If you watch closely during the presidential inauguration you may catch a glimpse of three metro-east musicians performing with The President's Own U.S. Marine Band.
They will also be marching during the Inauguration Parade with the band. There are 154 members of The President's Own U.S. Marine Band and they will sit directly below the podium where the president will give his inaugural address.
"The Marine Band has been part of the inauguration ceremony since 1801," said Aviston native U.S. Marine Capt. Michelle A. Rakers. Rakers is an assistant director. "We've been involved in these ceremonies throughout history and look forward to it every four years. We're looking forward to it, it's exciting. I hope we play well. We'll be bundled up in our wool coats but you'll see the band down there."
Rakers, who has been a member of the band for nearly 15 years, joined the band as a trumpet player and once accepted into the band, members enlist in the Marine Corps. Rakers is both the first female assistant director and the first female commissioned officers in the history of the band. Members of the band are not required to go through boot camp because their only mission is to provide music for the president, for special events and for the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
"That was really something to be a part of," she said of the inauguration ceremony four years ago. "To be sitting down there, on the mall, and see such a mass of people. The energy was palpable. The streets are filling up downtown and there's definitely excitement in the air, but it's not like it was last time."
Saturday the band practiced with ceremony performer Kelly Clarkson and on Sunday evening they were waiting at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., for Beyonce to arrive so they could rehearse before Monday's performance. The band will play for both performers.
"We rehearsed in house with Kelly and we produced a recording just in case the instruments freeze and we can't play," Rakers said. "If the temperatures drop into the low 20s our instruments will freeze up. Kelly is great to work with and she's dead set on singing, so, even if we can't play, she'll sing. I hope we can play live, and, of course, we'll be more comfortable if it's warm enough to play live."
Rakers learned to play music from her sister, Carol Hyde. Hyde was a band director at Aviston Elementary School and later at O'Fallon Middle School. Rakers now lives in Virginia, but her family still lives in the metro-east, including brothers Gerold Rakers, of Rakers Electric, Allen Rakers, of Little Rock Electric, and sister Elaine Barton, of Barton Electric. She is the daughter of the late Rita and Aloysius Rakers, of Aviston.
Granite City native Master Sgt. Jihoon Chang will be seated with the band playing his clarinet during the ceremony. A 1984 graduated of Granite City High School, Chang joined the band in 1990. He is a 1988 graduate of the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign where he earned a bachelor's degree in music. In 2010, he earned a doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Maryland in College Park.
Chang's parents, Rinku and Taesik Chang, live in Chesterfield, Mo., and Chang now lives in Elkridge, Md., with his wife and two children.
Also on the clarinet will be Master Gunnery Sgt. Charles Willett, of Alton. Willett joined the U.S. Marine Band in 1989. He is a 1979 graduate of Alton Senior High School and a graduate of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, where he earned a master's degree in music performance. He also earned a premier prix in clarinet from the Conservatoire d'Orleans in Orleans, France and later earned a doctorate in clarinet performance at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
Willett, who lives in Virginia, is the son of Elizabeth Willett, of Alton, and the late Howard Willett.