Master Sgt. Randall Riffle said his career goal was to make a living playing the clarinet.
"I fell in love with the sound at a young age," the 1980 Grove City High School graduate said. "My mom used to play recordings. I just remember hearing the clarinet solos in the symphonies."
After 25 years in "The President's Own" United States Marine Band as a clarinetist, it's safe to say Riffle achieved his goal. In June, he retired.
The Marine Band is considered America's oldest continuously active professional musical organization, created by Congress in 1798. The group encompasses the United States Marine Band, Marine Chamber Orchestra and Marine Chamber Ensembles and performs regularly at the White House in addition to giving more than 500 performances around the country annually. Its primary mission is to provide music for the President of the United States and the Commandant of the Marine Corps.
During his tenure with the band, Riffle performed at seven presidential inaugurations, played with the likes of Aretha Franklin and Larry Gatlin and the concerts he's been a part of include an anniversary celebration for then-President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush and the groundbreaking for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Riffle said he didn't feel pressure performing at such functions, but couldn't help note their historic significance.
"It's just an honor to be there," he said.
Riffle said he was a little apprehensive about the military aspect of the band before he joined.
"I wasn't sure what to expect," he said. "But once I got in, I got the routine, and I was comfortable with it."
Being in the Marine Band, Riffle said, has been good to him.
"It requires us to be proficient in a number of styles and to be flexible," he said.
Riffle said being in the band meant having to learn quickly. The band once needed to learn a new arrangement written by John Williams the day before a concert with the famed composer.
Before joining the Marine Band, Riffle earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in music performance from Ohio State University, where he studied under Donald McGinnis and John Norton.
It was McGinnis, he said, who told him about the opening in the Marine Band in 1988. Riffle also played with the Central Ohio Symphony Orchestra in Delaware and taught clarinet at South-Western City Schools.
His years working in Grove City were especially a good time, Riffle said. The students were good, he said, and then Grove City High School Director of Instrumental Music James Swearingen became a major influence.
Riffle currently lives in Hanover, Md. He has two sons, Jeremy, 25, and Joshua, 24. He is the instrumental music director at Heritage Community Church and teaches at Landon School, where he also plays with the orchestra.
"If the right opportunity came along, I would love to come back to central Ohio," he said.