From Bach to Bourgeois

Col. John Bourgeois conducts the premiere at Loyola University Nov. 14.

By Mary Ann Kuhn
Special to the Rappahannock News
For half a dozen years, John Bourgeois, retired conductor of “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band at the White House, has been quietly working and reworking his conception of one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most famous 17th century works in hopes one day he would share his vision with the world.

All of this creativity was occurring in his Rappahannock studio in Tiger Valley. There, surrounded by walls of White House photographs of his acclaimed music career — spanning nine presidential administrations from Presidents Eisenhower to Clinton — Bourgeois created his original arrangement of Bach’s composition called the “Goldberg Variations.”

As one reviewer wrote about the “Goldberg Variations,” “few musical works have excited the interest of scholars, performers, and audiences.”

What retired Marine Colonel Bourgeois did was akin to taking a piano piece and making it a big band tune.

November was prime time for Bourgeois who conducted a premiere of his version of Bach’s work on Nov. 14 at Loyola University in New Orleans. The performers were members of the Louisiana Philharmonic and the Loyola music faculty.

A native of Louisiana, Bourgeois is artist-in-residence at Loyola and teaches in a chair endowed in his name there.

“The Goldberg Variations” is written for and usually performed on the piano or harpsichord. However, Bourgeois led a performance in which he adapted it for 23 woodwinds, brass and timpani.

“I have always thought that the variations could present both a challenge and an opportunity to be displayed as a medium for diverse ensembles,” said Bourgeois after the performance.

He said he was “honored to have the master players of the Philharmonic play this first performance.”

The concert consisted of a performance of the original setting of the Goldberg performed by Dr. Donald Boomgaarden, Loyola’s dean of the College of Music and Fine Arts, followed by the Bourgeois version.

To listen to Bourgeois’ performance during the holidays, visit

Asked if Rappahannock could have a local re-enactment of Bach-Bourgeois perhaps at the Castleton Theatre or at The Theatre in Little Washington, Bourgeois simply smiled.

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