Bookend: Marching Full Circle

November 1, 2023

Philip Espe stands in a room with filing cabinets in the background. He is in a red US Marine Band uniform holding a stack of sheet music. Various pieces of music, memorability, and children's books are arranged on the table in front of him.
Photo: Aaron Clamage

All signs pointed to Philip Espe joining the Marines. The 34-year-old comes from a long line of military family members. But he also had a calling in music. Espe studied clarinet performance, earned a master’s of music in orchestral conducting, and directed community and youth orchestras. He used those skills when serving as a youth services associate at D.C. Public Library, gaining a reputation as the “Storytime Guy,” playing instruments and singing lively, multilingual songs.

Then, in 2022, shortly after receiving his MLIS, Espe’s career came full circle when he joined the United States Marine Band as a librarian and historian.

This year, the band celebrates its 225th anniversary. As part of the library’s seven-member team, Espe works to preserve that history through its archives, which includes an extensive collection of sheet music and arrangements—more than 80,000 titles—for the hundreds of public and official performances the band has annually.

Espe’s favorite item in the collection? Original, handwritten sheet music from John Philip Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis” march, written in 1888 while Sousa was the band’s director. “Pulling that score tends to be a lightbulb moment for the Marines who come through to tour our collection,” Espe says.

He says he’s fortunate to continue working with children at outreach events in his new role. He also gets to share his expertise with library workers by leading workshops on improving storytimes with music performance and selecting songs that integrate cultural and historical elements.

Espe reminds library workers that you don’t need musical ability to perform: “Perfection isn’t necessary when you create music and art.”