Tuesday, September 20, 2011

John Philip Sousa Band

Today's picture shows the band of John Philip Sousa. The photo was taken in 1917 at a Liberty Loan rally. You see, back in the day, when we went to war we actually paid for it by raising money from the citizenry in patriotic rallies like this one. 

I have enjoyed listening to the Sousa music this week. The recording below is a modern rendition of "The Washington Post March", which is one of the all time greatest marches. 

I have noticed an interesting thing this week. Modern renditions of Sousa marches sound very different than the original ones directed by him. To me, it seems like he played the music faster, and lighter. More light and airy music. Today, his marches are played slower and with much more powerful deep sounds. More brass and percussion. It is as if the Boston Pops found more big full sound that even Sousa himself did in these marches. Has anyone else noticed that?


  1. I did think to myself yesterday, that the record must be playing a little faster than it should.
    Yes I thought that the march was faster than what I remembered it being.
    Maybe it was chow time and they didn't want to miss out.

  2. Hey, I remember when I was in grade school, we were given a little booklet, (much like the Green Stamp booklet), every Friday we would bring our dimes in to buy a stamp. When it was full, it was cashed in for a War Bond.
    I love all Sousa marches. I have a 33 rpm recording of Sousa marches.

  3. I marched with the high school band in the Heldorado parades in Las Vegas and the cadence of the high school bands was much faster than the military bands. If the two bands were too close together in the parade it was confusing. The cadence of the Washington Post, as played, is far too fast for the military cadence. A bit slow for line dancing, however!)

  4. "To me, it seems like he played the music faster, and lighter. More light and airy music. Today, his marches are played slower and with much more powerful deep sounds. More brass and percussion. It is as if the Boston Pops found more big full sound that even Sousa himself did in these marches. Has anyone else noticed that?"

    Marches by Sousa and others were often used as dance music in their day. They were not quite so defined as genre, "patriotic" music as they are now.

    As for bond drives, yes, there were those, but we have always paid for our war by debt spending. After all, that what a bond is -- a loan to the government that has to be paid back, with interest.

  5. Be kind to your friends in the swamp... Anyone else remember that?

  6. @ Myrtle - that's all I could hear yesterday. "Be kind to your friends in the swamp/For a duck may be somebody's mother." Expose us to culture, will you? Ha! Fat lot of good that'll do ya!

  7. Myrtle, Lady Anne: what's up with be kind to your friends in the swamp? I don't believe I have ever heard that.

  8. Michael, It's from Sing Along with Mitch, an old sing along TV show from when I was a kid. My parents loved it. Mitch Miller and his cohorts would sing and a bouncing white ball would appear over the lyrics as they were sung. Those are the lyrics they sang to the Stars and Stripes (If I am correct)

  9. Yaeh, I remember Mitch Miller & the Sing-Along Gang from when I was young. That was a lot of fun. From back in the early 60's I think.

  10. Lady Anne, I believe that the lyrics were "be kind to our web-footed friends.......

    I believe the Pops versions used bigger, deeper instruments to better project the music in their outdoor performances. Also, equipment we use today is much better that anything available in the 40s and 50s.

  11. First: recall that recording equipment was fairly primitive in those days. It didn't pick up on nuances of sound, and however brassy blary Sousa marches may seem, there's a lot of nuance in them. That said, having an orchestra play Sousa is just wrong. What you want is a 60 - 100 piece college or high-grade high school band, in the open. That's what the contemps heard!

    Second: What constituted "march tempo" in those days was extremely fluid, and in fact some Sousa (and other) recordings of marches show them varying the tempo during the piece -- something few modern bands would do.

    Starting in the late 191x era, with the growth of militarism around the world, march tempos were standardized: either 120 beats/minute or 132. Most of Sousa's marches sound best at 120, but there are a few, like Manhattan Beach, that are better at faster speed, and Sousa and his contemporaries observed no such restrictions, using anything from around 90 to 140 or so. High school and college bands often use 132 because it's more energetic. Military bands stay at 120 because close to "route march" tempo for a military unit trying to go somewhere.


  12. PJM,
    I believe you to be correct about the tempo of marches these days. Having heard the Boston Pops playing marches on many occasions I can attest to hearing some very rousing renditions. As for the Recordings themselves, the technology of today, being head and shoulders above those in Sousa's day, makes the sound much clearer and full.
    The Star Spangled Banner is another song which has slower tempo these days. Ella Fitzgerald recorded a version which shed puts the pedal to the metal and drives right through the song. My favorite version to date.

  13. I've played and directed Sousa march's for most of my life. They are quite simply in a distinct category of their own. Excellent, every one - and they still are that! The two marches I heard were excellent renditions and are played in the 'modern mode'.
    I do take exception to your remarks about Freemasonry as you sound like the typical unaware person who believes all that he has heard or read without regard to any accuracy or any of your own personal experience. A deadly combination!
    I'm a fifty year Mason, entered, passed and raised in three different Masonic jurisdictions. I'm Chaplain and Masonic Education person in my home Lodge and would enjoy a debate with you regarding the 'Evils of Freemasonry". Be advised that I would use all of the considerable academic and personal experience that I have at hand.
    I will also let you know exactly who I am, where I reside and my academic, military and personal history in a less public forum. If you are so inclined please give me a more private address that I may use.
    Former Public School Music Instructor and Band Director.

  14. This is not a photograph of Sousa's Band. This band is not wearing the "Sousa Band" uniform of the period and in 1917, Sousa spent most of his time touring with the Great Lakes Naval Band on the Liberty Loan drives and shorter tours with his own band. Happy Birthday, Mr. Sousa! (Born Nov. 6th, 1854)


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