Hail to a Great Musical Career: HE PLAYED IN THE BEST BAND IN ALL THE LAND, AND HE LIVES RIGHT HERE IN LA VERNE

July 1, 2011
Share this story:
Dr. Kenneth Foerch with his soprano sax recently performed at the La Verne Church of the Brethren's Celebration of the Arts.

Dr. Kenneth Foerch with his soprano sax recently performed at the La Verne Church of the Brethren's Celebration of the Arts.

To conduct highly specialized and sensitive military operations around the world, the U.S. Government will call on its special forces, such as the Green Berets or the Navy Seals’ Unit 6, which took out Osama bin Laden.

To mark important affairs of state, such as presidential inaugurations, state funerals and the arrivals of world dignitaries, the White House will again call on its elite forces, but this band of highly trained operatives carries trumpets and saxophones instead of M16s.

This band, officially known as “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, is so critical to the affairs of state that Thomas Jefferson named the band himself. Established by an act of Congress on July 11, 1798, “The President’s Own” is the oldest professional musical organization in the United States. Its distinguished members play not only at the White House, Arlington Cemetery and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., but also at Carnegie Hall in New York City and Symphony Hall in Boston and other prestigious venues around the nation.

One of the band’s consummate insiders and members for eight years was La Verne’s Dr. Kenneth Foerch, now an assistant professor of music at Vanguard University in Costa Mesa. He also teaches at Pomona College and at Mount San Antonio College.

Foerch hadn’t planned on playing for the finest band in all the land or even auditioning for it until a professor at the University of Southern California, where he was a doctoral candidate, told him that the Marine Band was looking for one saxophone player.

“I figured I’d do the audition for the practice,” said Foerch, who was born in Honduras, but grew up in Michigan outside of Lansing, the state capital. Out of the 43 who auditioned for the one opening, he got the job.

“It was pretty intense,” said Foerch about the two-part audition back in Washington, D.C. In the first round, he played musical pieces he had prepared. In the second round of competition, which had been whittled down to just five aspirants, he was handed sheet music and told to play it, testing his impromptu and interpretive musical skills.

After accepting the offer, he went from being a college music man to a marine — from a student to a staff sergeant with an E-6 rank, which normally takes 10 to 13 years of military service to attain. Instead of playing the sax at cozy on-campus recitals, as he had fully expected, he was performing for presidents, premiers and prime ministers from around the globe. Although a U.S. Marine, he didn’t even have to go through boot camp.

Ken both teaches and plays the sax.

Ken both teaches and plays the sax.

 

It all went smoothly for the soprano sax player, except for his first day on the job. Catching a bus on the way to perform at a funeral at Arlington Cemetery, Foerch got a quick dressing down from the band’s leader about how to appear in public.

“I’m walking out with my coat unbuttoned, my belt over my shoulder, like I was a member of the marching band in high school,” Foerch recalled. “The drum major comes up to me and says, ‘Did you come out here like that?’

“‘Yes, sir,” Foerch answered with a big pause.

“‘Never come out here like that again,” the drum major said scowling.

Foerch had not meant any disrespect; he just hadn’t mastered putting on all the intricate parts of the ceremonial uniform, especially the belt. He figured he’d get some help from one of his band mates once he boarded the bus.

Fortunately for Foerch, he had been selected for his musical chops, not his sartorial sophistication. After graduating with a music degree from Michigan State, he received his master’s from the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y. As an undergraduate and graduate student, he and his wind ensemble group were invited to tour in Japan, where they recorded “Osaka Live,” produced by Sony Classic.

As an undergraduate, he also performed one summer at Disneyland as a member of the Magic Kingdom’s college band. He played at the Carnation Plaza, in New Orleans Square, on Main Street and  in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and the train station. About the only person who knew more about the layout of Disneyland after that summer was Disney himself when he was designing the park back in the 50s.

Dr. Foerch co-founded the Capitol Quartet.

Dr. Foerch co-founded the Capitol Quartet.

All of his Disney engagements, however, were mere prelude for his new Washington, D.C. gig, where he played on the White House porch and in front of the Washington Monument and the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. He also toured the country with “President’s Own,” which is really two bands, because one band always has to be on call for state events.

“There were definitely many memorable moments,” Foerch said, not betraying too many state secrets, as if still sworn to secrecy as part of his marine code.

In addition to playing in the “President’s Own,” Foerch taught a handful of students and co-founded the Capitol Quartet, a saxophone quartet specializing in orchestral pops and the masterful blending of jazz and classical saxophone arrangements with the orchestra.

After eight years of playing for presidents and potentates, Foerch decided he wanted to teach again, so he ended his long DC run and returned to USC to complete his doctorate in music history, with an emphasis, of course, on his  beloved sax, which Adolphe Sax had invented in 1842.

Now, Foerch is busier than ever, teaching at three colleges, raising his two daughters, Sophia, 5, and Lauren, 3, with his wife Michele, and performing as an extra saxophonist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, L.A. Master Chorale, Pacific Symphony, Pasadena Symphony and the Long Beach Municipal Band, among others.

Like all the great ones, he’d like to do even more. In addition to his Morricone Quartet which peforms throughout the Southland, he’d like to do more studio work for the movies and television.

If producers ever decide to bring back the popular television drama “The West Wing,” they should have no problem finding a patriotic Southern Californian who can play one rousing solo rendition of “Hail to the Chief.”

Leave a Reply