March has finally arrived! And what better way to celebrate than by taking a look at the March King himself, John Philip Sousa. WindConductor.com offers some fun facts about the icon of the wind band world.
John Philip Sousa tried to run away and join a circus band when we was 13 years old! Fortunately, his father saw his strong desire to begin a musical career as a positive and enlisted him into the Marine Band as an apprentice musician.
After performing in the Marine Band as a musician, Sousa spent a few years as a touring musician, theater composer and conductor! He returned to D.C. in 1880 to serve as the conductor of the Marine Band, a position he held for 12 years. Under his direction, the Marine Band developed into a premier ensemble. As a conductor, he was known for strong and firm discipline in rehearsal. When he assumed leadership of the ensemble, replaced much of the library (which consisted primarily of marches and ceremonial music) with orchestral transcriptions and classical works.
John Philip Sousa served as conductor of the Marine Band under five presidents: Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Grover Cleveland, Chester A. Arthur and William Henry Harrison. He wrote about them in The Experiences of a Bandmaster:
On Grover Cleveland’s marriage:
"The Marine Band played all the music for President Cleveland's wedding, which took place in the Blue Room of the White House. The distance from the room up-stairs to the exact spot where the ceremony was to take place was carefully measured by Colonel Lamont and myself, in order that the music might be timed to the precise number of steps the wedding party would have to take; and the climax of the Mendelssohn 'Wedding March' was played by the band just as the bride and groom reached the clergyman."
The typical high school band director could program a different John Philip Sousa march at every concert (Fall, Winter, Spring, & Festival) over a 30-year career and still not play all of his marches! Sousa composed a total 136 marches over his lifetime. Two of his marches are recognized as official American Marches. The Stars and Stripes Forever is recognized as the official march of the United States of America and Semper Fidelis is considered the official march of the United States Marine Corps.
John Philip Sousa served briefly as the conductor of the Navy Band at Great Lakes Naval Station outside of Chicago, Illinois. Shortly after the onset of the First World War, Sousa was called back into service at the rank of Lieutenant Commander to boost morale during the Great War. This also marked the first time a musician had been given a commissioned rank in the Navy. It was also a tremendous boost for the Navy band program as many young musicians flocked to recruitment offices in the hopes of serving under the baton of Maestro Sousa.
John Philip Sousa's final rehearsal and performance with the Marine Band occurred in 1932 not long before his death. The last piece he conducted with the esteemed ensemble was Stars and Stripes Forever.