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Sousa’s March Mania in the Schools

4 May 2017 | Gunnery Sgt. Rachel Ghadiali United States Marine Band

From March 4 through April 3, 32 marches battled to earn the title of Sousa’s March Mania champion. After four weeks of competition and more than 475,000 total votes, Sergei Prokofiev’s “Athletic Festival March” won the contest, defeating John Philip Sousa’s march “The Liberty Bell” with more than 90,000 students across the country voting in the polls.


Starting in December, band directors and music educators signed up to receive supplemental materials for their students. This year’s March Mania resources included program notes, a YouTube playlist, new brackets, and customized stickers for each participating march. Hundreds of teachers have utilized this year’s materials and other Marine Band resources to implement the “mania” in their classrooms.


“I’m delighted that this year’s March Mania was such an incredible success, bringing a fun and interactive program that celebrates the musical legacy of the march to thousands of students and music lovers around the globe,” said Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig. “As this initiative has grown both in scope and reach over the last several years, I am so very proud of the creative minds and unrivaled initiative of our talented Public Affairs team, who not only invented the concept, but have since developed it into one of the most popular and effective ways in which we interact with the education community and so many fans of this great band music.”


Ronica Brownson, band director at Park Forest Middle School in State College, Pa., teaches a unit on marches with her students each spring. The 7th graders are beginning to study cut time, and the 8th graders focus on 6/8, so she selects a march for each group to play which will correspond with what they are learning. In addition, “I’ll play marches for them and have them hold up which parts are playing: intro, first strain, second strain, trio, breakout, grandioso,” said Brownson. “This is a great way to incorporate the march mania marches, too, by starting rehearsal with and listening and identifying the march. I have them fill out the bracket on their own, and the student who picks the most correct answers gets a prize. I started this last year, and have been pleasantly surprised with how much my 8th graders retained from a year ago. They even remembered that my favorite part of the march is always the dogfight!”


“I remembered the feeling of embarrassment I had when I was in high school and the director would say ‘start at the second strain,’ and I was lost and had to wait to try to catch up,” she continued. “I wanted to be able to look at the piece and know exactly which parts were which in a new march without having to wait until I was told. I tell my students that I don’t want them ever to feel that way, so they are learning how to identify the different sections of a march both by sight and by ear.”


Alison Schroeder, a music educator in the Frederick County, Md. schools, used Sousa’s March Mania to talk about form and other musical elements with her elementary students. “I had them moving when the melodies changed, diagramming, and listening for instrumentation. March of the Resistance was the overall school favorite while a couple of classes chose Barnum & Bailey or Washington Post.”


Kimberly Erickson, middle school orchestra and band director of Norfolk Middle School in Norfolk, Neb., also participates in the mania with her students. “Leading up to the contest, we do a bit of discussion on marches through our method book,” she explained. “Then we spend a couple of days listening to the beginning of each song. Each student fills out a bracket. I then total up each of their choices before the event starts. On the day of voting, I submit our class vote by what the majority of the class selected. The students also keep a running tally of how many they got correct. Once a song is ousted, we listen to it in its entirety, as a class. On the last day, we listen to both songs in their entirety and discuss the information. The students ‘campaign’ for what they like about the march and why it should win.”


Mary Anderson, a teacher at Fairfield Middle School in Iowa, gave her students extra credit for voting and providing email explanations on why they liked specific marches. And John Evans, Director of Brass and Jazz Studies in the Webb City R-7 School District in Missouri, said, “I was sure that the John Williams marches would have gone farther than they did. If it was up to my 7th grade brass class, the March of the Resistance would have taken it all!”


Repeat participant Jason Arnold says that Sousa’s March Mania is one of his favorite events of the year. Arnold, Band Director at Notre Dame High School in West Haven, Conn., loves the boost March Mania gives to his curriculum. “Students get to know the form of a march. They learn about adding a flat at the trio. They learn about dynamics and best performance practices. The amount of things you can teach from a good march is limited only by your ability as a teacher.”


In the 2017 competition, Sousa’s March Mania initiated unlimited voting as opposed to one vote per IP address. “I’m a participating band director, and I loved being able to have my students vote daily on my iPad,” said Angela Macke, band director at Cleveland Middle School in Albequerque, N.M. “They were so excited to see how their vote impacted the daily total.”


Not everyone was happy about this year’s competition results, however. “To me the choices we had a year ago for the championship were something that can never be improved on,” Tom Labadie wrote on the Marine Band’s Facebook page. “‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ and ‘The Washington Post March.’ That was the toughest decision that I have had to make in the three years I have been voting here. Since I had played both of those wonderful marches, I knew the proficiency required to play them, and I enjoy those two marches immensely!”


But Cyrus Exum, a “crazy thrill seeking botanist that loves classical music,” also wrote on the band’s Facebook page: “I had a blast participating and listening to all of the marches. They are all winners in my eyes.”


Thanks to everyone for a great competition this year! To revisit the marches and bracket, or for the complete albums from the 2017 Sousa’s March Mania, visit