NEW YORK --
Whether Irish in lineage or spirit, Celtic revelers packed many Northeastern cities to celebrate the greenest day of the year. One striking group of men and women, however, added a touch of blue to the seas of shamrocks and crowds of kilts.
The 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing Band paid a visit to Boston and New York to lend its musical skills in two of the country’s biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades March 15 and 17. In both performances, the service members treated hundreds of thousands of cheering attendees to renditions of “Salute to the Sultan,” “Semper Fidelis March” and the “Marine’s Hymn.” There was no shortage of support from parade goers as shouts of “Oorah!” and “Semper Fi!” rang out from the spirited crowds.
“The Marines are awesome, I’ve got total respect for them,” said Pam Lear, a Belchertown, Mass., native, who traveled to Manhattan to watch the parade. “They’re a bunch of good-looking guys here serving our country.”
Others were a little more forward when describing the leathernecks marching in their dress blues.
“I love the Marines - Marines are hot,” said blushing Bronx resident Lara Boylan. “I was very impressed.”
But putting on a successful show is more than just donning a freshly-pressed uniform. According to the musicians, each parade was the product of hours upon hours of practice and familiarization with their instruments.
Most people probably don’t notice things like intonation and balance, things the band demands from every Marine, said Lance Cpl. Mariana Gracia, a flutist with the 2nd MAW Band.
“Of course you’ve got to keep focus no matter what happens, especially with distractions on parades like these,” she added.
Distractions can range from trouble hearing band mates to “obstacles” left by animals on the street. Or, in the case of Cpl. Joe Longo, a 2nd MAW band percussionist, the occasional instrument malfunction.
“I was beating the bass drum pretty hard, and within five minutes of the parade, the mallet cracked in half and went flying,” Longo said after the performance in New York. “It was, I think, the third mallet I’ve gone through in three months.”
Equally important is physical readiness. This was particularly true in Boston, when the Marines marched more than four miles through the streets of “Southie” under the midday sun.
“The drummers are carrying a 50-pound drum, and Boston in particular has a lot of hills” said Cpl. Miles Ledbetter, a 2nd MAW Band trumpet player. “You’re constantly going up and down. There were a lot of blisters that day.”
Demanding set lists, unforeseen obstacles and long marches aside, Gracia said she feels the opportunity to serve as the face of the Marine Corps on St. Patrick’s Day is like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
“Marines, even band Marines, are busy with deployment or getting ready to be deployed,” Gracia said. “But we’re still out here to serve the rest of America, to please America with our music.
“It’s pretty motivating, especially when you get the occasional ‘Oorah!’” she added.