'John Philip Sousa's America' Book Review January 03 2013, 0 Comments

Review By: Jack Kopstein There is an old adage that “you can’t tell a book by its cover, this marvelous book questions that claim. Written by the name sake of Sousa, great grandson John Philip IV with Loras John Schissel .The cover recreates the iconic nature of the original John Philip Sousa photograph  with the painting of Sousa in a WW1 victory   parade  marching along with the Chicago Navy Yard band which he organized. Among America's greatest treasures is the legacy of John Philip Sousa, "The March King." The music of this beloved bandleader and composer, whose most prolific period straddled the turn of the 20th century, continues to fill hearts with a wave of national pride and patriotism. Sousa's "The Stars and Stripes Forever" is, in fact, the national march, and his creative medium, the marching band, has become an American institution. This volume provides an inside look through photographs and quotations  in the life of bandleader Sousa. It documents  Sousa’s  early childhood in rare photographs as well as family heirlooms never seen  before. The book is a virtual treasure trove of the life of a man whom has been described as an American Phenomenon in Paul Bierley’s book Sousa's relationship to music was virtually inevitable; in John Philip Sousa, American Phenomenon, Paul E. Bierley related, "Sousa's natural talent, coupled with the stimulating environment in which he was raised, has caused historians to remark that his development as the prime example of a musical patriot was a natural one and that he was obviously born at the right time and place in history." The stimulating environment was a musician's home just a stone's throw from the Marine barracks; the right time was the Civil War. Sousa's first professional opportunity came in 1868. While studying harmony, composition, and violin, the 13-year-old was offered the position of bandleader with a visiting circus. Sousa reflected, "The more I thought of it the more wonderful it seemed to follow the life of the circus, make money, and become the leader of a circus band myself. What a career that would be!" His father didn't see it that way, though; the senior Sousa quickly took his son to the Marine Corps headquarters and had him signed up as an apprentice violinist. In Jon Newsom's book Perspectives on John Philip Sousa, John Philip Sousa III reasoned, "For a child with my grandfather's obviously abundant imagination, the Marine Band must have been an acceptable substitute for the circus." When he was 20, Sousa received a special discharge from the Marines and embarked on a career as a professional musician. He toured with two companies and a vaudeville show, worked at two Philadelphia theaters, taught music, composed operettas, and even corrected proofs at a publishing company. In 1879, Sousa conducted Gilbert and Sullivan's immensely popular H.M.S. Pinafore. Under his masterful orchestration, the amateur company at his command was able to turn professional. Its success led to a season on Broadway where famous composers took in Sousa's production. News of the young music director's accomplishments did not escape the attention of his former employer; in 1880,25-year-old Sousa was named the 14th leader of the U.S. Marine Band. He was the first American-born conductor and the one who would elevate the band to celebrity status. Sousa stepped into the position with the know-how and energy of an experienced civilian conductor. He shook the dust off the stale institution by replacing most of the music with his own, changing the instrumentation, and improving the quality of the musicians. In the 12 years of Sousa's leadership, the Marine Band's reputation spread throughout the United States and even to Europe. It became a highly polished ensemble with a colorful virtuoso at the helm. Though completely committed to his profession, Sousa was able to pursue a variety of interests. He was a devoted family man and nature lover. He also enjoyed reading, horseback riding, trapshooting, and boxing. Sousa was a gentle, disciplined man distinguished by his wit, strict code of ethics, and bottomless vigor. In his embroidered uniform hung with medals, behind his pince-nez glasses and his trademark mustache, wearing his white kid gloves and stirring emotion into the air with his gold-tipped baton, he cut quite a formidable figure. Sousa led the Marine Band until 1892. He composed many exceptional pieces during this period, including "The Washington Post," for the celebrated newspaper of the same name. That march shot him into prominence and earned him the title of "March King." The Marine Band recorded with the fledgling Columbia Phonograph Co., and tours of the U.S. and Europe followed. In Europe, "The Washington Post" even spawned a popular dance called the two-step. When Sousa resigned from the military, he formed the Sousa Band, which enjoyed unprecedented success. Impressive engagements and world tours were the norm until life was once again interrupted by war. In 1917, Sousa then 62 enlisted, this time joining the U.S. Naval Reserve Force as America entered World War I. Lieutenant Sousa formed a huge musical battalion of over three hundred members and marched across the country in tremendous parades that raised millions of dollars for the war effort. Sousa’s life in pictures is a book for everyone, the pictures, quotations and historical trivia will provide many hours of interest for readers and researchers. The publishers and authors have rounded out the magnificence of this hardcover book  with a superb CD performed by the United States Marine band containing some of Sousa’s most beloved music. Sources: Bierley, Paul E., John Philip Sousa, American Phenomenon, Prentice-Hall, 1973. Newsom, Jon, Perspectives on John Philip Sousa, library of Congress, 1983. View the book here. Thank you, for reading. If you like this article, you should take a second to tweet or share with your friends. Or comment. Thanks!