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Life, liberty and the pursuit of music in the White House

Music “furnishes a delightful recreation for the hours of respite from the cares of the day, and lasts us through life," according to Thomas Jefferson – and it’s what we believe here at the Symphony, too. If music really be the food of love, then it stands true for American presidents. In honor of President’s Day, we thought we’d look back on the musicality and musical interests of past presidents. After all, what is more presidential than the cannons booming and fireworks blasting with Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture on the 4th of July?

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson once said music was “the favorite passion of my soul” and given Jefferson’s varied interests and passions, that’s no small statement. America’s third president is credited with bringing music to the White House – literally. He was the first President to bring the United States Marine Band to his inauguration, which now makes the United States Marine Band the longest performing band at inauguration.

Jefferson was an amateur violinist and even wrote some of his own compositions. Jefferson’s library included the works of Corelli, Vivaldi, Handel, Pugnani, Boccherini and other composers. More so, his library included several books on violin technique, indicating Jefferson valued his own technique and understanding of the instrument.

Harry Truman

President Truman grew up playing the piano which gave him a passion for Mozart, Lizst and Haydn. During his presidency, Truman always kept a piano by his desk in the Oval Office and was known to never pass a piano without playing a few keys. Mozart’s A Major Sonata was his particular favorite – which he actually played to more than 30 million Americans during the first televised tour of the White House in 1952.

Dwight D. Eisenhower

President Dwight D. Eisenhower perhaps released the original mixtape. In 1956, Eisenhower released a compilation album, “The President’s Favorite Music: Dwight D. Eisenhower.” This album featured some of Eisenhower’s favorites such as Bach, Beethoven and Strauss and allowed Americans to connect with the president in a fun, interesting way the public hadn’t seen before. Now, we can listen to the Obama’s Valentine’s Day Playlist, but in 1956, this album gave Americans a personal insight into the lives of Eisenhower and First Lady Mamie.

Bill Clinton

President Bill Clinton was a saxophonist – and as someone of you probably remember, he played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall show during his presidential campaign in 1992. Clinton had almost considered a career in tenor saxophone; he was First Chair in the Arkansas State Band’s saxophone section.

From Vivaldi to Bach to “Heartbreak Hotel,” music has been as much a part of the life at the White House as it is in our own home. In honor of this President’s Day, we curated a special presidential playlist for your enjoyment. Whether it’s classical or jazz, all music has a place in the fabric of our country. Happy President’s Day from the #TeamSymphony!

This post was written by Kelly Hillock, marketing assistant for the San Diego Symphony.

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