MARINE BARRACKS WASHINGTON, D.C. --
The Marine Band Library and Archives is one of the nation’s oldest and largest performing music libraries, with holdings exceeding 100,000 music titles for band, orchestra, chamber ensembles, dance band, and piano. Some of this music dates back to 1860, but there are more historic holdings than just these scores. The repository is host to a number of important artifacts, including those in the collection of former Director John Philip Sousa. This spring, three new items were added to the archives.
A NOTE FROM THE GRAND OLD MAN
The Library recently received a collection of letters that belonged to former Marine Band Leader Antonio Pons. He enlisted in the Marine Corps as a musician on Aug. 21, 1838 and served as Fife Major from 1842–46 and 1850–54. He served as 10th Leader/Drum Major from 1843-44, and 12th Leader/Drum Major from 1846-48. There is little documentation about the Marine Band leadership during the first 75 years of the organization, therefore this acquisition has already become a valuable research tool.
“These letters are a wonderful resource and help fill in gaps of knowledge regarding one of our early directors,” said Chief Librarian Master Gunnery Sgt. Jane Cross. “One of the oldest letters is dated April 1, 1828. The location given is Port Mahon, Spain, the place where Antonio Pons left to come to the U.S. The letter identifies him as a musician aboard the USS Constitution and states that he has served two years on the ship, conducting himself in a ‘manner deserving the attention of the American squadron.’”
The librarians also discovered that in September 1836, Pons had been aboard the USS United States in the Mediterranean for two years, first as a musician, and then as the captain’s steward. Captain Wilkinson highly recommended his musicianship, conduct, and mechanical abilities.
“One of the more fascinating letters is one signed by then-Commandant of the Marine Corps Brigadier General Archibald Henderson on April 1, 1843,” notes Cross. “This was an order for Fife Major Pons to proceed to Baltimore to select ‘suitable musical instruments for the band.’”
Henderson was the longest serving Commandant of the Marine Corps and is often referred to as the “Grand old man of the Marine Corps.”
Also found in the papers is a pardon from President Andrew Johnson (May 27, 1868) of Antonio Pons Jr., for his service in the Confederate Army. The younger Pons served in the U.S. Navy from 1854-57, but was discharged due to a chronic illness. He enlisted in the Confederate Army on April 20, 1861 and was mustered out Sept. 2, 1861, possibly due to the same illness.
Yvonne Engle-Childs of California bequeathed the papers to the Smithsonian in her will, but the Smithsonian recommended to the executor that the Marine Band would be a better home. The executor agreed, and the papers arrived in the Marine Band Library in June 2017. Engle-Childs was the great-great-granddaughter of Antonio Pons, through Pons’ son Antonio Jr.
MARINE BAND: AMERICA’S OLDEST AND FOREMOST MILITARY SYMPHONIC BAND
In June 2017 the Marine Band Library received a donation of tour log books from Loras Schissel, Senior Acquisitions Specialist at the Library of Congress. These tour logs cover the years 1920-46 and belonged to former Marine Band tour director Clarence Cappel.
“This little book is a wonderful resource for researchers,” explains Marine Band Historian Gunnery Sgt. Kira Wharton. “All the pertinent information regarding each tour including the cities we visited, transportation details, programs, directors, and soloists is all in one neatly typed little book.”
Cappel was the tour director from 1935-47. Following his death, his wife Helen Ware, a violinist, assumed the duties of the Marine Band tour director in 1948. The Marine Band used civilian tour operators since John Philip Sousa’s first tour in 1891. Today National Tour Director William Perry works for the Office of U.S. Marine Corps Communication.
The first log included in the collection is from 1920, with the route beginning in Lancaster, Pa., the same city where the Marine Band will begin its 2017 tour. The 1920 tour was the first since 1916 due to World War I. The band was under the direction of Capt. William H. Santelmann and the soloists were Taylor Branson, Fritz Mueller, Gerold Schon, Henry Stephan, Clayton Lindsay, Emil Rada, Frank Wiblitzhowser, Arthur Witcomb, Robert Clark, and Peter Hazes. Why so many soloists? During this period, the Marine Band performed two concerts a day in each city. The first concert was usually a matinee and often included school groups, followed by an evening concert.
The log book was not the only tour related item donated this spring. In Fall 2016, Steven Kaplan of New City, N.Y., contacted the Marine Band about donating a tour poster. The poster, which he found in an attic, was from the Oct. 7, 1961, tour concert in the neighboring town of Pearl River, N.Y.
“My parents were living in Florida and were aging, so we bought the house next to ours in New York for them to be closer to the family,” Kaplan recalls. “When we started the house renovation, we found the poster lying on the attic floor. We couldn’t locate the former owner, so it remained in our house for a few years. Then I saw the Marine Band performing on TV and thought, hey they are still around, what better home for the poster.”
The 1961 tour began on Sept. 17 in Kennett Square, Pa., and ended on Nov. 18 in Red Lion, Pa. On Oct. 7, the band performed two concerts at Rockland State Hospital Auditorium, in Pearl River, N.Y. Lt. Col. Albert Schoepper conducted the band in Felix Mendelssohn’s Overture for Band, Morton Gould’s Cowboy Rhapsody, a George Gershwin medley, and Sousa marches. One of the featured soloists that night was Gunnery Sgt. James Erdman performing Gardell Simons’ “Atlantic Zephyrs.”
Have a piece of Marine Band memorabilia that you’d like to donate? Please reach out to the Marine Band Public Affairs Office at firstname.lastname@example.org.