How an Altadena composer came to score music for Biden inauguration festivities

When the 2020 presidential election officially was called for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Altadena-based composer Peter Boyer dashed off a note to Col. Jason K. Fettig, director of “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band.

The subject line of the email read, “If you need a piece written for the Inauguration …”

Boyer, who generally composes orchestral music, had collaborated with Fettig on a couple of occasions in the last few years, most notably when Fettig commissioned him to write a piece for the band’s 220th anniversary. That work premiered in San Antonio in 2018.

The Marine Band, America’s oldest continuously active musical organization, played at the inauguration of Thomas Jefferson in 1801. When an outfit like that comes calling, Boyer said in a phone interview, you don’t turn it down.

So when Boyer did get the official request for inaugural music from Fettig on New Year’s Day — and a deadline that was just 12 days later — he immersed himself in the task, aware of the historical significance of the event and the pivotal moment in time during which it was to take place.

Lights at the reflecting pool of the Lincoln Memorial honor those who have died from COVID-19. Buildings across the U.S. glow amber in tribute too.

The resulting composition clocks in at around 2 minutes and 35 seconds. It’s based on a shorter piece that Boyer wrote for a French horn player in the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, which last summer launched a fanfare project to be streamed featuring solo musicians in quarantine.

“It looks forward to a brighter time than the one in which we have found ourselves in the last year,” said Boyer, who expanded the fanfare to be performed by 55 players.

“I love the power and nobility of brass,” Boyer said. “And there are a total of 22 brass players, including nine trumpets. How often does one get to write for nine trumpets?”

Boyer’s fanfare is scheduled for an hour-long inaugural prelude program that runs before the 9 a.m. ceremony. The prelude includes work by at least two other contemporary composers, James Stephenson and Kimberly Archer. Boyer said he considers their inclusion to be a testament to Fettig’s advocacy for American music.

“He’s been given an opportunity, and he chooses to fill those slots, at least partially, with new music from American composers,” Boyer said, adding that work by John Williams is also on the program.

Boyer will not attend the inauguration, noting that in normal times he would have.

“Because of the pandemic and security concerns, my understanding is that it’s going to be very small,” Boyer said of the ceremony. “So I will hopefully hear my piece on C-SPAN.”

Regardless, it was a privilege to contribute to an event that is part of American history, he said, one that represents a newly optimistic period.