AUGUSTA — When it came time to name the boisterous march he composed 51 years ago, Augusta native Leo Pepin, the son of immigrant parents, didn’t hesitate — it simply had to be named after the motto of the state he was proud to call home.
“The Dirigo March,” the 87-year-old Pepin’s creation and gift to the state of Maine, now will march on in perpetuity, as the newly named official state march.
Both houses of the Legislature unanimously approved adopting the song as the official state march, and Gov. Paul LePage ceremoniously signed the bill as about 25 Pepin family members, friends, and legislators watched Monday at the State House.
“I’ve traveled a lot, and I’ve always been proud to say I’m from the state of Maine,” Pepin said after the bill-signing with the governor Monday. “When it came time to give it a name, it had to be the motto of my state of Maine. ‘Dirigo.’ ‘I lead.'”
Sen. Roger Katz, a sponsor of the bill that designated “The Dirigo March” as Maine’s first-ever official march, said the piece’s score will be provided to high school bands across the state and will be available to any other bands that care to play it. He hopes that the march will be played regularly at public events in Maine, he said.
“He wanted to give this to the state, to the people, as a gift,” Patrick Paradis, an Augusta city councilor and former state legislator, said of Pepin allowing the song to be shared freely with everyone.
Katz said he hopes the march will be played just before the governor’s next state of the state address.
The modest Pepin, who served in the Army during World War II and, in 1959, opened his own music studio where he taught instrumental music before retiring in 1989, is just happy his march will be played.
“At public events, when they used to play other marches, now they don’t have to play (John Philip) Sousa any more,” he said. “Now we can play one of our own.”
Pepin’s mother, Margaret, was from Ireland; and his father, George, from Quebec. George Pepin worked cutting ice on the Kennebec River and sold ice cream from a cart.
Many Pepin family members attended the bill-signing Monday and posed for a photograph with LePage.
“Leo Pepin and his large family represent all that is best about Maine and the opportunities it has always offered its citizens,” Katz said. “You don’t have to be a sophisticated music critic to know that ‘Dirigo March’ is inspiring and uplifting.”
A recording of the Augusta Symphony Orchestra playing the march was played during the bill-signing.
LePage, who tapped his foot as the march played, said he should have had Pepin as his music teacher. LePage joked that he played with the band in school, but his playing was so bad that others put Scotch tape over his horn.
Pepin’s sister, Madeline Pepin Patenaude, instigated getting the march recognized. She said she approached Paradis, who gave the song a listen and, with bill sponsors including Katz and Reps. Karen Foster, Anna Blodgett and Maeghan Maloney, helped usher it through the legislative approval process.
Katz and Foster were already familiar with the march, having played it in 1961 in its debut in Augusta, with the American Legion Band.
Pepin said he never imagined a half-century ago that the tune would be become the official march of Maine. He said he considers it to be a milestone of his life.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647