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Norfolk Middle School in Nebraska -- Sousa’s March Mania.

Photo by Norfolk Middle School, Nebraska

March Mania: Stars and Stripes Two-Time Champ

23 May 2019 | United States Marine Band

March 4th was a great day to kick off the Marine Band’s sixth annual “Sousa’s March Mania” competition, a tournament pitting 32 marches against each other for the friends of “The President’s Own” online community to determine which march would be the favorite in 2019. For the second time in six years, John Philip Sousa’s march “The Stars and Stripes Forever” won the championship, but not without a fight. Stars and Stripes had some stiff competition, ultimately defeating three other Sousa marches—“Hail to the Spirit of Liberty,” “Liberty Bell,” and “Semper Fidelis,” the official march of the Marine Corps. “Liberty Bell” came so close but cracked under pressure as voters pushed Stars and Stripes ahead by only 45 votes.

Prior to the competition, almost 800 band directors and music educators signed up to participate with more than 91,000 students. As in previous years, resources for participants included program notes, a YouTube playlist, lesson plan resources, and stickers featuring a customized logo for each participating march. This year the Marine Band also offered a March Mania crown and participation certificate.

“I can’t wait to experience the tournament with my students,” said Brandon Foley of Mesquite Junior High School in Gilbert, Ariz. Kevin Blackstock of The Villages Charter School in Florida participated in 2018 with his students and said, “It was one of the highlights of the year.”

Dana Kettelwell, music educator at Lincoln Middle School in Fort Collins, Colo., added: “I teach at a very high poverty school where the expectations of my class are not so much ‘be the best, practice the most, etc.’ but more of an emphasis on being lifelong lovers of music. The way we incorporate this varies each month. Sometimes they do a project, sometimes we just watch videos here and there and learn facts, and sometimes it makes for a great sub plan. Last week, I gave class time for the kids to listen to as many marches as they could to finish their brackets. It was so wonderful to see kids get truly invested in this, form opinions on this music, and want to compete! It’s why my classes will participate in this every year!”

The 2019 competition mania marches included former winners, beloved Sousa favorites, as well as unfamiliar works by Sousa and others. Throughout March Mania, participants were introduced to marches they had never heard. Robert Piper enjoyed hearing for the first time “Oh Henry,” and “Century of Service” by Capt. Ryan Nowlin; “Defenders of Freedom,” by Kenneth Douse; and “Entry March of the Boyares” by Johan Halvorsen. Repeat participant Frank Meredith voted for “Sons of Uncle Sam” after he’d heard it for the first time. Music educator Elise Curran said, “One of the good things about March Mania is hearing pieces you don’t know as well, so you can think about them for your next concert!” And Harrison Toma said, “Dude this is what I love about this tournament, discovering new marches to enjoy ALL DAY.”

In the first round of the competition, Jonathan Fielding weighed in on his vote: “I’m biased to ‘The Marines of Belleau Wood’ [by former Marine Band Director Taylor Branson] as I served in 1/5 Marines, one of the units in that battle.” Jonathan wasn’t the only Marine whose vote was swayed by his military service. Thomas Osborne voted for Semper Fidelis throughout the competition. “Really enjoyed the entire thing—I was rooting for Semper Fi as it was the march played at my boot camp graduation long ago in ’68.”

Oorah Jonathan and Thomas!

After Capt. Nowlin’s “Oh Henry” defeated Sousa’s “Review” in the “Sousa’s Sixteen” round, Kristin Bellissimo Gentile said, “All my students named Henry were VERY excited!”

Midway through this year’s competition the Marine Band Office of Communication took steps to prevent spam voting. Unfortunately, the actions of one or more individuals was beginning to have an unfair impact on the program. Similar to the brackets, the program voting has always relied on the honor system. With that said, the Office of Communication made changes to the voting system in an effort to maintain a fun and fair competition.

As the competition continued, Susan McIntosh Cohen kicked off an online discussion in the “Enlisted Eight” round by asking, “Can someone give an opinion about why they like Valdres? I’ve never warmed up to it, but I want to know what others think.” Christina Marionezux called ‘Valdres’ relaxing and regal and Kathy Boster said, “as a clarinetist, I love the opening little clarinet obbligato.”

In the “Fidelis Four” round, Linda Purdy Hawk was having trouble deciding on where to place her vote. “This is a real toughie! They are such different styles,” she lamented. “I love Circus Bee for its technical challenge because of the tempo, but I love ‘Valdres’ because of the beautiful harmony and those trumpets/cornets.” Ultimately, Circus Bee defeated Valdres, but barely with a score of 2,354 to 2,207.

Not everyone was happy to see Sousa’s Stars and Stripes take it all. “Circus Bee must win! The time of beautiful, but way overplayed marches needs to end!” But Cyndy Lofy was excited to see the Sousa march win: “Yeah! Stars and Stripes – my all-time favorite!” Music educator Kristen Bellissimo Gentile said, “Love seeing the new songs in the finals, but my students are overwhelmingly choosing Stars and Stripes Forever!”

And repeat participant Cyrus Exum said, “This year was quite the nail biter! While Sousa is undeniably the march king, I can only hope that one year Fillmore or King reign supreme. I’m already anticipating next year! “

Alright, Cyrus, let’s find out—see you in 2020!

Thanks to everyone for a great competition this year! Revisit the marches here. See a photo album of students participating in the Sousa's March Mania, 2019.