By Dedra Cordle
The seeds of a musical career that took Randall Riffle all the way to the White House may have been planted in his childhood home.
When Riffle was a toddler, his mother would often turn on the music of John Philip Sousa and lead her three children through the house on imaginary parade routes.
Initially, the marches of the four-member band were confined to the living room, but it was quickly determined that more space was needed. To accommodate this need, they incorporated the staircase.
As this well-trodden route became a bit stale, Riffle’s mother allowed her kids to march across the furniture to make it more interesting and elaborate. No chairs, couches or coffee tables were safe from their sometimes-synchronized little feet.
After the makeshift mace was put back in the closet and the parade wrapped up for the day, the Riffle children would partake in additional music-related activities such as dancing, telling stories to the beat and just enjoying the sounds as they drew pictures and finger-painted.
When it was time to watch television, cartoons filled the screen. Riffle found himself paying just as much attention to the background music as he would the antics of the zany characters.
Throughout the years, that Columbus home was filled with a passion for music and the desire to cultivate the art. It continued even after the Riffle family moved to Grove City in 1975.
By the time Riffle was a student at Brookpark Middle School, he already knew what to do with his life.
“I wanted to make a career in music,” he said.
Despite flirting with the idea of becoming a doctor or a veterinarian, Riffle threw himself into musical studies with a focus on the clarinet – he never could shake his love for the instrument that he first heard making funny noises while cartoon characters fell down.
As a high school student, he joined the band at Grove City and then went on to become a member of the concert and symphonic bands at The Ohio State University.
With a master’s degree in musical performance, Riffle joined the Central Ohio Symphony Orchestra as a principal clarinetist. He spent two years there until he received a job offer that was too good to refuse.
In February of 1988, Riffle heard about an audition that would soon be taking place. The audition was for the United States Marine Band.
Founded in 1798, the Marine Band is America’s oldest continuously active professional musical organization. They perform approximately 500 events every year including state funerals, state arrival ceremonies, state dinners, parades and concerts, but their primary mission is to provide music for the President of the United States – hence their title “The President’s Own.”
Remembering the time where he would march to military music in his childhood home, Riffle thought it would be wonderful to be a part of that tradition.
In 1988, Riffle won an audition for the Marine Band. Having limited funds and a small child at home, he drove the eight hours to Washington D.C. to try out.
A rigorous audition process took place but by the end of the day, Riffle was offered a new job as a clarinetist. There was no hesitation to take the position.
“I called my wife and told her we have to pack up because we were moving to D.C.,” he said.
In his 25 years as a member of “The President’s Own,” Riffle has performed across the country, throughout the world and has witnessed history firsthand as he played during four presidential inaugurations.
His career with the Marine Band (where he was elevated to the rank of Master Sergeant) has been exciting and varied – one of his favorite memories is celebrating the anniversary of President George H. W. Bush and his First Lady Barbara – but recently he decided it was time to put away his mouthpiece and retire.
He said going to work everyday with such a historic and prestigious musical organization was an unbelievable honor.
“I will cherish every moment I had as a member of the Marine Band and I know I will miss it dearly,” he said.
His retirement plans include performing at his church and teaching students at a school in Bethesda, Maryland how to discover, develop and pursue their own love of music.