The Music Man

With the Fourth of July upon us, my thoughts turn to what is likely the most unhip type of music one can think of these days — marches. And marches, to me, are synonymous with John Philip Sousa, the March King.

Here I must confess that I truly like marches. Unlike most other music genres, I have loved marches since I was a kid. What little marching I did in the Navy was truly livened when march music was played. It was definitely better than a cadence call: “Sound off one-two-three-four-just-kill-me-now.” Which somehow leads me back to Sousa.

John Philip Sousa was this nation’s first pop music superstar and he became such a figure before he ever recorded his marches. Incidentally, Sousa wasn’t too keen on the budding recording industry. He told Congress in 1906:

“These talking machines are going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy…in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape.”

I wonder how Congress took to his evolution reference?

Sousa did leave behind some recordings such as those that can be found on Internet Archive. These recordings of the Sousa Band, his band after he left as conductor of the U.S. Marine Corps Band, are scratchy. But I think that adds some flavor to the recordings.

Among those jewels to be found in these recordings are “The Washington Post,” march (Yes, the newspaper) as well as “Stars and Stripes Forever,”(the official national march.)Also in these interesting recordings is “The Liberty Bell March.” For those of you unfamiliar with the name of the piece, it is the music played during the credits of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” Spam, spam, spam, spam …

Sousa was a truly a renaissance man of the late Romantic era. He wrote operettas and novels, was a world-renown trap shooter and a horseman, according to a piece about him on Wikipedia.

That same article kind of paints him as somewhat of an oddball who was into the mystical aspects of Freemasonry. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. I’m not a big midi fan but some above average midi versions of Sousa marches can be found on a page that pays tribute to Masonic composers who along with Sousa include Mozart and Haydn.

John Philip Sousa gave America a wonderful gift with his marches. His story is definitely worth checking out.

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