Andrew Oppenheim, a tuba player raised in Modesto, joined the U.S. Navy Band in 1995. That’s nearly a quarter-century of presidential funerals, inaugurations and smaller gigs around the nation.
Oppenheim, 49, is one of five tuba players in the concert and ceremonial units, by far the largest in the 170-member band. This is full-time work for military personnel who pass the audition, which he did on his fifth try.
The musician talked about his career by phone from Hot Springs, Arkansas, part of a tour around the South and Southwest that ended Tuesday, March 19. A portion of the concert unit tours for about a month each year.
The band plays marches, classical pieces and more recent works — and, of course, “Anchors Aweigh,” the Navy’s signature song. Check out a few performances on the band’s YouTube channel.
Oppenheim had started with the trumpet at Somerset Middle School in the early 1980s, but it didn’t go well. He switched to the tuba, the largest and deepest of the brass instruments.
“The tuba is like the bass in a rock band,” Oppenheim said. “It lays down the foundation and helps harmonically and moves the music along.”
The Navy Band, founded in 1925, is based at the Washington Navy Yard. Oppenheim lives in Laurel, Maryland, with his wife, LeAnne Dagnall, and their teenagers, Molly and Derek. Dagnall is an administrator at the University of Maryland.
Oppenheim comes from an accomplished family. His father, Sam, was a longtime history professor at California State University, Stanislaus. His mother, Alyne, worked in special education at Modesto Junior College and later led Central West Ballet. They retired to Franklin, Massachusetts.
Andrew’s older brother, Michael, is a Marine Corps colonel in Atlanta. One sister, Dory, teaches fifth grade in Needham, Massachusetts. The other, Sarah, is a dancer and choreographer in the Washington, D.C., area.
Andrew Oppenheim was born in Indiana and moved as a child to Modesto. His father recalled in a separate phone interview that his son flourished with the tuba at Beyer High School. Andrew also played in MoBand, the amateur group that continues to do six concerts at Graceada Park each summer.
“He turned out to be a very good tuba player,” Sam Oppenheim said. “He sat first chair in the state honor band.”
Andrew Oppenheim earned a bachelor’s degree in music from Indiana University and a master’s in the same field from Arizona State University. His 24 years in the Navy Band have brought him to the rank of senior chief musician, the equivalent of senior chief petty officer.
Oppenheim played at inaugurations for Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump. He was at funerals for Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. The band performs for foreign dignitaries, in parades and at various other events, mostly in the D.C. area.
Oppenheim was a founding member of the band’s brass quintet, which has entertained often at the White House and Pentagon and on “Meet the Press” on NBC. The quintet once performed at his parents’ synagogue.
Other members of the Navy Band take part in small groups specializing in choral, jazz, country and other genres.
Oppenheim has worked in public affairs and other tasks for the Navy Band and served as an advocate for fellow musicians who report sexual assault.
The band has visited California, though not the Modesto area, and will be back in the state in 2023. Oppenheim said he will play “as long as they will have me.”
This is the second time that The Modesto Bee has caught up with him. The first was in 1998, three years into his career. He noted then that job openings for tuba players are rare, but the Navy and other military bands depend on this kind of sound.
“Everyone thinks the tuba is an oompah thing or just for Dixieland,” he said. “It’s actually an incredibly versatile instrument.”