It’s the birthday of the March King, John Philip Sousa, born in Washington D.C. in 1854.
Stuff I didn’t know before I started researching Sousa for this post:
❧ John and his nine siblings were first-generation Americans. Their father, Antonio, was born in Spain to Portuguese parents, and their mother, Maria, was born in Bavaria.
❧ As a child, John studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, trombone, baritone horn, and alto horn. (Where he found time to do anything else remains a mystery.)
❧ At age 13 John tried to run away from home and join a circus band. In response, his father enlisted him in the U.S. Marine Band as an apprentice.
❧ After his discharge from the Marines in 1875, John pursued a career as a musician, composer, and conductor. In addition to more than a hundred marches, he composed a dozen operettas, more than a hundred songs, and works for many different solo instruments and instrumental ensembles.
❧ Between 1892 and 1931, he toured the United States and the world with his band, appropriately named The Sousa Band. They gave more than 15,000 concerts, which if you do the math works out to more than a concert a day for four decades.
❧ Sousa was a humble and deeply religious man. Asked about the source of his extraordinary talent and creativity, Sousa replied that it came from a Higher Power.
❧ Despite the wealth that his combination of talent and hard work had earned him, Sousa had no interest in retirement. He continued working right up until his death in 1932.
Here is the United States Marine Corps Band playing “The Thunderer” in the Congressional Cemetery where John Philip Sousa, his wife Jane, and their three children are buried. This performance took place on Sousa’s 155th birthday in 2009.
Everyone knows the concert band version of “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa. Heard less often — probably because it’s diabolically difficult to play — is the piano transcription by Vladimir Horowitz, which requires one person with ten fingers to cover all of the parts normally played by dozens of musicians on brass, woodwinds, and percussion.
(While picking through various performances of the Horowitz arrangement on YouTube, I found that he was not the only musician audacious enough to turn “Stars and Stripes Forever” into a piano piece. I found, among other things, a version for three pianists playing one piano, one for four pianists playing two pianos, and another for eight pianists playing four pianos — all of them delightful.)
In honor of the birthday of John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), here is his Washington Post March, performed by the St. Luke’s bottle band.