A Short History of Marches June 30 2010, 3 Comments

In honor of Independence Day, our contributing writer Jack Kopstein thought it would be nice to give a short history of American march music. The following is an informative article he found for us to present.

A Short History of Marches: The origins of European and American march music can be traced to the military music of the Ottoman empire. The martial purpose of the music was to regulate the functioning of armies in the field by communicating orders, and keeping time during marching and maneuvers. The extensive use of percussion, such as cymbals, was also used for psychological effect as their use, especially in Western Europe, was unknown and had the capacity to frighten opponents. Indeed, the subsequent use of cymbals and other such percussive instruments in European 'classical' music was a direct importation from the Ottomans.

In the early 1700's Europeans were first exposed to this type of music and interest would continue to build into the early 1800's when a vogue for Turkish marching bands swept through Europe. Pieces displaying this Turkish influence can be found in the works of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven with a notable example being Turkish March by Beethoven (part of Op. 113): Overture and incidental music for Die Ruinen von Athen.

The origins of march music began before the Gunpowder Age during which armies would maintain their troops' morale by marching with music playing, whether that be from the beat of a drum or fife. American march music showed during the Revolutionary War and earlier wartime conflicts, in which a fife and snare drum would play while the troops marched to battle. This is why it can be said that march music is a military's music. While the tradition of soldiers playing music while marching into battle had ended soon after the American Civil War (mid 1800s), military bands continued to perform marches during related ceremonies and other events. This actually spawned a whole new tradition of playing marches as a source of entertainment.

Marches and the Concert Band Around the late 1800's and early 1900's, most towns, organizations, theaters and even companies would have their own band. These bands, currently known today as community bands, would perform their music at special events much like the military band, but would often play at simple scheduled concerts and tours (such as the traditional gazebo concerts). By this time, published marches were plentiful due to prolific composers such as John Philip Sousa, Karl L. King and Henry Fillmore. Marches became a staple in the repertoire of these concert bands and can hence explain how the popularity of the march spread so rapidly across the world.

Marches and the Circus Marches were further popularized with performances by circus bands. During the same period of the community band/concert band, circuses such as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Circus would have live music being performed by their own bands. The marches played were often a special variety of the march known descriptively as “Screamers”, “Two-Steps”, and “Cakewalks”. These marches served the purpose of exciting the crowd while circus acts were taking place.

Marches and the Marching Band Again, during the same period college marching bands were also beginning to form. March composers would often dedicate marches to university bands. Marches were performed during half-time shows and pep-rallies. Marches were indeed heard everywhere.

The John Philip Sousa Revolution American composer John Philip Sousa did indeed strongly revolutionize the march. His overall prolific writing of said quality marches added that much to its popularity. According to Sousa researcher Paul Bierley, Sousa’s marches were gems of simplicity and understatement, with rousing counterpoint and overall energy. Sousa also is said to have standardized the traditional march form. American march music was forever immortalized with Sousa's Stars and Stripes Forever, a patriotic march which became the official march of the United States of America.

March Music Composers Most march composers come from the United States or Europe, and have some sort of musical background to them. The most popular march composers existed in the late 1800's and early 1900's, mainly because modern march dedicators are hard to come by.

The following is list of march music composers whose marches are frequently performed in the United States.

Russell Alexander (1877-1915)

Kenneth Alford (1881-1945) "The British March King"

Edwin Eugene Bagley (1857-1922)

Hermann Louis Blankenburg (1876-1956)

W. Paris Chambers (1854-1913)

Charles E. Duble (1884-1960)

Henry Fillmore (1881 - 1956) "The Trombone King"