A Rumination on Sousa

Today is a holiday for band nerds–and I remain one, “unapologetic if inept” as my Twitter bio has it–across the United States, a punning reference to John Philip Sousa. Noted for his martial music–and so appropriately celebrated on March Fo(u)rth–he remains a presence in the repertoires and award-walls of bands nearly a hundred years after his death, as well as providing a welcome opportunity to inflict a bad joke on people annually.

https://memory.loc.gov/diglib/media/loc.natlib.sousa.200031354/ver01/0001.tif/2432
The man himself.
Painting of Sousa by Capolino at the Library of Congress, here, which I think makes it a public domain image

I do not need to go into much detail about the man; his biography is easily accessible and written by better writers than I. Nor do I need to wax eloquent about his music; it is widespread and, again, easily accessible. Playing it remains a standard practice for concert bands and others, and it is certainly challenging enough to do, not only in its more famous iterations, but in the less-played pieces, as well.

I have to wonder at a people, though, who made the man and his work so popular. Thinking on it from the perspective of my own time, I am confused that marches would capture so much popular imagination–but I have written to that effect before, and what I noted then remains true. I do not know who benefits and how from the continuation of Sousa’s legacy in schools and in such ceremonial culture as the United States retains–diminishing as it is against the various influences upon it (and not without justice, though that is a discussion for another time). Someone must, obviously, or it wouldn’t be suffered to stay in place, even as much as it has.

Charts ain’t cheap; help?

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