MANCHESTER HIGH SCHOOL-CENTRAL graduates two city kids who had been friends since junior high school. Music made their friendship sing.
Jason Fettig and William Kanteres drove together to and from band rehearsals. They played alongside one another in the high school band as well as gigs outside of school. They shared a tent at the Boy Scout band camp.
Fettig, whose family lived on Laurel Street, played clarinet. Kanteres, whose parents owned Academy Fruit, played tenor saxophone.
Like most high school boys, a competitive spirit laced their friendship. Both tried out for drum major at Central. The position goes to only a chosen few, who lead the band at football games and downtown parades. Fettig nabbed the open slot.
Twenty-one years later, their lives share two commonalities: music and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Today, Fettig gets promoted to lieutenant colonel. It’s a prelude to an even bigger promotion that comes July 12, when he becomes director of the U.S. Marine Band, which is nicknamed “The President’s Own.”
The band is nearly as old as the Marines itself; Congress established it in 1798. Fettig will take control of a baton wielded by 27 predecessors, including legendary march composer John Philip Sousa. One of the duties of the job is music adviser to the White House.
The Marine Band musicians who Fettig directs are all Marines, though they never experience boot camp or combat training. They joined the corps to play, most after earning music degrees. They perform at White House receptions and galas, presidential inaugurations and Arlington National Cemetery funerals.
On the day Fettig debuts as director, Kanteres will be en route to his next Marine assignment — senior adviser to enlisted Marines enrolled to the Naval School of Music in Virginia Beach. (As it turns out, the Marines have 10 field bands; after all, someone’s gotta be available to play the Marines’ Hymn with Marine Corps gusto.)
Kanteres has put in 21 years as a Marine. He enlisted as a musician, went through basic training and started in a field band. He saw combat in Iraq; his Marine battalion was among the first Americans to invade the country in 2003.
During the 2000s, he pulled an administrative hitch for four years with the U.S. Marine Band, holding a leadership position alongside his old Central buddy, who was then assistant director. Among the tasks required of Kanteres — drum major, the job he lost out on at Central.
In 2005, they both marched with the Marine Band in the inaugural parade of President George W. Bush.
“I like to think it’s something in the water in New Hampshire,” Fettig said. “Talent and the drive to succeed brought us together.”
“It’s amazing,” Kanteres said. “We weren’t just from Central. We were good friends growing up and graduated on the same day.”
Their competitive nature has matured into one of reciprocal admiration.
Fettig noted that Kanteres entered the Marines fresh out of Central. He was recently promoted to master gunnery sergeant, the highest rank an enlisted person can earn in the Marines. Kanteres saw combat. And he looks like a Marine — no longer the long-haired, skinny band kid from Central, Fettig said.
For his part, Kanteres can’t say enough about Fettig. Fettig, who auditioned for the Marine band after earning degrees at UMass Amherst and University of Maryland, has now reached into some of the highest levels of the Marine Corps, Kanteres said.
“The Marine Band won’t tell you this, but they’re the NBA of the music world,” Kanteres said. Fettig is now their coach, but not even Doc Rivers or Gregg Popovich get summoned to play at the White House in a couple of hours’ notice.
“Nobody can do what they do, for the White House, for the nation,” Kanteres said.
David Bresnahan, the Central band teacher who taught the two, said both were talented, especially Fettig. But one needs more than talent to go as far as Fettig, Bresnahan said. A music director at that level needs a thorough understanding of music and all instruments, luck and an ability to schmooze.
“He (Fettig) has the ability to schmooze with the best of them, with Presidents,” said Bresnahan, who now teaches music at Southern New Hampshire University.
Fettig has been with the Marine Band through three Presidents. Bill Clinton would recognize pieces from his days as a high school saxophonist, Fettig said. George W. Bush liked country and classical music, and once directed the band. Barack Obama prefers jazz and classical, with a special liking for Stevie Wonder.
Fettig said he doesn’t have any huge changes in mind for the Marine Band. He is a fan of music education (he extols Central’s program to no end), and he wants to continue getting the Marine Band into schools.
Would he one day come to Central and guest conduct his old band? “I suppose it would be possible,” he said.
And why not?
His life — at Central, in the Marines, with Kanteres — is like a pleasing symphonic composition. A theme develops, it expands, it alters but never changes completely. In the end, it’s just two high school buddies, their instruments at their sides, out to make their way in the world.
And proud to claim the title of Central High Marines.
Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Thursdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He wishes all his readers a happy Independence Day.