Jack's Musings: A Marine and a 'March King' July 30 2009, 2 Comments

Musings  - Jack Kopstein

A MARINE AND A "MARCH KING" From Nostalgic Happenings A biography of John Philip Sousa by Malcolm Heslip* Sousa had been performing on violin and conducting as well following an early stint in the United States Marine band. He married in December 1879 and took up residence in Philadelphia. Less than a year later he took up residence in Washington D.C . The first hint of their move from Philadelphia came in September, 1880, when Sousa, again on tour, received a letter while in St. Louis. That letter contained an offer for him to become leader of the United States Marine Band. Sousa's father, although retired from the band, had helped negotiate the offer. The young orchestra director accepted the position. It placed him in charge of the "President's Own Band," the only musical organization to play for White House functions. In the years that followed, Sousa and the Marine Band played hundreds of public weekly concerts at the White House, the Marine Barracks, and on the steps of the Capitol Building. As leader of this band, Sousa established a national reputation for both himself and the band. He served with distinction under Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, James A. Garfield, Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison. The Columbia Phonograph Company engaged Sousa's Marine Band to make some of the earliest recordings for the newly-invented phonograph. Sousa did not conduct for the recordings, however. Three Sousa children were born in Washington, D.C., beginning with John Philip, Jr. in 1881, followed by Jane Priscilla in 1882, and Helen in 1887. The nearly twelve years spent in that city provided an exciting time for the entire family. While walking in downtown Washington after he became a well-known person, Sousa was stopped by one of Washington's prominent officials. The Washington Post newspaper official said, "Over twenty thousand school children and parents will gather at the Smithsonian grounds Saturday. They will be there not only to hear your Marine Band concert but to get the names of the winners of my newspaper's Prize Essay Contest." "Yes," answered Sousa, "It will be a big day." "Is it asking too much to request that you compose a special piece for the event?" asked the official. "My newspaper will give it wide publicity and play up the fact that it will be the premiere performance of the piece." "It would be difficult to produce a complete piece in three days," came the answer. "Not for a young musical genius like you, who has the reputation of creating music at a faster rate than that," responded the official. "Of course I can do it, but it may not turn out to be one of my best pieces," he replied. Nevertheless, the young composer produced the piece on schedule. Wisely, he named it the Washington Post. Over twenty-five thousand individuals did show up that Saturday in 1889. They enthusiastically applauded the first public playing of this number. Many years later, when Sousa wrote about creating the Washington Post march, he said: It was chosen almost immediately by the dancing masters at their yearly convention to introduce their new dance, the two-step. I sold this famous tune to a Philadelphia publisher for thirty-five dollars.' In his lifetime, Sousa would compose some 137 marches. Perhaps all Sousa researchers and enthusiasts now place Washington Post, produced in these three days, in the top six of this long list of his marches. A century later, bands throughout the world keep this piece in their repertoire and play it regularly. The Washington Post march was just one of many marches Sousa wrote while a leader of the US Marine band. *The author Malcom Heslip was an early member of the Sousa Naval band during World War 1 **The "Washington Post March" is performed on numerous ALTISSIMO Albums and may be found by scrolling through the US Marine CD’s and from other service bands at www.militarymusic.com**