The Clarinets of the John Philip Sousa Band July 30 2009, 3 Comments

The following article was received from our contributor, Jack Kopstein. It was written by Jesse Daniel Krebs of Florida State University in 2006.

The Clarinets of the John Philip Sousa bands

By: Jesse Daniel Krebs, Florida State University A Treatise submitted for the Requirements of a Doctor of Music (Degree Awarded Spring 2006)

The clarinetists of Sousa's bands were phenomenal musicians and well known in their day. Many of the clarinetists, like August Stengler, Joseph Norrito, and Edmund C. Wall became famous from solo appearances that showcased their skill. They were regularly featured in advertisements for clarinets in music journals and were among the first clarinetists to take part in recordings for the Berliner, Victor, and Edison companies. Many also performed with other prestigious ensembles, including the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York City Ballet Orchestra, and the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. Yet today, many musicians are unaware of these clarinetists and their accomplishments. In 1972, Vance Jennings speculated that:

Perhaps it is the nature of the band with its massed clarinet sound plus the schedule of traveling, all of which prevented the influence of the band from establishing a stronger influence upon a national clarinet sound.... Not one of the [Sousa Band] players listed by W.C. White is a name which exerted any strong influence upon clarinetists of a later generation. Those listed as "famous artists" in the Sousa clarinet section are A. Stengler, J. Norrito, H. Weber, M. Pasquale, W. H. Langan, S. Schaich, W. Daugherty, Paul Jahn, M. Urbain, S. Lacalle, and R. Noyes. This writer feels certain that these gentlemen were fine players, but it is interesting to note that none of them made sufficient impression during their lifetimes to be known today.

Yet these clarinetists were heard all over the United States and the world from their tour performances, and in many cases they might have been the only clarinetists that young musicians would have had the opportunity to hear. By the early twentieth century, Sousa's clarinetists had a reputation as being the best in the music business. Jazz clarinetist Drew Page was offered an audition for a tour with Sousa's band in the early 1920s. He recalled in his autobiography: I didn't think I was good enough. Since Sousa's band was the big time, I thought he must have the best clarinet players in the world. Max said I could take the last chair if necessary, but I couldn't be persuaded. I had known only one other professional clarinet player - the one I was working with at the time - and I couldn't believe I would compare favorably with the big-timers in Sousa's band. As Jennings stated, the large number of clarinetists who performed with the Sousa Band may have been a reason for their lack of influence on today's clarinetists. Other factors might include the diversity of backgrounds from which they came and the fact that they were not featured as soloists as often as some of the other instrumentalists in the band. Sousa once wrote, "Why does the world need bands? Why does the world need flowers, sunlight, religion, the laughter of children, moonrise in the mountains, great masterpieces of art? Why indeed? Because the world has a soul, a spirit, which is hungry for beauty and inspiration." Truly, Sousa's clarinetists added to that beauty, for their music was enjoyed by all who had the great fortune to hear it.