The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa

10 Apr 2015 | Gunnery Sgt. Amanda Simmons United States Marine Band

On April 13, 2015, the U.S. Marine Band will release the first volume of “The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa,” a multi-year recording project initiated by Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig. The project, which is in addition to the Marine Band’s annual educational recording, will take approximately six years to complete and will focus on “The March King’s” most important contribution to the concert band repertoire. This will be the Marine Band’s first comprehensive collection of Sousa’s marches since the release of “The Heritage of John Philip Sousa,” which was recorded under the baton of Lt. Col. Jack T. Kline from 1974-76 and released by Robert Hoe. Each volume of “The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa” will be available for free exclusively on the Marine Band website ( and the band’s YouTube channel (

“Sousa is incredibly important to our musical history, and his marches are a central part of that heritage,” explains Fettig. “We consistently play as wide a variety of Sousa marches as any ensemble, and we have a long-standing tradition of performing them in the unique manner established by Sousa himself. Because of our shared history with ‘The March King,’ the Marine Band continues to be a an important resource for his music.”

The Marine Band’s connection with John Philip Sousa runs deep. Sousa first enlisted in the band as an apprentice musician at age 13 and stayed with the ensemble until the age of 20. After his discharge from the Marine Corps, Sousa remained in Washington for a time, conducting and playing the violin. He toured with several traveling theater orchestras and in 1876 he moved to Philadelphia. There he worked as a composer, arranger, and proofreader for publishing houses.

According to Sousa scholar Paul Bierley and author of “The Works of John Philip Sousa,” if Sousa had not been appointed to the Marine Band in 1880, he would have likely made his mark in the operetta field. If a slightly different twist of fate had not led him back to “The President’s Own,” Sousa might not have had the opportunity to become “The March King” and pen some of the country’s most cherished musical works, including the national march “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

There is some debate about the total number of Sousa marches. Sousa was known to occasionally rename marches, and there are most certainly some works that were lost or left incomplete, especially during his earliest years of composing. There is also great variety in Sousa’s compositional output, and some pieces within his larger works such as the suites and operettas could be classified as marches.

Despite these discrepancies, many leading scholars agree that there are 136 marches, and the Marine Band plans to release them in chronological order as part of this new collection. The first volume will include Sousa’s first 17 completed marches, composed between the years 1873-82. Many of them are works that the Marine Band has rarely performed. In fact, Fettig noted that during his 17 years with “The President’s Own” he has never played or conducted any of these particular marches.

However, after completing the first recording session, Fettig observed that these works offer a fascinating preview of what would eventually become Sousa’s genius.

“It was a revelatory experience to get to know some of these early marches, and to discover new things about Sousa’s evolving compositional style,” Fettig notes. “He was experimenting with instrumentation and different forms in these marches and quickly beginning to find his particular voice. This development especially took off once he assumed Directorship of the Marine Band in 1880, and the latter marches in this volume reveal a clear indication of where Sousa was heading with his music. From an educational standpoint, releasing these in chronological order will allow our listeners to study Sousa’s musical path to becoming one of the greatest march composers of all time.”


Additional educational components will accompany the recordings online. The Marine Band will release full scores, scrolling videos, and historical notes for each piece. The marches have been edited by Fettig and Music Production Chief Master Sgt. Donald Patterson, who have been using the earliest known editions for each march and working to incorporate the traditional performance practices employed by the Marine Band. Sousa was known to alter the performance of his marches from the printed parts, such as adjusting articulations and dynamics, dropping out certain sections of the band for musical variety, and adding unwritten percussion accents for dramatic effect. These unique practices became a tradition in his bands and the Marine Band has long endeavored to perform Sousa’s marches largely as he did.

In addition to incorporating these altered performance practices into the scores of the new editions, all of the original markings have been preserved so one can clearly delineate between Sousa’s printed markings and the traditional changes that often went undocumented in the parts. This project also afforded an opportunity to update inconsistencies that have existed in the original parts for more than a century.

“Our team has worked diligently to correct errors that were present in the original publications and decide how to handle instrumentation issues,” explains Chief Librarian Master Gunnery Sgt. Jane Cross. “Master Sgt. Patterson brings his experience as a former high school band director and former Marine Band trombone player to the project, having played many of these marches in concert and in ceremonies, but also an innate curiosity that leads him to research multiple editions of each work to see how these questions have been previously handled. As he begins creating a full score and parts in his engraving software, he quickly recognizes the issues that need to be addressed.”

The creation of edited versions of these marches to match Marine Band performances and the availability of full scores for all of them are a significant upgrade from the resources available for “The Heritage of John Philip Sousa” recordings of the 1970s. Technology is also playing a large role in the present project.

“We are recording these marches using current state-of-the-art recording techniques, including high resolution digital audio and low noise microphones that have been recently developed,” said Chief Recording Engineer Master Gunnery Sgt. Karl Jackson. “Our goal is to capture the ensemble as accurately and musically as possible, in a way that could not have been done 40 years ago when the last comprehensive recording project of Sousa’s works was done by the Marine Band.”


Sousa began composing in 1860 with songs and works for violin. His first march, “Review,” (left) was written in 1873, and when asked about it later in his career he had little memory of the composition. It was dedicated to Colonel William G. Moore of the Washington Light Infantry.

