John Phillip Sousa – music research paper

John Phillip Sousa

Introduction

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During his lifetime, John Phillip Sousa witnessed the transformation of America from the civil war through the Spanish war to the First World War. He witnessed change in America in all aspects over the reign of eight presidents. John Sousa held acclaim throughout all these reigns by maintaining passion both for his country and his music. In his work this sense of patriotism is clearly evident and his songs reflect not only the era in which they were composed but more so they communicate to the listener, the exact conditions of the environment in which they were composed. The enthusiasm and the energy of the day post the civil war and in the wake of independence are felt in the march he composed, in praise of the American flag called “The Stars and Stripes Forever”. His music has remained relevant over more than a century to this day. This piece of music is the official national march for the US band. This thesis will study and analyze the works of John Phillip Sousa and in particular will seek to demonstrate the influence of Johns love for his country in his compositions with a particular emphasis on “The Stars and Stripes Forever”.

Thesis

I believe that John Philip Sousa was greatly influenced by the love of his country, which can especially be apparent in pieces such as “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and other marches composed in the 1880s and 1890s. This thesis will demonstrate this by examining his works, different marches and his influences and life. In “The Stars and Stripes Forever” his love for the American flag and country transcends from all the notes of the composition and one cannot help but marvel at his extraordinary pride in America

Biographical and Historical information

John Philipp Sousa was born in Washington, D.C, on November 6, 1854, to a member of the Marine band called John Antonio and his wife, Maria Elisabeth Sousa. John Sousa’s parents were both immigrants from Portuguese and Bavaria. He was the third of their ten children and the first to be home schooled as a result of poor health (Bierley, 70).

John Phillip grew up during the civil war and was exposed to the ramifications of the war and what it meant for America to de independent. When he was growing up John Sousa was exposed to music from a very early age since his father played the trombone in the marines (Bierley, 280). In addition, during the periods of the civil war martial music had gained popularity and was being played on the streets as well as in the homes of Americans.

John Sousa exhibited rare talent. He was a distinguished composer and conductor of martial music and he remains the most internationally acclaimed composer in the history of America. As a patriot he was a librettist and his passion for his country is widely recognizable in his compositions (Levy, 20). He was also an established novelist and during his time he published several novels.

When he was growing up his passion for music grew and he studied violin, flute, piano and music theory at a local conservatory (Coleman, 40). At thirteen years he was enlisted in the US marine band. John Sousa practiced and gained the necessary finesse and by the time he was eighteen years old he had conducted and played many orchestras in Washington D.C. In the US marine John Sousa began composing music and his first attempt which revealed his unique style was “Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes” (Crawford, 206).

Sousa’s went on to tour as an orchestra conductor for various companies and in 1876 he played the violin during the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition. His first comic opera which was called The Smugglers’ was performed n 1876 for a Philadelphia choir (Howard & Kent, 396).

In 1880, John Philipp Sousa was chosen for the prestigious post of conductor in the United States Marine Band. His leadership qualities came into play and within a few years he had transformed the band into a competent superb group which formed the standards for all the other bands.

Sousa retained this position and composed different pieces of music as they traveled on international and national tour. The “Semper Fidelis” was a unique piece that was composed during such a tour in 1888. In 1892 John Phillip Sousa resigned from the US marines and instead formed his own band of civilians. This band was comprised of talented musicians and their first performance was in New Jersey on 26th September of the same year. The band comprised of a vocal soloist, a harpist and normally Maud Powell would play as a violin soloist.   Band members also presented instrumental solos and ensembles, depending on the strength and depth of the personnel for a particular season (Newsom et al, 20).

The band conducted both national and international tours all over the world over the next two decades. John Sousas’ emphasis was however on Europe where music had grown considerably. His main objective was to prove that American culture was not by any way inferior to the Europeans culture.

Sousa composed his legendary piece called “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in 1896 which later became the United States official march. This composition proved to be unique and earned john Sousa more acclaim than any other piece had. John Phillip Sousa gave a vivid account of how he composed the American march in his bibliography. The march “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was composed in 1896 after John and his wife had taken a trip to Europe. During the trip John received information that his manager had died. In this grief stricken state, while in the ship on his way back home for the funeral, John composed the wordings and tune of the legendary march song but did not record it on paper until  he had reached shore.

“The stars and stripes forever” was first performed in Philadelphia in 1897 by John Sousa and his band. The crowd was ecstatic at the finesse with which it was played and its fame quickly grew over the years. Today, it is represents a unique genre of timeless music and it is one of the most popular pieces of music (Zannos, 42).

Sousa was a patriot and created music from the emotions that he was feeling.  “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was created at a time where the history of America was shaped. The effect of the civil war and the resulting declaration of independence for Americans were crucial in composing this piece.  “The Stars and Stripes Forever” was meant to make Americans recognize worth in being Americans and it was very energetic and assertive demonstrating the superiority that Americans recognized in their military forces after defeating the British.

