John Mula
John Mula
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John Mula (’87, M.A. music) can trace his roots back to John Philip Sousa.

Not his actual heredity, but the musical roots that began with a stint in his high school marching band and culminated in a coveted position in The President’s Own U.S. Marine Band, once led by Sousa himself.

Since 1996, Mula has numbered among this elite group, which provides music for the U.S. president and his guests, the Congress and the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps. The 130-member band also performs at more than 500 public concerts each year.

“My life is exactly what I hoped it would be,” Mula said in a telephone interview from his home base in southeast Washington, D.C. “One week I might be rehearsing two or three mornings for an upcoming concert and another week, I might be on ceremonial duty at the White House or Arlington National Cemetery.”

Mula is one of 25 in The President’s Own clarinet section. Created in 1798 by an Act of Congress, The President’s Own is America’s oldest continuously active professional musical organization.

President Thomas Jefferson gave the band its distinctive name and President Abraham Lincoln requested a performance at the dedication of Soldiers’ National Cemetery where he delivered the Gettysburg Address. Sousa led The President’s Own from 1880 to 1892.

From Santee to the White House

Mula’s march to musical celebrity was influenced by several teachers who had played in military bands. As an undergraduate, he majored in music education, but by the time he enrolled in the master’s program at SDSU, he had switched his emphasis to clarinet performance. 

“I have fond memories of my professors and fellow students at San Diego State,” Mula said. “The School of Music was amazingly supportive.

After graduation, he found work as head of the Santee School District’s music program and performed with the San Diego Symphony, the San Diego Opera and the San Diego Chamber Orchestra.

“I loved (teaching),” Mula recalled, “but I could feel my playing slip.”

He returned to school for a Ph.D. in clarinet performance from Florida State University.  Then, with three degrees and a dozen years of professional experience under his belt, Mula auditioned for a spot with The President’s Own.

Shaking hands with presidents

Thirteen years later, Mula said he can’t imagine doing anything else. One of his fondest memories is playing for author Harper Lee’s visit to the White House.  He recalled that her eyes teared when The President’s Own Marine Chamber Orchestra began performing music from the screenplay of her classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Also memorable are Christmas concerts in the White House foyer, where the music is more orchestral than patriotic.
Mula said band members rarely interact one-to-one with the commander-in-chief, but “I was fortunate enough to shake hands once with both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush.”

He also serves as coordinator of the band’s national tours and won the Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal for his work on the band’s 2002 tour of the northeastern states, which included a performance at Lincoln Center.

In March, Mula spent several days as a guest music coach and lecturer at the School of Music and Dance. He led a Master class for clarinet students and performed with the SDSU Wind Symphony and the Woodworks Clarinet Choir. Mula and Marian Liebowitz, professor of music, also joined Woodworks in a concert for veterans undergoing rehabilitation at the San Diego Veterans Village. They soloed on the Concert Piece No. 1 by Felix Mendesssohn.

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