr. Weber was no Rada but he was very capable. He had a big tone and he was a very smooth player. Typical of Marine Band players, on all instruments in those days, he played with a lot of volume. After all, these old timers thru most of their playing lives did not have the benefit of electrical amplification. For the band to be heard and to sound like something besides a weak, faint grade school band - especially in out-of-door concerts - they had to really play loudly. And all of those old time Marine Band players really "put out".
Well, if Mr. Weber were a capable clarinetist, he was not very capable as a Second Leader. He may have been an awfully nice man but he was a very poor conductor. He was very indecisive. He gave you a beat which was an apology. How could you come in - make an entrance - with any authority with such a hesitant beat. No one really knew when to enter - to start a piece - with Mr. Weber conducting. He was also easily confused, frequently got lost when conducting (often blaming someone perfectly innocent when things went wrong). He wasn't vindictive about it. He probably really did think that someone else was to blame but it was all his fault. He was terrible as a conductor.
Occasionally, Mr. Weber would get lost during the conducting of a piece at the Capitol. During the summer concerts. One time when I was first in the band he got lost in the overture to "Tannhauser". The band faltered badly and finally broke down. Upon which poor Br. Weber took the score, rushed down to the Solo Bb Clarinet player and pointed something out to him with the baton, and rushed back to the podium. We were mortified. Poor Paul Gogel, the Principal Clarinetist, was embarrassed no end. He had not been at fault at all. Poor Mr. Weber had got lost. He may have THOUGHT that it was Paul Gogel's fault but everyone in the band knew where the fault lay. It lay right on Mr. Weber's doorstep. Poor Mr. Weber. Kind, gentle, bumbler.
I played a few solos under Mr. Weber's baton and had I been a nervous sort, I surely would have fainted dead away for Mr. Weber was so terribly fidgety, nervous, and indecisive that it was all I could do to play the solo well. I did it by not watching him. I just played and let him follow me. The first time we did the trio from "Attila" was in a radio broadcast and my partners in the duet were so far above me in playing excellence that I OUGHT to have been very nervous. I wasn't. However, poor Mr. Weber was nervous enough for everyone. I couldn't see Mr. Weber or watch his stick for he was on the high podium in the band auditorium while the trio players were on the auditorium ground floor. I was placed so I couldn't see Mr. Weber, even if I could have been watching especially for his beat. I wasn't really interested, anyway, in that so again I was flying blind. The other two trio-ists were Bob DeHart and Dale Harpham. Naturally, they were beautiful. I simply tried to hold on and get thru the piece without fouling up. I got thru it okay.
That's enough about Henry Weber.
Albert F. Schoepper
When I first got into the Marine Band, Al Schoepper was a sax player in the band and the asst. Concert Master of the Marine Band Symphony orchestra. He sat on the same stand with Freddie Pfeiffer, whom he hated. Probably the feeling was mutual. Fred must have been a whiz on principal violin for he was always the No.1 player while Al Schoepper was "only" No.2. However, Al was a terrific violinist - both on the chair and as a soloist. He was flawless in performance and apparently unflappable.
I got along fine with Al Schoepper. I never dreamed that one day he would be the boss. However, we always had very good vibes together although I never associated with him outside of the band work we both engaged in as players. Occasionally, I would have a small incidental solo in some piece we were playing and I asked Al for his help in interpretation. Whenever I play these little solos, even 48 years later, I use Al's interpretation. Excellent stylist was Al.
When Mr. Weber dropped dead down in Mexico City on a vacation with his wife, Al Schoepper was appointed as the new Second Leader. I distinctly remember his very first engagement upon making Second Leader. He had stepped down out of the bus which had taken us to a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery and a bird had dropped a "message" on his brand new white hat cover, thus absolutely ruining it. He never could get the blueberry stain out of that hat. Wore it once and threw it away. Laughed about it the next day.
When Mr. Schoepper started conducting the Marine Band as Second Leader, he was awful. We wondered if he would EVER become a good conductor. Probably most of us thought that he would not. However, after a couple years of floundering around conducting poorly, he started improving and by the time that he took over the baton from Lt. Col. Santelmann in 1955 he was a very good conductor. Not as good as he would be but very, very good.
