As a middle school band instructor, Liz (then Gish) Matera taught young instrumentalists alongside Jay Kahn, who still teaches at Maquoketa Middle School. 

Then Matera auditioned for the U.S. Marine Band, “the President’s Own,” winning a coveted seat in the ensemble.

For the past 27 years, Matera has played clarinet for visiting heads of state, Easter egg hunts on the White House lawn, Medal of Honor ceremonies, presidential inaugurations, and thousands of other events. 

“I got to be there when history was being made,” she said.

Now retired, Matera moved back to the Bettendorf area, but she returned to Maquoketa Middle School Oct. 24 to speak to the students in preparation for their trip to see the U.S. Marine Band at the Adler Theater Oct. 25.

The stop at the Adler was an opportunity for Matera to catch up with old friends, as was her stop in Maquoketa.

Matera taught at Maquoketa during the 1989-1990 school year. She said that, after a year of teaching, she knew the rigors of education would make it difficult to maintain her playing to the level she desired. 

“I had always loved playing,” she said. Matera’s father had been a band director, and she said she always wanted to play in a military band. 

The band, often referred to as the best in the world, involves a direct audition, including a solo and sight reading. Her audition, against about 40 other clarinetists, was nerve-wracking, but she earned a spot and was commissioned as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

In the following years, she traveled throughout the country with the band, when not serving the President in Washington, D.C. A highlight, she said, was premiering a piece for 10 clarinets in a beautiful chapel in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Did anyone ever mess up, one student asked. 

“Of course,” Matera said. “You make mistakes. … You minimize mistakes by doing a lot of rehearsal.” 

And in performance, she said, when someone does make a mistake, you don’t acknowledge it. 

“You move on,” she said.