Andrei Strizek

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Filtering by Tag: John Philip Sousa

America's Oldest Professional Music Organization

My birthday celebrations will die down and there will be more substantial posts here soon, I promise, but I couldn't let this one go by, either: the country's oldest professional music organization - the US Marine Band - was founded on July 11, 1798, and has an exciting history that traces many elements of music history and American history throughout its 213 years.

via Wikimedia Commons

John Philip Sousa was probably their most famous conductor, made the first recordings with the ensemble, and brought them to the high level of performance and prestige that they are renowned for today. (Today they are led by Colonel Michael Colburn - formerly principal euphoniumist with the band.) They play for official Military services, are the President's go-to ensemble for formal events, and have a wealth of recordings available free to schools and libraries.

First instance of B-A-C-H, in the trombonesOne of my favorite USMB recordings: Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H) by Ron Nelson. Not only is it a fantastic composition, the ensemble handles the 12-minute long crescendo with ease. (Listen to the ring of the open 5ths at the end of the piece!) The piece reminds me of a large machine slowly winding up into action. It is partially based on the famous B-A-C-H motive Bach used in his unfinished Art of Fugue. Nelson also quotes from Bach's famous Passacaglia in C minor. He passes the passacaglia bass throughout the entire ensemble, sometimes disguising it so the listener has to go on an aural scavenger hunt to hear it.

Enjoy Nelson's Passacaglia (Homage on B-A-C-H), and Happy Birthday to the President's Own!

Happy Birthday Sousa!

Happy 156th birthday to one of America's most famous musicians, John Philip Sousa! He made The President's Own into a world-class ensemble, and, with his own band, toured the country and brought fine music to thousands, if not millions. And of course, there's his namesake instrument.

"Grand opera is the most powerful of stage appeals and that almost entirely through the beauty of music."

In addition to being the March King, Sousa wrote ragtime pieces, several operettas, and many transcriptions, including Wagner's Overture to Tannhäuser:

It's so well-done that you don't miss the string section. (And the euphonium lick around 9:45 is pretty wicked!)

"There is much modern music that is better adapted to a wind combination than to a string, although for obvious reasons originally scored for an orchestra. If in such cases the interpretation is equal to the composition the balance of a wind combination is more satisfying."

If you're in the DC area, celebrate with The President's Own.

"An attempt to place a melody within geographical limits is bound to fail. Rhythmic qualities are imitated in all popular forms, but music, although it has many dialects, is, after all, a universal language. The waltz may have been German in the beginning but is certainly belongs to the world to-day."

If you're in the Champaign, Illinois, area, you can check out the massive Sousa Archives, housed in the Harding Band Building at the University of Illinois.

"Anybody can write music of a sort. But touching the public heart is quite another thing"

If nothing else, listen to a few of his pieces. (Or perhaps watch some Monty Python.)

"Believing then and - even more strongly now - that entertainment is of more real value to the world than technical education in music appreciation, I would not accept the symphonic orchestra as my medium."

And what birthday wish would be complete without Sousa's most famous piece?

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