Santa Monica High School graduate Tessa Vinson is now part of the prestige, history and tradition surrounding the office of the President thanks to her role with “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band.
Staff Sgt. Vinson is the oboe player for the band and its part of her job to provide music for the United States President including at inaugurations, state events and receptions.
Vinson grew up in Santa Monica attending Franklin, Lincoln and Samohi. She said her family and local education were both factors in her pursuit of a career in music.
“The music departments from elementary, middle and High School in Santa Monica were always really encouraging,” she said. “I always had good teachers around and I was able to play in an orchestra in 6th Grade.”
She said her parents are also huge supporters of classical music and her older sister pursued the flute.
Vinson said she played several instruments in her early years before finding the oboe.
“I picked it up at Lincoln and fell in love with the sound of it,” she said.
With her instrument identified, she quickly decided that music would be a career and she said her middle-school career choice was to be a part of the Los Angeles Phil Harmonic.
After graduating from Santa Monica High School in 2001, she attended the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she studied with Stuart Horne of the Los Angeles Opera. In 2005, she earned a bachelor’s degree in music from the Manhattan School of Music in New York. She continued her education at the Manhattan School of Music, and earned a master’s degree in orchestral performance in 2007. She performed with the New York City Opera, The Aeros Quintet, and the Philharmonic Orchestra of the Americas. She also held a residency at the 92nd Street Y’s Music Unlocked Project and served as the associate oboe teacher for the Manhattan School of Music.
While she didn’t land back in Los Angeles as her middle-school self had imagined, she did earn a position with one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious musical organizations.
According to military research, the Marine Band performed for Thomas Jefferson’s inauguration on March 4, 1801. An accomplished musician himself, Jefferson recognized the unique relationship between the band and the Chief Executive and is credited with giving the Marine Band the title, “The President’s Own.”
The band is the oldest continuously active professional musical organization in the country and was founded in 1798. The group has performed for every U.S. President since John Adams and its mission is to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
The band recruits for new members through a competitive audition process. Anyone chosen to become a member enlists in the U.S. Marines where they are permanently assigned to the non-combat band.
Terry Sakow taught Vinson at Samohi and said her presence in the highest levels of professional music was exciting for him as a teacher.
“For me, it’s a great honor that she’s in the Marine Band,” he said. “For a band director to have someone in arguably the finest band on the planet, it’s a really big deal for me.”
Sakow said it was particularly satisfying to see Vinson succeed as a product of the local education system and her work with the Band shows other local students that the Santa Monica music program can help propel students to great careers.
Sakow said he often uses recordings of the Marine Band as examples for current students and it can be inspirational to know how far local students can take their music education.
“The Marine Band is one of the more recognizable groups, especially in the band world,” he said. “They are the example and it’s neat now, I know that Tessa is in there. I can tell the kids the oboe player used to sit right there in that chair.”
When the band performs at Trump’s inauguration later this month, it will be the 55th inaugural appearance for the group. The Marine Band will provide music for the Inauguration swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, lead the second division of the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, and perform at the Salute to the Armed Services Inaugural ball. “The President’s Own” is the only musical unit to participate in all three events.
Vinson said controversy over performing for Trump isn’t germane to the Marine Band for several reasons. All band members are active duty with the Marines. While they are not a combat unit, all performers are members of the armed services and their group fundamentally exists to perform for the President and the Commandant of the Marine Corps. All members are also professionals and Vinson said they take their duty seriously.
“I always give my whole heart to the music, no matter what it is we’re playing,” she said. “I’m always giving my all because that’s my passion and that’s been my passion since I was a child.”
She said the band is composed of consummate professionals and she is proud to be a part of the institution.
“It’s really, really cool,” she said. “I get to be part of a lot of amazing events and see a lot of amazing people and see that through my music.”
Vinson joined the band in late 2008. She played for a few months under then President Bush and has continued to play throughout Obama’s term. She said holiday performances at the White House are a particular highlight.
“To be a part of all the receptions, it’s great to be part of that,” she said. “I was able to get a photo with president Obama during the final holiday reception with him. It was really great to be able to speak with him, that was an exceptional highlight.”
For more information, visit www.marineband.marines.mil.