Last week, UNC alumna and world-class clarinetist Luci Disano (MM-13) got to fulfill one of her longtime dreams: suiting up in her very own President’s Own Marine Band uniform. Since its establishment in 1798, “The President’s Own" has been one of America’s premier ensembles, performing at every presidential inauguration since Thomas Jefferson and establishing the careers of musical legends like John Philip Sousa. Amidst preparations for her full-time engagement with the Marine Band, Luci took some time to talk with us about her graduate education at UNC and the experiences that prepared her for this next big step in her performance career.
What attracted you to UNC’s music program for your graduate studies?
I followed a somewhat unique path to UNC. Though I didn’t attend UNC at the time, School of Music Professor Lauren Jacobson was helping me prepare for my Navy Band audition at the end of my senior year. I learned so much for her! I didn’t know it then, but that would end up being the first audition where I advanced past the preliminary round. When she invited me to be her teaching assistant at UNC it was a no-brainer. I also thought that it would be a fantastic adventure to move to Colorado, and it certainly was.
I owe so much to Professor Jacobson’s guidance during my graduate studies. She really helped me find my voice and always encouraged me to be more musically outgoing. I tend to be very concerned with technical correctness in my playing and she helped me see how important the expressive, musical side is too. I’m also very grateful to Dr. Singleton and Dr. Mayne in the band department for their support while I was at UNC. They were constant champions of my efforts to get into the Marine Band.
How did you get ready for the big audition?
I’ve actually been auditioning for the Marine Band since I was an undergraduate, so you might say I’ve been working my way toward this opportunity for years now. The President’s Own Marine Band is one of the nation’s premiere ensembles and gives high-profile performances across the country. Readying myself for this round of auditions meant preparing my audition excerpts months in advance. I also owe a lot to my teacher, Tom Martin, and Charles Peltz, the wind ensemble director at NEC, for running through several mock auditions with me ahead of time.
What was the actual experience of auditioning like?
Auditioning is always a very draining experience. You spend months preparing for a performance that’s usually over in less than five minutes. You only get one shot at it too, so you have to put your whole heart and soul into the audition if you want to have any chance of winning. One little lapse in concentration can send you home.
On top of all the usual stress, this particular audition took place in the middle of Winter Storm Dion. I had to drive down the day before from DC to Boston in heavy snow. That trip, which should have taken me about six hours, ended up lasting nearly twice that long. I have a whole set of things that I would normally do to prepare the night before an audition, but I was so exhausted that I just crashed in my hotel room and treated myself to some room service.
And how did you react when you heard you’d been accepted?
I was in such shock at first I think I hardly reacted at all. As a musician you get very used to rejection, so it took a really long time—I’m talking days—for it to sink in. My mother’s reaction was priceless though. When I told her I had won, she just screamed for what must have been a solid minute-and-a-half before she could speak again.
What do you most look forward to about performing with the President’s Own Marine Band?
I look forward to learning from my colleagues every day and just generally being surrounded by such high-level musicians.This will be my first experience performing full-time with a professional ensemble, so I’m sure that I will grow a lot in the next few years.
Thus far in your career, what have been your favorite parts about performing across the country and abroad?
The wonderful thing about being a musician is that it’s given me the opportunity to travel all over the world, sharing my passion. I think you could write a whole article just about my favorite tour stories. But if I had to choose just one, it would be an experience I had while touring China with the UNC Wind Ensemble.
I had been exploring Beijing with a few other members of the band when we stumbled upon a tea shop run by a woman who called herself Miss Alice. She invited us in, prepared all kinds of different teas, and talked with us for hours and hours about China and Chinese culture. It was such an amazing experience that I kept bringing new people back to meet her over the next few days.
By the time of our concert she was practically a celebrity within our group, so the directors ended up getting her and her husband front-row tickets. I could see them both throughout the concert and they were wearing these huge smiles the entire time. Clearly moved, she came up to thank us after the performance. It was only then I found out that this was the first time in her entire life (she must have been in her late 40s or early 50s) that she had been inside a concert hall. To share that experience of the thing that I love with another person from the opposite end of the globe was simply amazing.
What advice would you offer to other students and alumni who share your passion and want to follow your professional path?
Work harder than anyone else. Read, listen, and absorb everything that you can from your colleagues and mentors. This is a very competitive profession, but I believe that anyone who truly wants it and is willing to log the necessary man hours is capable of achieving success.
Thank you, Luci, for taking the time to share your insights with us!
Of course, after all this discussion of music, what you really want is to hear Luci play, right? You’ll find a lovely sampling of performance videos on her Youtube channel, including this virtuosic rendition of Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto recorded in UNC’s very own Milne Auditorium. The President’s Own Marine Band also has an incredible collection of videos, including this collaboration with legendary film composer John Williams (E.T., Star Wars, Indiana Jones.)
Are there other highly accomplished UNC alumni you’d like to see profiled on the Bear Den? Tell us about them by commenting below or on the Alumni Association Facebook page.