Washington, D.C. --
“Let’s Go, Commando!” That’s what Wabasha-Kellogg fifth graders in Wabasha, Minn., chanted as they cheered on Samuel Barber’s “Commando March” throughout an exciting and intense month of “Sousa’s March Mania.” From Feb. 26 through March 28, 32 marches battled to win the March Mania championship title. After four weeks of competition and nearly 900,000 total votes, “Commando March” came out on top, crushing the 2015 champ “Valdres” by Johannes Hanssen.
Starting in December, band directors and music educators signed up to receive supplemental materials to use in their classrooms and distribute to students. This year’s resources included program notes, a YouTube playlist, new brackets, lesson plan resources, and stickers featuring a customized logo for each participating march. More than 1,300 schools and approximately 150,000 students have utilized this year’s materials and other Marine Band resources to implement the “mania.” Band and music classes nationwide participated by listening to the different marches, learning about them through provided materials, and then voting for their favorites.
The competition began with 11 compositions by mania namesake John Philip Sousa—“The March King,” four pieces by prolific film composer John Williams, works by two former Directors of the Marine Band, and several other great composers. The daily games exposed participants to new music while also enjoying a spirit of competition. Teachers have reported that Sousa’s March Mania is a fun-filled forum to introduce marches to younger students. Angela Macke, band director at Cleveland Middle School in Albuquerque, N.M., said her students listened to and debated each matchup. Students at Thomas Jefferson Elementary were thrilled to learn of former Marine Band Director William H. Santelmann’s march that shares their school name: “Thomas Jefferson March.” While it didn’t make it a guaranteed winner, according to the school’s music teacher Krista Lane, it certainly influenced the 1st and 2nd grade voters!
Some voters had very strong opinions about their favorite marches. “When I handed out blank brackets this year, my kids lost their minds, telling me, “YES! Valdres is my FAVORITE march!” said Cathi Leibinger, band director at Ransom Everglades Middle School in Coconut Grove, Fla. One of her seventh-grade students wrote on the top of his bracket: “Purple Pageant is the true winner.”
The true winner for many Marines voting throughout the contest was Sousa’s “Semper Fidelis,” the official march of the Marine Corps. Former Marine Thomas Osborne said that “Semper Fi” has a special place in his heart. It was played at Parris Island Recruit Depot when he marched across the parade deck and became a Marine years ago. “I still swell with pride [when I hear it],” he said.
And while students benefit from the educational aspect of the mania, they aren’t the only ones learning and hearing marches for the first time. Beth Walker loves “Valdres” and said she’d never heard it before listening as part of March Mania. Several participants had never heard Captain Ryan Nowlin’s “Oh, Henry!” Leigh Alexander loved Nowlin’s use of ancillary percussion and the melody and the accelerando at the end. “And for what it is worth, ‘Oh, Henry’ should be in the finals,” said Randy Noyes.
Along with thousands of other participants, sixth grade band students at Dallas Middle School in Dallas, Pa., thought Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” should win. According to Dallas band director Tina Krawcyk, the Stars and Stripes won the class majority vote because they said it is “patriotic, upbeat, happy, and energetic.”
Energetic first graders at Sacred Heart Schools in Chicago pulled for Julius Fucik’s Entry of the Gladiators. Under the direction of music teacher Tim Mikolay, they marched and moved to the sounds of Fucik’s masterpiece, sharing their own artistic and musical expressions with the Marine Band on YouTube. While some matches were blow-outs, others were neck and neck including the championship game between “Commando March” and “Valdres.” About halfway into the match, participant Jamie Gronski stressed: “Currently separated by exactly seven votes. THIS IS WHY YOUR VOTE COUNTS!”
Ultimately, Barber’s composition pulled away and destroyed “Valdres” with a score of 94,699 to 78,328. Those who had “Commando March” winning it all were named an honorary “March King” for the day. Four of Angela Richmond’s band students at Foothills Middle School in Wenatchee, Wash., were named “March King” and proudly wore their crowns throughout the school day.
Ninth grader Aiden Podruchny from Nansemond River High School in Suffolk, Va., was proud to be his school's honorary march king (pictured, above right). Brunswick (Maine) Junior High School 7th grader Nico Bojarski received his “March King” medal from Principal Walter Wallace and will be recognized at his band’s awards concert at the end of the school year (pictured, below right).
At the beginning of the competition, faithful mania voter Cyrus Exum said, “I’ve been waiting all year for this.” Well, Cyrus, let’s do it again in 2019!
Thanks to everyone for a great competition this year! To revisit the marches and bracket, or for the complete albums from the 2018 Sousa’s March Mania, click here.