One thing which Mr. Schoepper, as Second Leader, obviously decided to do after becoming Director - he decided this as soon as he became Second Leader, I am sure - was to revamp the beat matter. He hated that delayed action beat with a vengeance. And during his work with the band as Second Leader he gave hints of this for he wanted you to be with the beat. He could not enforce this, in case the individual player couldn't or wouldn't play right on the beat, because Lt. Col. Santelmann was still the big boss and he was using that delayed action beat. However, just as soon as Santelmann retired and he became the boss, he instituted the "play right exactly on the beat" policy and did he enforce it! WOW! What fights he had. He would rant and rave and flail his arms around trying to get the men to play right on his beat. I certainly had no trouble with doing that. I was tickled to death. I always had hated that old delayed action beat and I was delighted that we didn't have it around anymore.
It may have taken Schoepper two years to get the band to play the way he wanted them to play but he did accomplish this eventually. From then on there was never any delayed action beat. Thank Heaven!
In my own opinion Col. Schoepper was, by far, the best conductor the Marine Band has ever had. While he may not have had the sensitivity of Lt. Col. Santelmann - "Wild Bill" for all his gruffness was really a very sensitive conductor - he did have everything else that Santelmann had and a lot more. For one thing Schoepper was always prepared. He never had any disasters or near disasters. He prevented these by thorough preparation. Santelmann took lots of chances and sometimes came a cropper. He, Santelmann, would occasionally show off before guests and try to conduct the band from memory. Sometimes he forgot and the band faded away until maybe only one poor flutist was playing. What an embarrassment. Disastrous.
Such a disaster never happened to Col. Schoepper for he NEVER tried to do anything for which he was not entirely prepared and rehearsed. He, thus, avoided much grief.
Dale L. Harpham
Dale was a humorous fellow who played trombone next to Bob Isele when I first came into the Marine Band. I always got along very well with him, too. He was always kidding and playing jokes on unsuspecting band members. Whenever I was the butt of one of his jokes, I never got angry but laughed as heartily as everyone else. Dale was a fine trombonist on the chair and as a soloist, as well. He didn't have Bob Isele's enormous facility but he had a fine style and a good solid tone. His solos were all wonderful, in my opinion.
When Dale became Assistant Director, it was at the time when Schoepper became Director. Only one Asst. Director at first. Dale did a lot of conducting and he was a good conductor. As time went on, he became a better conductor but never even approached Schoepper in Uncle Albert's excellence. However, he tried making up for it by conducting everything faster than anyone else had ever done. Perhaps he thought that faster is better, a policy that I sure don't agree with. I don't believe that faster always is better. Probably faster is rarely better - at least as fast as Dale would conduct certain music. He always took marches, for instance, at a terrific tempo. Boy, what a chore to play a march that fast. However, he had the horses so he could get away with it.
Harpham was a big asset to the Colonel in the administrative area. He was the one who wrote everything up - wrote all of the requests for more moneys, for increases in T.O., higher ranks, etc. The Colonel NEVER went up to the Commandant's office with a big request but what he didn't come back with his request granted. It was uncanny. However, without Dale's expert paperwork those requests might not have been granted.
It is unfortunate that, after Col. Schoepper retired and Dale Harpham became the Director, his tenure as Director was so brief. He got caught up in some things which in other times, to other individuals, at other points were acceptable. Or, at least, overlooked. Winked at. Given a blind eye. However, when his indiscretions were aired all over the nation via the syndicated gossip column of (predecessor of Jack Anderson - forget the name), the USMC was forced to drastic measures and poor Dale was forced to retire. Too bad, really. He was a decent man, a good Director, and fine musician.
James B. King, Jr.
Jimmie King was the Marine Band's Eb Clarinet player when I first joined the Marine band and he remained the Eb Clarinetist until he was appointed to the new position of the second Assistant Director. Under Col. Schoepper. Probably in 1957. I always got along just fine with Jimmie King. When Gene Kuhns and I roomed together on tour, we always ate our meals with Jimmie King and Joe Stoll, his roommate.
