Earning a position in an elite musical group at the University of Kansas has given Peabody native Taylor Ensminger a chance to perform before hundreds of people in dozens of venues. However, playing for the President of the United States during his trip to KU this past week was a performance she never envisioned.
“I’m super excited about being a part of this,” she said. “It is a great way to end my final semester at KU.”
The former Peabody-Burns High School band member has been part of many concerts and programs as a member of the KU Wind Ensemble, including a performance two years ago at Carnegie Hall in New York City. The performance for Obama’s visit in the Anschutz Sports Pavilion on the KU campus was another highlight.
Obama began his speech at the Pavilion about 11:30 a.m., after a meeting with KU coach Bill Self and the basketball team.
“His first words were a loud ‘Rock Chalk’ and there was a sea of cell phones, tablets, and cameras all taking pictures as soon as he walked onto the stage,” she said. “The event was extremely casual. President Obama was making jokes and telling us about his roots in Kansas and spending time that day with the basketball team. A lot of what he said — the more serious part — was related to his State of the Union address and education.”
Ensminger said the music selected for the performance was casual as well.
“We did not play ‘Hail to the Chief.’ The production people played a recording of it as he walked onto the stage, which we thought was sort of funny,” she said. “We played a version of ‘Home on the Range’ that was arranged by KU music theory and composition professor, Dr. James Barnes.
“And Dr. Paul Popiel, our director, selected the other music — Sousa marches, school songs, and the Star Wars theme and a Wizard of Oz medley. Most of us already knew all of the KU fight songs and ‘Home on the Range’ is a piece that we frequently play, and we performed Star Wars last semester, but a lot of the music was new to us. We played through everything one time during our rehearsal and that was it. No nerves or jitters — it was pretty laid back.”
Despite the relaxed atmosphere in the Anschutz Sports Pavilion the day of Obama’s address, Ensminger said the students had to jump through some security hoops in advance.
“Directly after the Wednesday afternoon rehearsal we had to load our instruments, cases, music, and anything else we would be taking into the venue with us on to a truck,” she said. “Everything was searched overnight and was waiting for us at the Anschutz Pavilion the next morning. When we got there at 7:50 a.m., we had to go through security that was very similar to airport security.
“But it was such an honor to get to hear him speak,” she said. “If you ever have the chance to hear a sitting president or former president speak, take it. It’s an unforgettable experience – there’s nothing else like it!”
A French horn player, Ensminger graduated from PBHS in 2011 and will finish at University of Kansas this spring. She plans to pursue an advanced degree in music and hopes to eventually play in a professional orchestra. She is the daughter of Kevin Ensminger and Julia Ensminger of Peabody.