Sousa has a profound impact on music on the global scene and other composers grafted his compositions, his style and his band and writings transcriptions into their own compositions. His band traveled extensively all over the world and performed more than 100,000 concerts in more than ten thousand cities. All in all his music compositions include one hundred and thirty one marches in which the most recognized are the Illinois march and “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, five overtures, more than fifteen operettas, eleven waltzes which he established in US and which are still practiced in today waltz dances, seventy songs, more than twenty five fantasies and three hundred and twenty two arrangements. In addition to these works of music John Sousa was a novelist and wrote seven books which were published and earned him literal acclaim (Howard & Kent, 382).

Among his marches is “Semper Fidelis” which translates to “always faithful”. It was another march which complemented the soldiers for their unending loyalty to America even after they had left the navy service. The Washington post was also another example of his patriotic marches and he wrote it in tribute of the Washington post newspaper. Another example of his great marches was “hands across the sea” which he composed, in praise of all American allies and the cadet corps. John Phillip Sousa composed and conducted various marches but in most of these marches the main theme remains his country (Zannos, 38).

His passions evolved from spending time with his family to athletic quests such as hunting, boxing, baseball and shooting. His passion for baseball directed his composition of the Illinois march. John Sousa incorporated both the trends of the time in his music. This was jazz and ragtime. He was impartial o both and considered both to be passing clouds but the fact that he blended them into his music depicts that he was sensitive to the needs of the people.  He died in 1932 after conducting the legendary “stars and Stripes forever”.

Music analysis of “The Stars and Stripes Forever”

Composition

Sousa was unchallenged as a great composer. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is a legendary piece of art that was played over years by Sousa and his band in different places (Karen, 14). It has gained the highest international accord because of the composers’ talent and ability to compose great and unique melodies and integrate the different melodies to form a functional harmonized whole. John Phillip Sousa believed that a march had to be relevant to the audience and its function was to voice a fundamental rhythm of the people it was created for (Sousa et al, 22). A march was meant to be energetic and it had to replenish vitality in the audience.  Sousa emphasized on the need to pay attention to every single line to ensure that the end result was good. It had to appeal to all regardless of their likes and dislikes and for this to happen harmony was integral in order to avoid confusion to the audience.

Form

“The Stars and Stripes Forever” is composed of three main parts. The introduction of the march is the introduction to the march. It employs a   variety of forte dynamics which are well harmonized to capture the attention of the audience. It is relatively plain employing a continuous similar repetition of motifs in the notes. It is also rhythmically direct and is easy to follow. In this march it was repeated once.

  The second part employs more whole notes than the first part. It uses a number of four measure phrases which leave it a bit more relaxed and stretched as compared to the first part. In “The Stars and Stripes Forever” it is also repeated once (Perone & James, 1).

The third part is the central and the main melody. In this march, it is played in legato style. John Sousa has employed a variety of clarinets and baritones in lower tones in the trio which give the piece a softer dynamic than the first part. It is widely contrasting and rapidly switches the motifs unlike the other two parts. In addition it is more unique since it plays to the lower or flatter key signature. Once the flatter key is adapted it predominates to the end of the march. The band then moves to the break or the counter melody which comes in between the two trios and is meant to bring change in between and avoid monotony. It breaks the norm of the trio sections by replenishing the energy of the audience. In the end of the break the band plays chromatic motifs which bring the march to a crescendo after which the grandiose trio is repeated.

Texture

For a good composition to communicate with the audience the artist has to bear in mind the texture of the piece (Gillis, 22). John Phillip Sousa demonstrated a unique finesse in interplaying different melodies to successfully come up with unique pieces that depicted a thick texture in which the layers were arranged in such a way that they harmonized and complemented each other. His march and “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, is a polyphonic or contrapuntal composition. This is because it allows several melodies to be taking place at one particular time. Fro such pieces to be successful the composer has to have an instinct of harmony to ensue that the music does not disorient the audience and though it has different melodies they all align to each other. John Phillip Sousa reflected this in his “The Stars and Stripes Forever” where he interplays the piccolo countermelody in the trio strain of the composition.

Meter

The meter of the composition can be defined as the pace or more commonly the cut time. In his march “The Stars and Stripes Forever”, John used a 2/2 which represents fast paced march. The march seems to have adapted an upbeat-downbeat feel as a result of the cut time.  To cater for rhythm John Phillip Sousa employed heavy syncopation and as a result the march sounds as if it is played faster than marches that are not using the same meter.