Jimmie was a well-schooled musician, a Curtis Institute of Music, graduate. He was adequate with the baton but not brilliant by any means. He would, for instance, conduct a piece in 5/4 where one beat covers three notes and the next beat covers two notes, in an even two beats. You would have to play that passage sounding like a one legged man. Rightfully, in that 5/4 two beats per measure situation, one beat is slow and the next is fast. However, in most band work Jimmie was okay.
Jimmie King loved "Andrea Chenier" and every summer he would include it on one of his Capitol concerts. I always got to play the exposed euphonium parts. I always have loved this showpiece for first euphonium, too. Jimmie could conduct this very well. Lt. Col. Santelmann, in my opinion, however, when we were performing this piece on tour night after night, was absolutely stunning in his conducting of this fine music. His ebb and flow, wonderful tempos, great interpretations were noteworthy. His sensitivity came right to the fore there.
As a second man or third man to Col. Schoepper, poor Jimmie King was a "yes man". However, he got kicked around all over the place by Col. Schoepper. And the Colonel never did promote him. We always thought that it was a dirty rotten shame. Jimmie had to retire a Captain. A low blow.
Wm. D. Rusinak
We really never had much to play under Bill Rusinak for he did most of his conducting with the White House orchestra. On the rare occasions when he conducted the band - I can't remember more than one or two brief ones - he revealed himself to be a very good conductor. He had joined the Marine Band as a violinist who doubled on tenor sax. He immediately joined the White House orchestra and he put in many years in that unit. Not too long after he got in the band, Col. Schoepper became Director. Soon Bill Rusinak was playing-conductor of the White House Orch. He became an Asst. Director upon the retirement of Capt. King.
Jack T. Kline
When I first joined the Marine band, Jack Kline was a Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Ten. Sax player in the band. You never knew what he would be playing next. He alternated on one or the other for years. Very versatile. Not a soloist. Just a good chairman and one who could fill in on various instruments as needed.
When Bill Rusinak retired, I guess it was, Jack was appointed Asst. Director. He was pretty poor as a conductor for a couple of years but he did have a good musical education and he did know the mechanics of conducting. However, as Asst. Director whenever he had to conduct an accompaniment for some solo, he was in deep trouble. I got stuck one time on a solo after Sciaggeri (a really fine classical pianist who had studied with Eugene List) bunged up a hand a week before he was to solo with the Marine band in a winter indoor concert. I was asked if I could fill in for the unable to perform Sciaggeri and I agreed. I boned up on "All Those Endearing Young Charms" (Mantia) and then we started rehearsing it. Poor Jack was all at sea. Had no idea what was going on. It all came to a head in the finale which is FAST. Jack wasn't anywhere near to me or to the band. He was waving in the air aimlessly. Of course, he realized this. We started running thru the finale. Time and time again we ran thru it. Good thing for me that I had a fine lip. I never did get tired. Just kept playing away. Of course, all the repetition is good for the soloist so I never did mind. I realized that I was playing it better, myself, all the time. When Jack finally learned how to conduct the finale (and to stay with me and with the band), we had rehearsed the finale 22 times by actual count. Principal Cornetist Chuck Erwin had made the count.
To Jack Kline's credit, during the performance at the big concert, he conducted the solo absolutely perfectly and it was one of the, if not THE, easiest performance of a solo I had ever experienced. Good job, Jack. I played under him for 2 years, I guess, more or less. Mostly it was a pleasure.
As time went on - after I retired - Jack improved a lot. While he never did become anything but an adequate conductor, he didn't do anything bad, either. Give him credit for that. Then, when he retired, he joined the National Concert band and he and I played in that group together for several years. He seemed to enjoy playing in the clarinet section. Occasionally, he would be asked to guest-conduct a concert and he did that very professionally.
Those are the only Marine Band conductors under which I played. Those who came later, Erwin, Bourgeois, Foley, etc. all were in the Marine Band with me late in my Marine Band career, however. Except John Bourgeois who was in the Band with me for many years but he only played in the Band for maybe two weeks. He then went into operations and he got into the Asst. Director job from there.
I won't comment upon those Directors who came after me although I can't say that any ever approached Col. Schoepper in excellence.
A.W.L. 19 October 2007