MORGANTOWN — Master Gunnery Sg. Pete Wilson, a violinist with “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Chamber Orchestra, will return home to Morgantown Wednesday July 4 to perform with his father, C. B. Wilson, conductor of the Morgantown Municipal Band.
Pete Wilson will be featured soloist during the July 4 concert, set to start at 11 a.m. under the front overhang of the WVU Creative Arts Center.
“I’m particularly excited to be performing with my dad,” he said. It doesn’t happen often. “It’s kind of full circle in a way, getting to perform just outside the Creative Arts Center where I spent a good 10 years of my life studying the violin.”
Wilson began his musical training at age 2, according to his orchestra bio. He graduated from Morgantown High School in 1986.
He studied violin under WVU professor Donald Portnoy and would see his dad in his offices at the CAC.
C.B. Wilson, now associate provost for academic personnel, was chair of the music division then.
Pete Wilson earned his bachelor of music degree in violin performance from Northwestern University in Illinois in 1990. His first job out of the gate was concertmaster of the Walt Disney Orchestra. One day, a friend from Northwestern who played tuba called him.
The friend had transferred to another school so they hadn’t seen each other for a while. But the friend had landed a job with the Marine Band and told Wilson they had an opening for a violinist in the band’s “The President’s Own” orchestra — established in 1798 according to its website. That band plays at the White House.
So Wilson arranged for an audition, succeeded and flew home, where he enlisted at the Fairmont recruiting office and was shortly after sworn in.
Orchestra members don’t go through basic training, Wilson said. They’re sworn in as staff sergeants. But they undergo a unique orientation process in Washington, D.C., for their work at the White House.
After joining, he one day learned that his WVU instructor, Portnoy, had served in The President’s Own in the late 1950s. He came across Portnoy’s name in an old roster and looked into it.
Wilson made his first return to Morgantown in 2005, accepting an invitation from his dad to solo for that year’s July 4 concert.
“I haven’t been since. I’m really excited.”
Wilson will solo on two pieces. One is composer John Williams’ “Theme from Schindler’s List,” which was performed by famed violinist Itzhak Perlman for the movie soundtrack. Wilson has a story about this piece.
“I had a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play this piece with John Williams conducting,” he said. It was in 2003 when Williams guest-conducted the concert band.
Williams would be presenting his famous movie themes — Star Wars, ET, Superman — along with other compositions, and while bands typically don’t feature violin solos, Williams wanted one for this piece.
“And I got the call so that was a really great thrill.”
The other solo piece will be Belgian composer Henri Vieuxtemps’ “Souvenir d’Amerique,” which offers all kinds of variations on a traditional American tune (Wilson likes to surprise his audience, so for those who don’t know it, we won’t reveal the tune) and jumps through various technical hoops. “It’s a lot of fun.”
The Presidents Own will be performing on the south lawn of the White House Wednesday evening, so Wilson will have a hectic two days. They’re doing a full run-through Tuesday. He’ll have to come here, get a bit of rest, perform here on the Wednesday — the band is allowing him to skip the noon sound check — then hustle back to D.C.
This will be the Municipal Band’s 29th consecutive July 4 performance.
“My command was really nice about not making me cancel the appearance with the Municipal Band there in Morgantown,” Wilson said. “I’m happy to be helping Morgantown celebrate the Fourth.”