Washington, D.C. -- Throughout March and April, “The President’s Own” hosted “Sousa’s March Mania,” a tournament pitting 32 marches against each other for the Marine Band online community to determine which one is the favorite. Norwegian composer Johannes Hanssen’s “Valdres” destroyed every march in its path, ultimately winning the tournament.
In early March, the directors of the Marine Band chose 32 marches accessible on the Marine Band website. The pool of competitors included several composers and different styles of marches, all hosted in the spirit of the band’s 17th Director John Philip Sousa, also known as “The March King.”
Throughout the competition, some participants were introduced to marches they had never heard. Molly McNamara, who was unaware of Rival Rovers prior to Sousa's March Mania, listened to the piece and “loved its exuberance.” And Cheryl Melton “had never heard Rival Rovers before but what a great march to show off an awesome woodwind section!” Others reminisced when they heard marches from their childhood. “When I was just a toddler, I used to watch my dad's regimental parades. ‘Washington Post’ made me flag-waving happy!” said Betty Brody.
Band Directors and music educators incorporated the mania into their classrooms utilizing it as an educational resource, holding daily games with their students to expose them to great music while having fun and enjoying the spirit of the competition.
Fourteen-year old “Zane” posted. “I love this type of stuff and ‘Stars and Stripes’ is really cool and [I] come on here each day and vote and thanks to a wonderful teacher Mrs. Smith for showing me this type of music.”
On the first day of the competition, Sousa proved worthy of his title when his march “The Stars and Stripes Forever” skunked Oliver C. Zinsmeister’s “The President’s Own” 441 to 69. However, the next day, Sousa fell when Hanssen’s “Valdres” easily defeated Sousa’s iconic “Semper Fidelis.” Active duty and former Marines pushed “Semper Fidelis” as far as they could, but an active voting group from Norway rallied behind “Valdres” and overtook the unofficial march of the Marine Corps, winning 634 to 456. But the Marine Band’s Norwegian friends weren’t completely to blame for the loss. Plenty of Americans voted for Hanssen’s composition to contribute to the upset.
Chris Roberts’ beginning band took the match up “VERY seriously. Go Stars and Stripes!” But Brett Burchard’s junior high band class voted 19-7 in favor of Valdres, noting the march’s "groovy," "nice tone," and "dynamic contrast." And “Doug’s” “beginning band overwhelmingly voted for Valdres. They liked the contrast throughout and the flurrying woodwinds.”
DMCK1 said: “My high school music appreciation class voted In favor of Valdres by a considerable majority and seven of my students have even pushed that March to the Champion's category on their individual brackets. Valdres is hard to beat! And with respect to all the great marches out there, and on this list through all the brackets, it is hard to beat the quality of the recording of ‘The President’s Own’ on this performance of Valdres.”
The very next day, 10-year old Hannah Prater chimed in on the Washington Post/Invercargill match, saying, “I really loved Invercargill. I liked how it went really large and really smooth … Thanks for letting me vote!”
Children and teenagers weren’t the only ones examining the marches in depth. Music educator Steve Damon said, “I know my bracket is weak, but going through the music and scores was so much fun!”
In the second round, “Sean” clicked for Sousa’s “Washington Post” when the famous march faced Axel W. E. Austin’s “Girl Scouts” march saying, “I gotta vote with my goosebumps!” He added, “I like to swim for my workout. These marches have me very motivated lately while swimming. I listen to a couple marches prior to practice and then crank out some good laps. Thanks for helping with my workout!”
Fans followed closely when the 2014 March Mania champ Johannes Halvorsen’s march “Entry March of the Boyares” faced E. E. Bagley’s “National Emblem” in a neck and neck 24-hour match up. “National Emblem” ultimately tumbled to the Boyares 438 to 415. In the 2014 competition, “Boyares” prevailed as thousands of Norwegian musicians gathered for a music conference and celebrated the 150th anniversary of Halvorsen’s birth. According to Gro van der Meeren of Norway, “I guess the Norwegian Championship for wind orchestras these days, gathering 5,000 musicians together at one venue, keeping each other awake and well informed day and night, may have had something to do with this result. We do enjoy the Bojarenes [Boyares] over here!”
In a third round barn burner, the 2014 champ “Boyares” lost by only three votes (303-300) to Julius Fucik’s “Florentiner,” sending the Czech military composition on to the “Fidelis Four.”
In the same round while Fucik’s “Entry of the Gladiators” trailed “Valdres,” one participant seethed: “This is outrageous!!! Are you people insane. Entry of the Gladiators is soooooooooo much better.”
The competition’s four remaining marches included “Stars and Stripes” and “Florentiner,” “Valdres,” and “Washington Post.”
When “Stars and Stripes” faced “Florentiner,” “John” admitted, “My patriotic self says vote for ‘Stars and Stripes.’ Show me our flag and play the march and the hair on my neck stands up. But, Florentiner played by the Marine Band and this particular arrangement is musically like a piece of candy ... savor the taste. Forgive me Sousa but I voted for Florentiner.”
After three weeks of competition, the Norwegian musicians and friends of the Marine Band played along heartily, helping vote “Valdres” through to the championship match. It came down to two marches: Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes” and Hanssen’s “Valdres.”
“We've got to stop the Valdres 'cause Stars and Stripes depends on us,” said voter Nora Gibes. Andrew O'Sullivan, who is “still bitter about Boyares beating Stars and Stripes Forever” commented: “USA vs Norway again! Go America!” And Jamie Fratacci said, “Valdres is a great march, but I have to go good old Americana with Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Frank Meredith said that he loves “Valdres and all it represents, to the Norwegian people and to the genre. It is my 2nd favorite March of all time, and probably few Americans have played it in Norway more times than I have. I can't be disappointed with either outcome!”
“David” said, “As iconic as ‘Stars and Stripes’ is, it simply can't match the dignity, heroism, and triumph of Valdres. Valdres has my vote. I love Sousa marches as much as anyone else, but … A vote for Valdres is a vote for bringing more great music into the spotlight.”
Ultimately, “Valdres” overtook the U.S. national march with a final score of 713 to 534.
While Americans also had a hand in the outcome, according to Tore Skaret it can be attributed to “Team spirit throughout the Norwegian band federation.”
Thanks to everyone for a great competition! To revisit the marches and bracket, or for the complete album from the 2015 Sousa’s March Mania, click here.