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"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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Sousa Season Opener: By Request

By Gunnery Sgt. Amanda Simmons | United States Marine Band | January 6, 2015


Sousa Season Opener: By Request

The Marine Band will kick off its 2015 season with the annual Sousa Season Opener 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. Now in its eleventh year, the Sousa Season Opener will continue with tradition and take its inspiration from the many brilliant programs conducted by the “March King” throughout his career as Director of the Marine Band and his own Sousa Band. But this year’s concert has a special feature: Marine Band fans and concert patrons chose the program from among some of Sousa’s favorite works and his own marches.

Read More about Sousa's Programming Style

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. 

Due to the diversity of the audience, from the average concertgoer to serious classical music patrons, Sousa also went to great lengths to avoid monotony in his programs; he alternated between fast and slow works, meters, keys, and styles. 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. This structure took audiences by surprise, and generally kept them engaged throughout the program. The encore tactic helped bridge the gap for those who were not as interested in the heavier selections. 

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.

The Program

Marine Band fans and concert patrons were given the opportunity to vote on the program from Nov. 3-28 on the Marine Band website, and voters selected one piece in each of the following categories: overtures, suites, dances and interludes, opera features, and orchestral showpieces. Three of Sousa’s marches were also selected. Those voted to the top include “Hail to the Spirit of Liberty,” “The Thunderer,” and “King Cotton.” Other pieces chosen by voters include: Overture to Rienzi by Richard Wagner, Dance of the Tumblers from The Snow Maiden by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Triumphal Scene from Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, Capriccio espagnol, Opus 34 by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Sousa’s Looking Upward Suite. Marine Band Director Lieutenant Col. Jason K. Fettig rounded out the program with Herbert L. Clarke’s “Nereid,” featuring cornet soloist Master Sgt. Michael Mergen, Camille Saint-Saëns’ “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice” from Samson and Delilah, featuring mezzo-soprano Gunnery Sgt. Sara Dell’Omo, and Sousa’s march “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”


The concert will take place at 2 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 11 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts in Fairfax, Va., and will be streamed live at www.marineband.marines.mil. A string quartet will provide pre-concert performance in the lobby at 1:15 p.m. The event is free and no tickets are required. For more information, call (202) 433-4011 or visit the Marine Band website.

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