Gunnery Sgt. Amy McCabe

SBO Staff • America's MusiciansFebruary 2023 • February 19, 2023

First Female Principal Trumpet in “The President’s Own”

In September 2022, Gunnery Sgt. Amy McCabe was officially announced as principal trumpet for “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band. The first female to hold that title in the band’s 225-year history, she replaced Master Gunnery Sgt. Kurt Dupuis, who served as principal since 1994.

“As I get older, the more I realize how much representation is inspiring and important to me,” McCabe said.

Her interest in music began as a child, influenced by two females in the family. Because her grandmother was a church organist and pianist, McCabe’s earliest memories as a kid include singing in church choir and playing the piano. Also, since her older sister played trumpet, she had access to another instrument in the house to test out – one she eventually became more and more familiar with.

“I have a feeling my sister must have really helped me in those first years of playing the trumpet,” McCabe laughed.

Her skills on trumpet grew at her small, rural high school in Illinois where, out of necessity, she became an integral part of its various musical ensembles. McCabe particularly loved jazz band, marching band, and playing in other community ensembles of all styles.

“Looking back at my early days playing trumpet, I would tell myself to not sweat the small stuff as much and focus more on music-making rather than ‘note-getting,’” McCabe said.  

“At my undergraduate university I continued playing in similar ensembles for fun until I decided to pursue music more seriously at the end of my senior year,” McCabe said. “I initially studied general elementary education with the intent to go on to be a children’s librarian, until the music bug bit me! I love playing the trumpet because it has a very similar quality to the sound of the human voice. Also, it’s the highest pitched member of the brass family so we often end up with the melody or the lead voice – which is something the kid in me must still like!”

Before heading to Northwestern University to pursue a graduate degree in trumpet performance, she spent a few years playing with the Broadway show Blast!. That experience offered extensive professional touring and performance experience, as well as an environment to work with other brass players on technique and endurance skills. Later, through her studies and work at Northwestern and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, she was well-poised to refine her performance and audition skills as well.

“I have always been around, studied with, and worked with a lot of fantastic female trumpet players both in school and professionally,” McCabe said. “There have also been several others I have admired. Seeing and hearing about players like Susan Slaughter of the St. Louis Symphony, Marie Speziale from the Cincinnati Symphony, and my female predecessors in the Marine Band – like Nancy Taylor, Michelle Rakers, Susan Rider, and Jennifer Marotta – influenced me to achieve similar goals.”

“I remember hearing the Marine Band for the first time on their 2003 Midwest tour concert at Northwestern University and thinking ‘Whoa! I didn’t know a concert band trumpet section could sound like THAT!’ I really wanted to be a part of something that sounded so awesome.”

Three years later, after finishing her degree, McCabe won an audition with “The President’s Own” and was soon playing alongside the very musicians that stirred up her enthusiasm at that concert.

“We have such a collegial and comradely trumpet section, and I have felt support and respect from day one,” McCabe said. “Everyone here is extraordinarily talented and team-minded, and we’re so lucky to have such a deep trumpet section to rely on to get through our intense workload here. I don’t take it for granted!”

For other females aspiring to be professional musicians, she offers the following words of advice: “Go for it! Don’t let societal norms dictate what your musical voice should sound or look like, just follow your gut and strive for excellence.”

During her years as a section player in the Marine Band, her interest in music has been continually fed in several ways:

“Playing chamber music with other wonderful musicians, discovering under- or never-performed music written by women, participating in educational outreach, and continually unravelling the technical and musical challenges of a brass instrument have kept my engagement level high,” McCabe said.

In her new role as principal trumpet, she wants to expand on the section dynamic created by previous principal trumpet Master Gunnery Sgt. Dupuis and current solo cornet Master Gunnery Sgt. Matthew Harding.

“I want to continue to ensure that people feel utilized and valued,” McCabe said. “I also want to keep personally growing as a musician to take on the challenges here with more ease and inspiration.”

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