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"The President's Own"


"The President's Own"

United States Marine Band

Colonel Jason K. Fettig, Director
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The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa: Vol. 2

By Master Sgt. Amanda Simmons | United States Marine Band | April 7, 2016


“Marches, of course, are well known to have a peculiar appeal for me. Although during a busy life I have written ten operas and a hundred other things—cantatas, symphonic poems, suites, waltzes, songs, dances and the like—marches are, in a sense, my musical children. I think Americans (and many other nationals for that matter) brighten at the tempo of a stirring march because it appeals to their fighting instincts. Like the beat of an African war drum, the march speaks to a fundamental rhythm in the human organization and is answered. A march stimulates every center of vitality, awakens the imagination and spurs patriotic impulses which may have been dormant for years.”

-John Philip Sousa, “Marching Along”

On April 11, 2016, the U.S. Marine Band will release the highly anticipated second installment of “The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa.” The first album was released in April 2015 and included Sousa’s first 17 marches, written from 1873-82, many of which have rarely been performed since their initial release. The second volume contains 18 marches written from 1883-89, during Sousa’s tenure as conductor of the Marine Band (1880-92), several of which are “The March King’s” most celebrated works.

The ambitious multi-year recording project also has an educational element. Along with music, users will have access to full scores, scrolling videos, and historical notes for each piece. These marches have been edited by Marine Band Director Lt. Col. Jason K. Fettig and Music Production Chief Master Gunnery Sgt. Donald Patterson, with a specific goal: work from the earliest editions of each march and incorporate the traditional performance practices employed by the Marine Band. Many of the marches on volume two are reflective of Sousa’s compositional practice of repackaging the popular tunes of the day, compiling medleys, and creating dynamic martial works.

John Philip Sousa composed 136 marches, 15 operettas, 70 songs, and many other pieces. Although he initially concentrated on composing operettas, the trajectory of his career was altered when he was called back to the Marine Band in 1880 to become its 17th Director.

“It was during Sousa’s directorship with the Marine Band that he really hit his stride with composing marches,” explains Fettig. “When listening to the progression from the first volume to the second, you can clearly recognize the development of his style. By the time he left the Marine Band in 1892, he was a sophisticated composer of marches and had laid the foundations that he would largely follow for the remainder of his career.”

The Marches

The first work on the album is “Bonnie Annie Laurie” (1883). According to his autobiography, “Marching Along,” Sousa believed that the Scottish folk song was “the most beautiful of all folk songs,” but his march did not achieve the same widespread popularity. It is however a classic example of Sousa’s savvy marketing skill: taking a popular song and reworking it as a rousing march.

Sousa had a gift for connecting with audiences. He knew that they enjoyed his original works, but respected that they appreciated hearing familiar tunes. There are three works on volume two that are written in medley format and follow this practice: “Mother Goose” (1883), Mikado March (1884), and “Ben Bolt” (1888). According to Sousa scholar Paul Bierley, Sousa used “Mother Goose,” which was a medley of nursery tunes, during a performance when an audience was unreceptive. Sousa told the band, “If they are going to act like children, we’ll give them children’s music!”

The Mikado March features themes from the comedic opera of the same name by Sir Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert. Sousa was enamored with the operetta form and even toured with a company producing the musical Our Flirtation, for which he wrote the incidental music and the march (included on volume one). Despite achieving the greatest success as a composer with his marches, Sousa also continued to compose operettas throughout his career.

Today, “Ben Bolt” may be obscure, but it contains several songs that were “top 10” tunes in the 1800s: (“The Daisy,” “Go Down Moses,” “Sally in Our Alley,” “O Fair, O Fond Drive,” and “Ben Bolt”) and was likely designed to be a crowd pleaser.

Little is known about the quirky march “Pet of the Petticoats” (1883). The Marine Band production team found that the parts were very sparse and the march was led mostly by the brass. Rather than double the brass parts with some additional woodwind parts, which was common practice at the time, Fettig kept the march largely orchestrated the way it was found for this recording collection.

One of the biggest surprises for Fettig was “Right–Left” (1883). The march calls for shouts of “Right! Left!” from the band throughout the trio, which according to Fettig initially looked like a gimmick that might overshadow the music, but he admitted that he found “the march surprisingly strong and melodically very interesting.” He had never heard this piece prior to the recording project, and he quickly discovered that it had merit among Sousa’s lesser-known works and programmed it on the 2016 Sousa Season Opener concert.

The “Transit of Venus” (1883) is an early example of Sousa’s melodic gift. The Marine Band premièred the piece on April 19, 1883, for the statue unveiling of Joseph Henry, the first secretary of the Smithsonian Institution as well as the president of the National Academy for Sciences. In 1874, Henry was responsible for the proper viewing of the transit of Venus. The work began appearing on more programs around the country when Venus again moved across the face of the Sun in 2004 and 2012. Prior to 2004, the last passing was in 1882, and the next transit will occur in 2117.

Some marches required additional research by the production team. Patterson, who has been a member of the Marine Band since 1991, had never heard of “The White Plume” (1884) prior to the project. “It has a nice British sound to it and I posted a positive remark on my social media, lamenting that it was too short and I found myself wanting more,” he notes. He received a cryptic response from former Marine Band member Capt. Frank Byrne, USMC (ret.): “D.C.” Patterson did not see a D.C. (da capo, an indication from the composer to repeat) on the parts, so he went on a quest to find an earlier edition. “I located the original parts as published by the Harry Coleman Co. of Philadelphia. Lo and behold, every part had a D.C. on it.”

“The White Plume” was originally titled “We’ll Follow Where the White Plume Waves,” and was composed by Sousa in collaboration with Edward M. Table as a campaign song for presidential candidate James G. Blaine. Blaine, a former Speaker of the House narrowly lost the election to Benjamin Harrison in 1884, and Sousa repurposed the vigorous march for the military. The piece was featured as an encore on the 2016 Sousa Season Opener.

A handful of Sousa’s works were written for the Marine Corps and even more specifically for the unique military environment and traditions at the home of the Marine Band, the historic Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. “Sound Off” (1885), described by Fettig as one of Sousa’s early “masterpieces,” was dedicated to then-Commanding Officer of Marine Barracks Washington, General George Porter Houston. The march derives its title from a military command and is frequently heard during parades and formations, directing the band to march up and down the parade deck in order to be reviewed by the commanding officer and spectators. The command is given at every Friday Evening Parade at Marine Barracks Washington. 

Described by Fettig as a workout for the woodwinds, “Triumph of Time” (1885) features several energetic runs and flourishes throughout the march. Despite its flair, the work did not gain traction during Sousa’s career. That was not the case for Sousa’s next composition. Dedicated to Charles Towle, the editor of the Boston Traveler newspaper, Sousa achieved his first mainstream recognition with “The Gladiator” (1886).

According to Bierley, “For Sousa, ‘The Gladiator’ brought back both happy and unhappy memories. In 1885 he had written the dirge ‘The Honored Dead’ for Stopper and Fisk, a music publisher in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. They were so pleased that they asked him to write a quickstep march. He responded with ‘The Gladiator,’ but they rejected it. Their shortsightedness cost them dearly; Sousa then sold it to Harry Coleman of Philadelphia, and it eventually sold over a million copies.”

Sousa himself was unaware of its popularity until he heard it played on the streets of Philadelphia. He provided this account in “Marching Along”:

I was taking a stroll along Broad Street. At a corner a hand-organ man was grinding out a melody which, somehow, seemed strangely familiar. As I listened more intently, I was surprised to recognize it as my own ‘Gladiator’ march. I believe that was one of the proudest moments of my life, as I stood there on the corner listening to the strains of that street organ!

As the Italian, who was presiding over the crank, paused, I rushed up to him and seized him warmly by the hand. The man started back in amazement and stared at me as though he thought I had taken leave of my senses.

‘My friend! My friend!’ I cried. ‘Let me thank you! Please take this as a little token of my appreciation!’

I tore myself away, walking on air down the remainder of the street and leaving the organ grinder dazed by the coins I had thrust into his hand. I don’t believe he can account for the gift to this day.

But I was exultant. My music had made enough of a hit to be played on a street organ. At last I felt that it had struck a popular chord.

Sousa followed “The Gladiator” with another martial march. “The Rifle Regiment” (1886) was composed for the 3rd U.S. Infantry and was the first piece featured on the 2016 Sousa Season Opener. According to Fettig, “Sousa was a great innovator of the march form throughout his long career, and it was around this time that he began to regularly employ the march form that he would use for many of his greatest works. This particular march, however, follows the more traditional formula practiced by an earlier generation of march composers that included D. W. Reeves and Claudio Grafulla.”

The next march in Sousa’s repertoire was “The Occidental” (1887). There are no commissioning records for this piece but some speculate that it was composed for Occidental College in Los Angeles, which was established in 1887.

In 1888, Sousa composed “The Crusader,” which is believed to contain hidden Masonic music; “National Fencibles,” written for a popular drill team in Washington; and the beloved “Semper Fidelis.” Sousa explained, “I wrote ‘Semper Fidelis’ one night while in tears, after my comrades of the Marine Corps had sung their famous hymn at Quantico.”

The march takes its title from the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps: Semper Fidelis, Latin for “always faithful,” and its original intent was to be the outdoor replacement for “Hail to the Chief,” at the request of President Chester A. Arthur. Sousa wrote “Presidential Polonaise” in 1886 as the indoor presidential fanfare, and a year after he left office, Sousa wrote “Semper Fidelis.” Sousa recounted the first performance:

We were marching down Pennsylvania Avenue, and had turned the corner at the Treasury Building. On the reviewing stand were President Harrison, many members of the diplomatic corps, a large part of the House and Senate, and an immense number of invited guests besides. I had so timed our playing of the march that the ‘trumpet’ theme would be heard for the first time, just as we got to the front of the reviewing stand. Suddenly, ten extra trumpets were shot in the air, and the ‘theme’ was pealed out in unison. Nothing like it had ever been heard there before – when the great throng on the stand had recovered its surprise, it rose in a body, and led by the President himself, showed its pleasure in a mighty swell of applause. It was a proud moment for us all.

“Semper Fidelis” did not replace “Hail to the Chief,” but subsequently gained recognition as the march of the U.S. Marine Corps. Musically speaking, Sousa regarded it as his finest march.

Many audiences would assume given the number of times the Marine Band has performed “Semper Fidelis” that it would be easy to record. That was not necessarily the case, confessed percussionist Master Gunnery Sgt. Christopher Rose.

“This recording project is dedicated to making sure we record the pieces as Sousa intended, but over the years, our ensemble has developed its own traditions for performing some of these works, depending on who the conductor is at the time,” explains Rose. “Despite playing some of these works thousands of times, there were periods throughout the recording project when sections of the works were foreign to us. It was difficult to retrain our brains to apply different accents and styles.”

The final piece included on “The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa: Volume 2” is “The Picador” (1889). Inspired by Sousa’s travels to Mexico, the piece, along with “Semper Fidelis,” “The Crusader,” and “The Washington Post” were sold for the unbelievably low sum of $35 each to Harry Coleman. Sousa admitted later in “Marching Along” that, “It seems to me now that I had a very hazy idea of the value of money.” Up until 1892 he had sold his compositions outright, some for as low as $5.

Upon reflecting on volume two of this project, Fettig said, “I am more convinced than ever of the tremendous value of all of these wonderful miniature masterpieces. We have always held Sousa’s music in very high regard in the Marine Band, but it has been incredibly rewarding to revisit and study these works in chronological order and chart the development of this great American composer. I hope that everyone who enjoys these recordings and uses the materials to share Sousa marches with their students will have as much fun discovering or rediscovering his special genius as we are having as we create this series!”

“The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa: Volume 2” will be released for free on April 11, 2016, exclusively at www.marineband.marines.mil, including full PDF scores with parts. All tracks will also be available for listening, with scrolling scores, at www.youtube.com/usmarineband.

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