John Philip Sousa (November 6, 1854 – March 6, 1932) was an American composer and conductor of the late Romantic era, known mostly for American patriotic and military marches.
Because of his mastery of march composition, he is known as "The March King." Sousa's best-known marches are The Thunderer, The Washington Post, The Liberty Bell, Semper Fidelis (Official March of the United States Marine Corps), and The Stars and Stripes Forever (National March of the United States of America).
Sousa's mother was of Bavarian ancestry and his father was Portuguese. Sousa began his career playing violin; and studying music theory and composition under George Felix Benkert and John Esputa.
His father enlisted him in the United States Marine Band as an apprentice in 1868. After leaving the band in 1875, Sousa learned how to conduct. From 1880 until his death, he focused exclusively on conducting and the writing of marches.
He eventually rejoined the Marine Band and served there for 12 years as director. On departing the Marine Band, Sousa created his own band. He toured Australia and Europe; and developed the sousaphone, a large brass instrument similar to the tuba.
On the outbreak of World War I, Sousa was commissioned as a Lieutenant Commander and led the Naval Reserve Band in Illinois. Following his tenure, he returned to conduct the Sousa Band until his death in 1932.
The Thunderer (2:57)
This piece was written in 1889. The origin of the name is not officially known, though it is thought that it gets its name from the pyrotechnic effects of the drum and bugle in the score. The Thunderer also is one of his most famous, and easy to perform. It was also the election theme for ABC News from 1968 to 1972.
Sophia thought: The trumpets are certainly an important part of it. It's like something you'd hear at the end of a movie. I liked this song a lot because it had a nice rhythm.
Olivia thought: This sounds mostly like trumpets. It was loud. I liked it. It kept repeating itself in some parts - I liked that. It sounded good when he did that.
The Washington Post (2:44)
In 1889, the owners of The Washington Post requested that Sousa compose a march for the newspaper's essay contest awards ceremony. Sousa obliged; and The Washington Post March was introduced at the ceremony on June 15, 1889, and it became quite popular.
It led to a British journalist dubbing Sousa "The March King." Sousa is honored in The Washington Post building for his contribution to the newspaper and his country.
Since then, The Washington Post has remained as one of his most popular marches throughout the United States and many countries throughout the world.
Sophia thought: It sounded like the song they played in Mary Poppins when they were riding the carousel horses. I didn't like this one as much as The Thunderer. I preferred the trumpets in the other song...it just sounded more defined. I liked that this song had drums.
Olivia thought: It sounds like something you'd hear in The Wizard Oz when they are singing the song about the Yellow Brick Road. I liked the other song because it seemed faster. I also couldn't really hear the trumpets in this one, but I could hear the drums.
The High School Cadets (2:51)
In 1890, Sousa was commissioned to write a march by the high school of Washington, D.C. (later known as Central). The school's famous High School Cadets drill team asked Sousa for a better march than National Fencibles, which he had written for a rival school. They got one: The High School Cadets.
Sophia thought:I think it's something you'd hear at an old-fashioned fair. I think I liked this one better than the second one because it sounded more magnificent.
Olivia thought: It sounds like music that would play when there are chases in movies - like The Pink Panther - when there are fast parts and then it slows down and then it goes fast again. Sophia is right...it is something you'd hear at an old-fashioned fair...like the Polk County Fair. I still like the first song the best.
Semper Fidelis (2:51)
"Semper Fidelis", which was written in 1888 by Sousa, is regarded as the official march of the United States Marine Corps. This piece was one of two composed in response to a request from United States President Chester Arthur for a new piece to be associated with the United States President. The words Semper Fidelis are Latin for "Always Faithful."
Sophia thought:It's kind of dramatic. I liked the cymbal part (at about 1:20). I liked this because it felt longer than some of the other songs. The other ones just seemed so short.
Olivia thought: This is something that you'd hear that you'd hear at a lively dance...like square dancing. It sounds like of like that. I think this is my favorite song so far...maybe because it reminds me of a square dance.
The Lambs' March (2:09)
This is a lesser-known march that Sousa composed. The refreshing melody is tuneful and infectious, and while not as difficult as many marches, it maintains that wonderful and unique quality for which Sousa is known.
Sophia thought: It doesn't sound like a lambs' march. It's something you might hear at a circus. The ending was rather abrupt. I still like the first march that Sousa wrote the best.
Olivia thought: It sounds like someone is fighting a bull with all the excitement going on. This wasn't my favorite. I liked the title of it, though.
The Stars and Stripes Forever (3:41)
This piece is a patriotic American march widely considered to be the magnum opus of composer Sousa. By a 1987 act of the U.S. Congress, it is the official National March of the United States of America.
Sousa composed the march on Christmas Day, 1896. He and his wife were on an ocean liner on their way home from a vacation in Europe. Sousa had just learned of the recent death of David Blakely, the manager of the Sousa Band.
So, Sousa composed the march in his head and committed the notes to paper on arrival in the United States. It was first performed at Willow Grove Park, just outside Philadelphia, on May 14, 1897, and was immediately greeted with enthusiasm.
Sophia thought: I recognize this song! It certainly changes a lot - there's loud parts and softer ones; and he introduces different instruments. I like the flutes because they are high and pretty.
Olivia thought: There was one part that I really liked - the really loud part. I also like the part with the flute (around 2:20). It's much quieter.