At the Marine Corps’ oldest post, Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., resides a unit steeped in tradition of its founders and some of the Corps’ first Marine fifers and drummers dating back to 1775. The last of its kind, “The Commandant’s Own,” The United States Marine Drum & Bugle Corps is the only active-duty military drum and bugle corps and continues a rich legacy of ceremonial music and marching to this day.
Part of its endurance can be credited to its leadership. Only five Marines have ever directed “The Commandant’s Own” since its inception in 1934, and each has passed the baton weighted with a responsibility to keep the unit relevant despite changing times.
Arguably the most famous Drum and Bugle Corps director was Col. Truman Crawford; the unit’s performance hall bears his name. He served as its director from 1973 until 1998 and is credited with keeping the unit relevant at a time that the Marine Corps disbanded its 14 other drum and bugle corps. In total, Crawford served with “The Commandant’s Own” for more than 30 years.
In 1998, Maj. Brian Dix, then a warrant officer, replaced Crawford and took direction of the unit.
"The man was a lion in his field,” Dix said of Crawford, “I didn't take over for Col. Crawford. I continued a strong legacy of Marine music, same as he did. I’m very proud to be responsible for that."
But even with a strong legacy, there was need to look to the future. Dix recalled that’s why then-commandant Gen. Charles Krulak selected him- to bring the Drum & Bugle Corps into the 21st Century.
“I hope to think that I’ve steered that course,” Dix said.
Dix, who first joined “The Commandant’s Own” in 1984, was always an innovator within the unit. As a sergeant, he established the unit’s digital music library system, he developed drill music writing software, and he published its first newsletter.
After commissioning as a warrant officer his innovation turned to composing and arranging. Over the past 16 years he’s composed or arranged more than 150 pieces of music. All the while, the charge from Gen. Krulak to modernize has always been at the forefront of Dix’s mind as he mixed popular music arrangements into the repertoire.
“I hope the vast amount of music that was played and performed represents a timeline – a poignant timeline of the emotions of our Marine Corps, our Marines, and of course, the musical capabilities of ‘The Commandant’s Own,’” Dix said.
Some of Dix’s original compositions include Reveille – a swing march dedicated to America’s Wounded Warriors; Birth of a Drum Corps – to honor the 75th anniversary of “The Commandant’s Own” and the first original drum and bugle corps work transcribed for a major symphony orchestra; and Corpsman Up – a march dedicated to the Navy corpsman who serve alongside Marines.
Under Dix’s leadership, the unit traveled the world as commandants would see morale, diplomatic and recruiting needs arise. During his tenure, “The Commandant’s Own” played for the Queen of England, at the Winter Olympics, alongside the New York Philharmonic, and throughout the United States, Australia, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
Dix speaks fondly of “The Commandant’s Own,” and the reverence and sincerity in his voice is that of a prideful leader. But notably, it’s not pride in his personal accomplishments, of which there are many, but pride in the musicians he’s been associated with for more than 30 years. Above all, the music is paramount, and as the arrangements continued to become more challenging, the Marine met and exceeded expectations, he said.
“The magic of the music would never occur if it wasn’t for the Marines in ‘The Commandant’s Own,’” he said. “They’re the ones that take little black and white notes and give them color, direction, style and verve. When something worked, it was magical.”
On Dec. 11, 2014, Dix retired from the Marine Corps and handed the director’s baton to Capt. Christopher Hall, formerly the unit’s executive officer and now its fifth director.
Hall has been a member of “The Commandant’s Own” since 1994, when he joined as a mellophone bugler.
He comes from a musical family and started playing piano when he was 9. His father was a trombonist with “Pershing’s Own,” The U.S. Army Band. His mother was a clarinet player. Hall started playing brass instruments when he picked up a French horn in 6th grade.
He attended Ohio University as a music education major and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in International Business and a Master of Arts degree in Business Communication.
During his time with “The Commandant’s Own,” his billets have included section leader, operations chief, and principle brass instructor before commissioning in 2008. He also became the assistant director that same year.
As director, he sees the way forward as continuing the legacy of what “The Commandant’s Own” is inside the Department of Defense.
It’s the only DoD organization of its kind because of the size of its marching battery percussion section and for its choreographed movement in music performances, Hall said. “Part of my job is to ensure the next generation of the organization.”
Many civilian organizations do what “The Commandants Own” does, and a continued robust relationship between the civilian organizations and the Drum & Bugle Corps will attract the Marines the Corps is looking for, Hall said.
“They bring with them incredible skill sets,” Hall said. “There’s something about those kinds of people who are achieving at the highest levels of their activity – the intrinsic nature of who they are, their drive, determination and discipline – is everything we as Marines value.”
Becoming the director of an organization that has meant so much to him over the past 20 years is an exciting opportunity, Hall said.
As the Marine musicians of “The Commandant’s Own” bid farewell to Dix and welcome Hall as their new director, they can march confidently toward the future knowing the legacy and traditions will continue into the next generation.