I had a rather intense discussion with my dearest pal Martin Fischer, the excellent drummer (I consider Marty family not just a best friend) over John Philip Sousa who I feel is certainly The March King. I was asked what makes his music so good. Is it the melodies or the orchestrations or what?! Of course my answer went on way too long but to capsulate it, I answered that it is a combination of many things. Of course I noted examples of his stirring melodies and instrument usage. But most importantly I believed his pieces are some of the finest examples of American music. One could guess that it hit a spot in the country’s patriotic heart of the time. These days the public at large is more interested in what underwear a Kardashian is wearing or where they can purchase a new gun. It is quite difficult in Sousa’s music to hear even a hint of anything European. Not that I dislike European marches! Where would the old time circus bands be without that stuff in their books?
I spent several years in the early 1970’s in a symphonic band that always ended its concerts with a Sousa March. Since Sousa never really wrote for the xylophone, yes, that is what I play even though it went out of style in the 1930’s, I would take a piccolo part to the conductors annoyance and the snickers of the flute section and play it. I did this every concert and after the first season I had learned dozens of Sousa Marches. I guess the conductor couldn’t have been that annoyed as he did let me do this at all concerts.
My “punishment” for the sacrilege of adding xylophone to Sousa was I also had to play in the Dixieland band which started the second half of the concert, all the “real” xylophone parts in all the other selections which I hated doing because they were poorly written and in such small portions and…and…and every other week I play a concerto which I lifted from the violin repertoire and re-orchestrated for the symphonic band.
All the above paid a whopping thirty-five dollars a concert which usually took at least six weeks to get the check. It felt like the check would never come which at the time I needed the money badly. Still do!
I must say that by studying the Sousa Scores I found it a bit easier to orchestrate for the band though copying out all those parts in pre-computer days was certainly the punishment.
Thank you Mr. Sousa where ever you are for forgiving my adding the xylophone to your magnificent marches.
It was an honor to get up at 7:30 am, now-a-days I get up at the crack of 2 pm, and schlep the xylophone and a heavy set of orchestra bells and drive forty miles in my old junker car and then wait six weeks to be paid. I think that band still owes me a check or two.
(Next blog: The “Merde” of Park Avenue)