“The Honored Dead”was composed in 1876. The inspiration for this piece is unknown, but the march was used by the Marine Band in Sousa’s funeral procession on March 8, 1932.

Also in 1876, Sousa composed “Revival March” for orchestra, which incorporated the hymn “(In the) Sweet By and By.” Following its release, Sousa’s former teacher John Esputa Jr. made a prediction in the Sept. 30, 1876, edition of the Musical Monitor: “We have now on hand the ‘Grand Revival March’ composed by J. P. Sousa of this city [Washington, D.C.]…The march is deserving credit. We are glad to see such proficiency in one so young, and predict for a him a brilliant future.” At the time, Sousa was 21 years old.

In 1877, Sousa’s lone march was “Across the Danube.” The inspiration for this piece was the Russian victory over the Turks after crossing the famed river in the summer of 1877.

Given the title, one would think that Sousa composed his next march, “Esprit de Corps,” while he was in the Marine Corps. Interestingly the work was composed in 1878, two years prior to his enlistment as the Leader of the Marine Band, and according to Bierley, the work was not published for band until a year after his departure from the Marines.

Sousa’s next three marches in 1879 were all inspired by employment, or a lack thereof. On the Tramp” incorporates a well-known melody from the time by the popular songwriter Septimus Winner aptly called “Out of Work” an unfortunate sign of the post-Civil War times. Also in 1879, Sousa composed “Resumption March” its title rooted in the Specie Payment Resumption Act of 1875 which prolonged the economic depression that followed the Civil War. He wrote “The Globe and Eagle,” a direct nod to the Marine Corps’ emblem, while he was a conductor in Philadelphia. Some speculate that he had an ulterior motive when titling the piece: lobbying for the job as the next Leader of the Marine Band.

As previously noted, Sousa was fascinated by the operetta form. In 1880 he toured with a company producing the musical “Our Flirtations,” for which he wrote the incidental music and the march, “Our Flirtation,” and dedicated it to Henry L. West, a reporter with The Washington Post. Also in 1880, Sousa composed “Recognition March” but there is some speculation that this march is a modified version of “Salutation,” a march that he wrote in 1873. Bierley notes that Sousa composed the march at age 19 for a ceremony for the new Leader of the Marine Band, Louis Schneider. Apparently Schneider belittled him for his efforts, and Bierley believes that in 1880, Sousa revised and retitled the march, “Recognition March.”

While on tour with “Our Flirtations” in St. Louis, Sousa received a telegram offering him the leadership of the Marine Band in Washington, D.C. He accepted and reported for  duty on Oct. 1, 1880, becoming the band’s 17th Leader. In 1881, Sousa composed six marches. As he began to settle in as Leader of the Marine Band, so did his propensity for composing military music. He promptly wrote two marches for Marine Captain R. S. Collum, presumably a friend, titled “Guide Right” and “Right Forward.” These marches were specifically produced for parade use.  "Yorktown Centennial” was produced that same year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Revolutionary War’s last major battle in that Virginia town.

In his 12 years as Leader of the Marine Band, he served as the music adviser for five presidential administrations, so it is surprising that Sousa only composed two marches that were dedicated to a commander-in-chief. Even more unusual is that both were for President James A. Garfield, a president that Sousa did not know well. The first was President Garfield’s “Inauguration March,” (above) which was premièred by the Marine Band at the ceremony on March 4, 1881. Just six months later, he crafted a second march, “In Memoriam,” for Garfield’s untimely death. The dirge was played by the Marine Band when the president’s body was received in Washington and then again in Cleveland, Garfield’s final resting place. It was played again more than a half century later when the band led Sousa’s own funeral procession. Also in 1881, Sousa wrote “Wolverine March,” which was dedicated to the Hon. David H. Jerome, Governor of Michigan, and his staff. It was premièred by the MarineBand at a reception given by the Michigan State Association at the Masonic Temple  in Washington, D.C. on March 2, 1881.

On Aug. 19, 1882, the United States Marine Band and the Washington Light Infantry Corps traveled to Cape May, N.J. via locomotive. The entourage had been given special permission from the Secretary of the Navy and the Commandant of the Marine Corps to hold a series of seven concerts at the Congress Hall Hotel over seven days. For the occasion, Sousa

wrote his “Congress Hall” march in honor of H. J. and G. R. Crump, owners of the hotel. While in Cape May a group of thieves from Philadelphia stole the band’s instruments. They were quickly recovered and the thieves were run out of town. The robbery did not appear to have interfered with any of the concerts. “Congress Hall” was the first piece on the first concert.

According to Bierley: “Marches are, in many ways, highly difficult compositions to play well, and Sousa’s are certainly no exception. But when a conductor adheres to Sousa’s principles, and when he makes a sincere effort to re-create marches in the spirit in which they were conceived, the results are most gratifying.”

“There are few works that we play in the Marine Band that are more satisfying than Sousa’s great marches,” Fettig said. “His music immediately connects with audiences throughout the world and his connection to the Marine Band is something that we continue to cherish. Our hope is that this significant project will be a worthy addition to his legacy and will provide an important resource to help others perpetuate his incredible contribution to American music.”

Volume 1 of “The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa” will be available on April 13, 2015, exclusively on the Marine Band website ( and the YouTube Channel: