Tuesday, June 19, 2007
K-STATE EXPERT ON JOHN PHILIP SOUSA SAYS THE FAMOUS AMERICAN COMPOSER WAS PROUD TO BE KNOWN FOR HIS PATRIOTIC MUSIC
MANHATTAN -- For many in the United States, John Philip Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever" is as much a part of the Fourth of July as parades and fireworks. According to a Sousa expert at Kansas State University, the prolific American composer would have wanted it that way.
"It's hard to think of anyone being more patriotic than Sousa," said Craig B. Parker, K-State associate professor of music history. "If a movie producer wants to evoke patriotism, they use a Sousa march."
Parker, who has researched, written and presented about Sousa and has taught a graduate-level class about the composer and his band, said it's no accident that much of Sousa's music has become inseparable from displays of patriotism in the United States. Sousa grew up in Washington, D.C., in a neighborhood within eyeshot of the Capitol during the Civil War, when patriotism was at a fever pitch. Sousa's father was a member of the United States Marine Band, which the younger Sousa later led.
As the official White House band, the Marine Band allowed Sousa to work with five U.S. presidents. When President Chester Arthur became upset after learning that "Hail to the Chief" was originally a Scottish boating song, Sousa wrote "Presidential Polonaise" as a replacement.
"It was too complex for ordinary bands," Parker said. "It sounds great when the U.S. Marine Band plays it, but your average band couldn't catch on."
Parker said the same was true for Sousa's wedding march, intended to supplant the traditional Wagner processional and Mendelssohn recessional during World War I, when Americans were discouraged from using music by German composers. But Sousa's version was again too complex for many to play.
"You don't see too many church organists playing it," Parker said.
Sousa's patriotic fervor led him to compose "Semper Fidelis" for the Marine Corps Band, the "Liberty Loan March" to sell war bonds during World War I and pieces for the American Legion afterward. But Parker said Sousa's most famous piece is "The Stars and Stripes Forever," which Sousa's band played at every Fourth of July from 1897 onward. Parker said that in 1987, K-State had a Sousa-style concert after which audience members joined thousands of others across the country in signing a petition to make it the official march of the United States.
Parker said his main research interest is on Sousa's band and how it was a cultural phenomenon.
"Sousa and his band were probably the most widely-known musical act in America from 1892 to 1932," Parker said. "They went anywhere the railroad went. A lot of people nowadays think Sousa's band was a marching band, but it was a concert band. In 40 years, the band marched only eight times."
Sousa's forays into other musical styles included operettas, waltzes, popular music and, reluctantly, ragtime and jazz. Sousa also wrote prolifically, mainly about music and sports.
"He was a busy guy," Parker said. "Often times when he was on the train going from one town to another, he was writing articles for newspapers or novels. A lot of his articles were about the future of music. He was not a big fan of the recording industry, because he knew if people could buy records that they'd be less likely to see his concerts. As a creator, he didn't like that the industry was recording his music and he didn't get any of the money."
Sousa's sense of patriotism extended beyond his life in his wish to be buried at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
"Even in death he was patriotic," Parker said.