Some of America’s most beloved patriotic marches came to us via the master of military music, “The March King” – John Philip Sousa.
His father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band, and young Sousa at age six began studying music. But not just piano lessons for young J.P.; he studied voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone, trombone, and alto horn.
At the age of 13, Sousa tried to run away to join a circus band. “Not so fast, my friend,” said his Pa, and Sousa was made an apprentice in the Marine Band, a spot he held till he was 21. His musicianship was unassailable, and after a few years of touring (violin) he wound up conducting Broadway orchestras, including the production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.”
While Sousa wrote 136 marches altogether, we know him today primarily for three: “Semper Fidelis,” the march of the U.S. Marine Corps, “Washington Post March,” and “Stars and Stripes Forever.” This last march has been designated as “The official march of the United States.”
(As an aside for Virginia Tech fans, Sousa wrote a special march called “Hands Across the Sea” which he dedicated to all of America’s allied countries abroad and to the Highty-Tighties, the Regimental Band of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets.)