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"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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Sousa by Request: Now taking requests for the Jan. 11 Sousa Season Opener

By Gunnery Sgt. Amanda Simmons | United States Marine Band | November 3, 2014

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This year you can help Lt. Col Fettig program the Sousa Season Opener concert. Voting will open Nov. 3 and close on Nov. 28. You may only vote once, selecting one piece in each of the following categories: overtures, suites, dances and interludes, opera features, and orchestral showpieces. Additionally, Sousa marches are available to choose from, and those voted to the top will be featured as encores throughout the program.

 

You can vote via e-mail (marineband.publicaffairs@usmc.mil) or the Marine Band website. Phone requests will not be fielded. Visit the Marine Band website to listen to and learn more about the pieces.

 

Once the major pieces of the concert have been chosen by your votes, the performance will be rounded out with virtuosic solos and vocal features all packaged in our most famous Director’s unique style. The final program will be available online by Dec. 15. The concert will take place at 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 11 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax, Va. The event is free and no tickets are required.

 

Sousa’s Programming Style

 

There are a number of elements that contributed to Sousa’s success, beginning with the fact that he took music directly to the American people. In his era, the only way people could partake in the cultural arts was in the form of live entertainment. In 1891, the opportunistic conductor obtained official sanction from President Benjamin Harrison for the first Marine Band tour. The wild success of these tour concerts is attributed to Sousa’s showmanship and unorthodox programming style, which was influenced by his early years of musical study and his time playing with the Marine Band.

 

The Marine Band was Sousa’s first experience conducting a military band, and he approached musical matters unlike most of his predecessors. In his autobiography “Marching Along” he noted, “I found its [Marine Band] music library limited, antiquated, and a good deal of it poorly arranged and badly copied. There was not a sheet of Wagner, Berlioz, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, or any other of the modern composers who were attracting attention throughout the musical world. I immediately selected some of the first-class compositions from the leading catalogues in Europe and proceeded with the most rigid rehearsals, in order to bring that band up to modern requirements.”

 

Sousa did not follow a precedent for programming, and due to a rigorous touring schedule with the Marine Band and later the Sousa Band, his style was not geared toward one segment of the population or part of the world. According to Sousa scholar Paul Bierley, “He believed that music was a universal language and that pieces played well would have appeal anywhere. He made sure, though, that every program would be appealing, no matter where it was played.”

 

Patriotic music was always a staple in band repertoire, but it wasn’t the only thing Sousa offered to his audiences. Undeterred by critics, Sousa was known for mixing orchestral transcriptions and light opera with military music, and is credited with exposing a large segment of the American population to classical music. He was also progressive and often surprised the audience with contemporary works; in many instances he played pieces straight from the manuscripts prior to publication.

 

“John Philip Sousa was a master of programming, demonstrating throughout his career that he could mix familiar, popular music with new and substantial works to create diverse and entertaining concerts,” notes Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig. “He was also a consummate showman and his programs were filled with surprise encores, unique and unusual solos, and plenty of musical drama.”

 

One component that set his programming apart was the use of rapid encores, which were played throughout the program immediately after almost every selection, rather than at the end of the concert. Sousa knew the importance of playing music that the audiences wanted to hear, and these encores were often some of the “March King’s” most popular works.

 

Sousa didn’t take his job as an entertainer lightly. According to Bierley he was known for searching the newspapers for local accounts on what pieces might be most appropriate in a city and he always sought to add variety to his programs. For the same reasons, Sousa was also open to taking requests from his audiences.


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