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"The President's Own"


"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
Unit News
Sousa Season Opener: January 7

By Master Sgt. Amanda Simmons | United States Marine Band | January 4, 2018


In a tradition that dates back 14 years, the Marine Band will open its 2018 Showcase Series with a John Philip Sousa style concert that will focus on the years that he served as Director of the Marine Band (1880-92). The concert will be held at 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 7 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts Concert Hall in Fairfax, Va. 

“During his 12 years as Director, Sousa embarked on a musical odyssey that simultaneously transformed ‘The President’s Own’ from a local military band into a world-renowned musical organization and transformed himself into a national celebrity and ‘The March King,’” noted Marine Band Director Col. Jason K. Fettig. “This concert traces Sousa’s career as Marine Band Director and highlights some of the music and events that shaped his famous tenure. Much of the music featured on this program came from Sousa’s pen during his years as Director and all was performed with the band during his time on the podium of ‘The President’s Own.’”

The Sousa Season Opener will move chronologically and will open with President Garfield’s Inauguration March. The Marine Band first performed this stately march at Garfield’s Inauguration Ceremony on March 4, 1881, just five months after Sousa was named Leader. 

The Marine Band was Sousa’s first experience conducting a military band, and he approached musical matters unlike most of his predecessors. He replaced much of the music in the library with symphonic transcriptions and changed the instrumentation to meet his needs. Rehearsals became exceptionally strict, and he shaped his musicians into the country’s premier military band. Marine Band concerts began to attract discriminating audiences, and the band’s reputation began to spread widely. 

Sousa first received acclaim in military band circles with the writing of his march “The Gladiator” in 1886. From that time on he received ever-increasing attention and respect as a composer. In 1888, he wrote “Semper Fidelis.” Dedicated to “the officers and men of the Marine Corps,” it is traditionally known as the “official” march of the Marine Corps. Both pieces will be featured on the first half of the program.

Sousa was not the only star at his concerts. He was known for sharing the spotlight with crowd-pleasing soloists. This year, cornet soloist Gunnery Sgt. Robert Singer will perform Gioachino Rossini’s “Inflammatus” from Stabat Mater, an arrangement of a movement that was written for soprano soloist, chorus, and orchestra. According to Singer, patrons will get to enjoy the opera’s “fiery aria.”

Fettig has designed the second half of the program to mirror part of Sousa’s farewell concert, which was held on July 29, 1892, at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. The march, “Washington Post,” which was premièred by the Marine Band at the Smithsonian in 1889, will open the second half of the Sousa Season Opener. Sousa wrote the “Washington Post” in 1889 to promote an essay contest sponsored by the newspaper of the same name; the march was soon adapted and identified with the new dance called the two-step. The piece became the most popular tune in America and Europe, and critical response was overwhelming. A British band journalist remarked that since Johann Strauss, Jr., was called the “Waltz King,” then American bandmaster Sousa should be called the “March King.” With this, Sousa’s regal title was coined and has remained ever since.

According to the Washington Post, Sousa’s newly composed march “The Belle of Chicago,” which had been written only a few days prior to the farewell concert, and Guiseppe Verdi’s Bolero from The Sicilian Vespers were both program highlights. In 1892, Bolero was performed by local Washington, D.C., vocalist Kitty Thompson Berry; at the Sousa Season Opener, mezzo-soprano Gunnery Sgt. Sara Sheffield will take the stage to perform the work.

Sheridan’s Ride was also well received. Sousa was inspired by Thomas B. Read’s Civil War poem of the same name. According to Sousa scholar Paul Bierely, Sousa had memories of General Sheridan’s Ride, which took place near Washington, D.C., when Sousa was nine and a young apprentice musician in the Marine Band.  

Musical tributes were not the only thing at the farewell concert during that hot night in 1892. According to the Washington Post:

“… Mr. Walter Smith, the first cornet of the band, arose and, addressing Mr. Sousa, said: ‘You have been the leader of the band for the past twelve years, during which time there has been no recognition of the appreciation of your service on the part of the band except the cheerfulness with which they have performed their duties under orders. We want you to carry away with you some practical evidence of our feeling toward you and ask you to accept this baton and the accompanying scroll on which are engrossed the names of the active members of the band.” The Sousa baton, as it is now known, was returned to the Marine Band in 1953 by Sousa’s daughters and is used to transfer leadership from outgoing to incoming Directors of the Marine Band.

On display at the Sousa Season Opener will be historic programs, a replica of Sousa’s uniform, a medal awarded to Sousa, and the baton presented to him from the Marine Band at the 1892 farewell concert. The concert is free, and no tickets are required.

Complete program

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