Sousa and the Canadian Experience February 12 2013, 0 Comments

Contributed By: Jack Kopstein

John Philip Sousa was an iconic figure throughout his career particularly because of the band tours across the North American continent, and Europe. He and his astonishing band were frequent performers in Canada. Through the course of the touring Sousa band career he visited Canada several times beginning in 1893 when he made his first appearance at the Opera House in Hamilton, Ontario.  The band returned with a flourish in 1894 by playing two concerts in Montreal followed by Peterborough and two performances in the Massey Music Hall in Toronto. This opulent structure had opened on June 15th 1894 and Sousa and his band played three concerts in the brand new facility beginning on the 22nd of June. The Toronto newspapers gushed with superlatives. Canada once appeared on the Sousa band agenda in the 3rd band tour of 1895. The success of the Massey Hall concert had spread and the band was invited not only to the Province of Quebec cities of Montreal and Quebec City, but also to the Maritime locations of St. John and Moncton, New Brunswick, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. In addition, Ottawa and London, Ontario were included. By 1896, numerous eastern Canadian cities were included in the travel tours of the band.

Over the next several years and through to the end of World War I, Sousa and his band made numerous trips which included Canadian venues. The 1919 season was for Western Canadians a magnificent adventure into the world of the Sousa band.  The Sousa band appeared almost twice daily in a plethora of great concerts and military band music. His presence in Canada stirred a considerable amount of attention as indicated in the Sousa Press book for that period. The band appeared in Edmonton, and Calgary Alberta as well as Regina, Saskatchewan and Winnipeg, Manitoba playing numerous concerts throughout July of that year. During July and August of 1925 Sousa and the band returned to Western Canada playing for the Regina Fair and in Winnipeg, followed by appearances in Fort William, Sudbury and Ottawa.

Very often Sousa had to endure the experience in Canada of playing in Hockey arenas. These venues were employed because cultural activities had not matured as yet on the Canadian landscape.  Nevertheless, thousands of people were entertained by what has been called by Paul Bierley “The incredible Band of John Philip Sousa.” The newspapers were very impressed with the Band and wrote profuse articles as evidenced by the following: The people in Canada genuinely loved the Sousa band, mostly through his band recordings and word of mouth. The feeling was mutual as he had developed a real affection for Canadians. Sousa also partook in the trap shooting which he loved and his name appeared high on the scoring lists in the papers. Sousa often appeared in his WWI United States Navy Officer’s uniform and the programs prominently showed that they were conducted by Lieutenant John Philip Sousa.  

The Canadian experience left a lasting impression in Canada. WWI produced a spate of patriotic songs, but it decimated orchestras, choirs and many other enterprises. After the war, the era of active music making waned under the impact of the new technologies of recorded and radio-transmitted sound. Imports again dominated the market, filling homes with US popular and European concert music, providing only a modest outlet for Canadian performers and composers. In combination with the Great Depression, this shift caused a decline in the instrument industry and an employment crisis for musicians. However, there were significant new developments. Faculties for schools of music were established at the Universities of Toronto (1918), McGill (1920) and Laval (1922). Orchestras, few of which had survived the war, were re-established, or new ones were founded, notably in Toronto (1922), Montréal (1930 and 1934) and Vancouver (1930).

The impact of the Sousa concerts was not felt immediately, but there is no doubt that his work later created the demand for Canadians to enter the field. Concert and community bands sprung up across the nation and lasting impressions by the time of WWII Canada had enough band and orchestra musicians to supply several bands in Canada and overseas. Sousa’s expressed mission in his lifetime was to raise his county’s music appreciation and to improve its image abroad. The Canadian experience certainly helped him achieve his goal and to raise the standards in Canada. Sources: The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa- Paul Edmund Bierley-University of Illinois Press-2006 The Canadian Encyclopaedia of Music –Internet service original publication 1984 John Philip Sousa’s America- John Philip SousaIV-2012 The Sousa Press Book- Library of Congress Programs of the Sousa Band - Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg 1919