In this very important month that celebrates Veteran’s Day and has a monumentally important presidential election I thought it would be interesting to rediscover some of the most patriotic marches of the late romantic period of John Philip Sousa.
Sousa was born in Washington, DC in November 1854 to a Portuguese father and a mother of Bavarian decent. He started his music education at the age of six. Found to have absolute pitch and harmony when he reached the age of 13, his father a trombonist in the Marine Band enlisted his son in the United States Marine Corps as an apprentice.
Several years after his apprenticeship, Sousa joined a theatrical orchestra where he learned to conduct. He returned to the United States Marine Band as its head in 1880 and remained as its conductor par excellence until 1892. He led “the President’s Own” band under five presidents, and played at two Inaugural Balls.
After he left the Marine Band, Sousa organized his own band. The Sousa Band toured from 1892-1931 performing in numerous concerts. In 1900, his band represented the United States at the Paris Exposition. Believe it or not the Sousa Band marched through the streets of Paris, one of only eight parades in which they appeared in over forty years of performances.
Sousa wrote 136 marches beginning in 1917 and continuing to do so until his death. Some of his most popular and notable are “Semper Fidelis,” the Official March of the United States Marine Corps; “Stars and Stripes Forever,” National March of the United States; and “The Washington Post,” written for the Marine post established during the war of 1812.
Sousa also wrote a few operettas in his younger days. The music is light and cheerful with melodic strains that leave the audience humming long after the performance. His most renowned work is “El Capitan” which makes fun of false heroes.
Along with his music Sousa showed talent for writing. He wrote three novels and numerous articles but it is his band music which he is known for.
His music is nationalistic and rousing. In a time when to be patriotic seems like a bad word I want to offer my readers a chance to hear and feel the pride that this music evokes, but don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself.
Carmen Ileana Román writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.