Tempo

Different marches composed by John Sousa issue different tempos although they are all generally quick. John Phillip Sousa employed one hundred and twenty beats per minute in the march “The Stars and Stripes Forever”. This was faster than other marches of the time which generally employed a lesser tempo of 100 beats per minute. The orchestras and the marches from Europe which Sousa emphasized were not better than the American marches used a slower tempo.

Key

The key of the “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is E- flat but eventually, it takes A-flat. It depicts happiness or a cheerful attitude. The march employs a steady beat which is easy to follow and t uses rather loud dynamics which are meant to strengthen the lyrics and portray the pride, confidence and the undying patriotism which Sousa had for his country. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” features an interaction of two opposites. The composition initiates with four bars and then it progresses in to a cheerful melody. The melody is dominating and assertive and in the interlude it hesitates and then moves down with swift notes that bring a skip to the overall melody.

Synthesis of discoveries

John Sousa was a music composer, a conductor and a novelist. He witnessed the reign of eight presidents. John was born during the civil war and he witnessed America grow both economically and in the military arm post independence. He was able to integrate the different aspects and feelings of his time into the music he composed. He served as a conductor in the US marines and he also grew among the marine band since his father played in the band. His marches are composed in such a way that they reflect patriotism and pride in his country. John Sousa composed the legendary “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in which he praised the American nation and the flag which they had adapted after the independence. After the civil war, America had successfully defeated Britain. It sought to establish its supremacy since it was the only sovereign power that was left standing. It was home to the world greatest military power and this was evident in the continuing wrangles that led to the Spanish war and the world war two. In this period America established itself as the formidable force that it has remained even today. John was proud of the growth and the achievements that America had achieved over the years from slavery to become the greatest empire in the world. The fact that his parents were immigrants who had come to seek better life and the fact that Sousa now could benefit from this physical translocation seems to have inculcated a deep sense of loyalty to America, for the gift of liberty to its citizens. John Sousas’ marches are mainly dedicated to the soldiers who at the time and even today are focal in achieving and maintaining freedom for a country.

Conclusion

            John Sousa has influenced music composers all over the world. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is a legendary piece of music. Its significance cannot be sidelined and it has continued to influence various composers all over the world who have adapted it in the creation of their own bands. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” employs all the attributes of a good march and the fact that it was written by the greatest composer of all time John Phillip Sousa has added to its global fame. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” has been described as being both delicate as well as powerful. It employs a successful interplay of both of these tones and though the general feeling at the beginning of the march is that of delicacy and pride of America at the end it adapts a feel of power and it successfully ends at this two note higher climax. The adoption of the Piccolo so that it blends with the tubas, the clarinets and the baritones while still remaining audible and relevant to the composition depicts a harmony that is rarely practiced in any marches. This piece of music has been described as pure genius by various music critics. John Sousa was able to fulfill his longtime dream of putting sunshine in music by blending the jazz and ragtime genres to form an original unique and refreshing composition that has lived on from the past to date. In addition his music inspired the soldiers during the First World War and he composed relevantly themed marches such as US Field Artillery and Solid Men to the Front which called on the soldiers to fight with courage for America. From his entire collection of marches, one cannot fail to sense his love for liberty, the loyalty to America and its soldiers and his sense of pride in the American country and flag which to him is the biggest sign of liberty. The times that these compositions were composed are reflected in his work and bring him out as a patriot who created relevance for the audience by depicting the political and patriotic feelings of the time.

REFERENCES

Zannos Susan. The Life and Times of John Philip Sousa. Hockessin, Delaware: Mitchell Lane Publishers, 2004, 35-78.

Van Outryve Karen. Appreciating an Old Favorite: Sousa’s All-Time Hit: Music Educators Journal, 92, 3, 4-16.

Perone & James E .The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa. Library Journal, 2006, 131, 12, 1.

Jon Newsom, Frederick Fennell, John Philip Sousa & James Robert Smart. The stars and stripes forever. Washington DC: Library of Congress, 1998, 12-43.

Paul E. Bierley. John Philip Sousa the American Phenomenon. California: University of California, 2007, 61-147.

Lester S Levy. Sousa’s Great Marches in Piano Transcription. North Chelmsford: Courier Dover Publications, 1975, 16-45.

H. Coleman. John Philip Sousa: National, Patriotic and Typical Airs of All Lands. Harvard: Harvard University, 2007, 38-46.

Paul E. Bierley. The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa: Music in American Life. Illinois:

University of Illinois Press, 2006, 256-302

Richard Crawford. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: Norton publishers, 2001, 180-300

Jennifer Blizin Gillis. John Philip Sousa: The King of March Music. Oxford: Heinemann Library, 2006, 16-30.

John Tasker Howard & George Kent. A Short History of Music in America. University of California: Crowell publishers, 2008, 370-405.

Music

Sousa Band. Stars and Stripes Forever. Alaska: Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation, 2003.

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