COVID-19 has brought upon many changes to every facet of life in the United States, and the presidential inauguration was no exception.
Normally a day filled with fanfare and pomp, this year’s ceremony was regulated to only a few select individuals, socially distanced, and diluted to the swearing-in ceremony of new President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Gone were the parades, the inaugural balls, and the thousands of cheering Americans who would normally fill the national mall, instead replaced with thousands of flags and over 20,000 national guardsmen.
The one constant that helped make the festive occasion more familiar was that of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, a staple of every presidential event since its establishment in 1798, and one of the members who helped maintain that sense of familiarity was McAllen’s own Master Gunnery Sgt. Nomar Longoria.
The 1991 McAllen Memorial High School graduate made his sixth appearance at a presidential inauguration Wednesday. The decorated saxophonist said that while there were certainly some noticeable differences between this year’s event and those of recent, for the highly talented and disciplined band, it was business as usual.
“You know, actually, to be sure there were some differences,” Longoria said Wednesday following the inauguration. “For me, it was very much the same. I think the things that made this inauguration different were mostly involved with protocols that were enacted to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. We had a bit of a smaller group that was spread out. Of course, there were lots of masks. That was something that changed things significantly for me in terms of my personal experience.”
“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, identifiable with their dashing red uniforms, have provided music for the president of the United States since they were first invited to the White House by President John Adams on New Year’s Day in 1801.
“Every time that you do one of these — every four years if you’re in the Marine Band — it’s a really remarkable experience,” Longoria said. “On one hand, you’re part of a group of highly skilled musicians who are very, very focused on trying to do the best job they can to perform music the best they can and support the ceremony to the best of their abilities. Certainly, it’s easy to get distracted with sort of the majesty of the moment when you have the instances where you recognize where you are and think of all the people that are focused on where you are and what you’re doing.”
“You really do have a front row seat to history, and it’s pretty amazing.”
Longoria got his first taste of musicianship as a member of the McAllen Memorial band. It was a connection with music that led him to pursue an education in music at Baylor University.
While studying for his masters degree at the University of North Texas, he was given an opportunity to audition for the U.S. Army Field Band, based out of Fort Meade in Maryland.
That’s when his career among some of the nation’s most gifted musicians began.
“When I was in high school, I knew that I enjoyed music very much. I wasn’t sure what my options were,” Longoria recalled. “I remember being aware of the Marine Band at the time, but it wasn’t until years later that I realized that that was a possibility in terms of a career choice. When I was in high school, I just loved being part of the band and enjoyed music very much. My direction in music sort of unfolded slowly over the years.”
It was in the summer of 2001 that he would join the “The President’s Own,” and thus began a career that has led him to many presidential appearances and a front row seat to history.
While reflecting on his journey to Wednesday’s inauguration, Longoria shared some advice for his fellow band aficionados in the Rio Grande Valley.
“I think that the Rio Grande Valley and Texas in general has really fantastic music education in the schools,” Longoria said. “I would say take advantage of your time in band. Make the most of your opportunities there to the fullest. I think music can be an important part in your life and extremely fulfilling. Not only that, but the friends that you make in band are friends, really, for life.”
With Wednesday’s inaugural festivities in the books, Longoria reflected on the part he played in the day’s events and what the experience has been like for the McAllen native.
“I mentioned earlier about how someone from the outside might look at what we’re doing and think it’s amazing to be there, and it really is because of the significance of the moment, but the thing that really brings me the most joy is getting to work with my colleagues — getting to work with a great bunch of musicians and people who are really focused on doing what they do extremely well. That’s been the most fulfilling part of the job for me.”