In 1973, the Valley Forge Military Academy Band received an invitation to President Richard Nixon’s second inaugural concert alongside the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. For me, the event is more of a blur than a memory. I do recall that Ron Youngs, who is the person responsible for recording nearly all the music here on this website, recorded the inaugural concert on a 3/4″, U-matic videotape. In fact, Ron was the first person I knew with a home VCR before there even was such a thing. Since we were all on stage in DC, that give me a chance a few days later to see what we looked like on TV.
Recalling that Ron had recorded this back when it aired, I asked him if he still had the tape. Turns out that he did and because of his outstanding relationships he’s built over the years, got the tapes digitized and sent the files to me posted here, along with a video recording of the Christmas concert the band did in Baltimore. [That one will be posted soon.]
For years, I’ve been trying to find some sort of visual evidence that we were even there. I called the Kennedy Center, I wrote to PBS, who televised the concert, and to the local DC newspapers, none of which produced a single thing.
We all owe Ron a huge debt of thanks for not just what’s already posted here, but for rediscovering these video recordings from 1973 and taking the time to get them digitized for this site. Please help me thank Ron for these wonderful clips in comments the section below.
Since my memory of the event is a little vague, I encourage all of you who were there for the concert either performing or watching at home to leave your memories of the event in the comments. Perhaps together, the VFMA Band brain trust can help piece together what has always been to me one of the most extraordinary events of my lifetime.
Also, just below the Kennedy Center video and audio, you’ll find a local news piece from an unidentified Philadelphia TV station that documents the band’s rehearsal with Ormandy in Mellon Hall. I DO remember that event and there are still photos of that rehearsal here on BandSir.com
Below are two audio only tracks taken from the video above. One contains the narration by PBS’s Robert MacNeil, and the other, just the 1812 Overture performance.
Rich Cappo was able to ID the newscasters: “Great quality! FYI, the local newscast of the rehearsal was from WCAU TV, channel 10. The anchor was John Facenda, who was quite popular in those days.
Below is a transcript of Robert MacNeil’s narration from the PBS broadcast:
[One of] the noisiest pieces of music ever written, The 1812 Overture by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a celebration of the victory of the Russian people over the armies of Napoleon. It is scored for full orchestra, chorus, brass band, cannons, and church bells.
In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia and by midwinter, his armies entered Moscow, but the Russians had abandoned the city and set it a fire. With his supply lines overextended and his winter quarters in flames, Napoleon was forced into a long and disastrous retreat across the frozen plains of Russia. His armies never recovered, and that winter of 1812 effectively marked the end of his hopes of world conquest.
Almost 70 years later, Tchaikovsky wrote this piece intending it for outside performance. With its spectacular percussive effect, it’s not surprising it’s become a favorite for the producers of some spectacular phonograph records. It’s also a favorite of Mr. Nixon’s.
As we told you, he first heard it in Philadelphia played by this orchestra in 1970. For the performance, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chorale are joined by the Valley Forge Military Academy Band, made up of young men 15 to 20 years old who were drawn from all over the nation, and awarded scholarships for their musical skills. The band’s become known as the Philadelphia Orchestra of military bands, as it’s often performed with Mr. Ormandy and performed the 1812 with him when Mr. Nixon heard it three years ago. The band is under the direction of Colonel D. Keith Feltham.
Well, how do they make the noise of the cannon going off? Mr. Ormandy, in fact, I have here, a memo that he passed out to the inaugural committee asking for two men with repeating shotguns to fire blanks into oil drums. But in a discussion with the inaugural committee, they decided to make do this evening with drums instead.
The applause is for the Valley Forge Military Band, whose young members have just come on. And in a moment, Eugene Ormandy will be returning to the podium to conduct this huge ensemble in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. [Music]
President Nixon standing to applaud the piece that he personally requested that Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra play this evening, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Colonel Feltham, director of the Valley Forge Military Academy Band receiving applause with Roger Wagner whose chorale sang it, and Eugene Ormandy, conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower, widow of the late president on President Nixon’s left, Mrs. Nixon on the right, Billy Graham, and his wife behind. The conclusion of this concert honoring the second inauguration of President Nixon.
This has certainly been an enthusiastic audience this evening. Every piece of music has been wildly applauded and they’ve all received standing ovations. [Applause] Colonel Feltham, Roger Wagner, Eugene Ormandy. [Applause] Now the audience and the orchestra… …remaining seated. The idea was they would remain seated until the presidential party had left. Mr. Nixon doesn’t seem in any hurry to go. Another round of applause. Now the members of the audience are turning and applauding the president and his family. Everybody’s applauding everybody. John Connolly and Mrs. Connolly the former governor of Texas, now a supporter of President Nixon in the recent campaign, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, and Trisha Nixon Cox… leaving.
Well, that’s the end of the music. There is, uh, some suggestion that the president might come around on stage and or backstage and talk to the musicians. But, uh, that was the rumor earlier in the day but then it was discovered that the president would not do that.
And so, to Washington on the eve of the inauguration as Richard Nixon goes back to the White House. Perhaps knowing the infinite pains, he always takes with preparing a major speech, it’s not far-fetched to think that later this evening before going to bed he may be going over once again the inaugural address he’ll deliver at the Capitol tomorrow, and which will set the tone for the next four years of his administration. After his swearing-in and that speech, and a luncheon with congressional leaders in Capitol Hill, Mr. Nixon will lead the traditional inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue. The weather this year promises to be unusually mild. Washington has been basking this past week in temperatures in the mid 60s.
Tomorrow evening, the Kennedy Center and other government buildings will see the massive inaugural ball divided into three parts — five parts to accommodate the 40,000 people expected. Although the mood in Washington tonight in these scheduled events with invited guests is festive, the general mood in the capital is not particularly gay for this inauguration. Obviously, that’s due partly to public recognition that this is not a new, fresh incoming administration, but, resumed one — one they already know. But considering the extent of Mr. Nixon — Nixon’s election victory, um, the mood here is sober and unexcited — a lot of commentators have said that. Partly also due to the disappointment in Congress and the general public that the expected peace in Vietnam wasn’t realized.
Perhaps the glamour surrounding all these events tonight and tomorrow will help generate some excitement, but I think there must be a lot of people who will be anxious to hear whether Mr. Nixon breaks his silence on Vietnam tomorrow and alludes to what appears to be a new bright prospect for peace. Clearly if he was able to say something about that, the whole country would make tomorrow a day of real celebration and give the concerts and the ceremonies and the parades a double justification.
This is Robert MacNeil. Good night from Washington. [Indistinct crowd noise]
This program was made possible by a grant from the Alcoa Foundation.
Again, big thanks to Ron Youngs. Really enjoyed listening to this concert. Also brings back the memories of our participation in Nixon’s Inaugural Parade (Jan ’69); our White House East Room concert (Apr ’69) and our Academy of Music Concert w/ the Phila Orch with Nixon in attendence (Jan ’70.) Wow, what memories.