Skip navigation

Category Archives: 2008-09

Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own Marine Band at age 26.  In 1892 he formed “Sousa and his Band”, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim.  Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.

Here are some well-researched program notes on Stars & stripes from the Band Music PDF Library.

Stars and Stripes Forever (march) is considered the finest march ever written, and the same time one of the most patriotic ever conceived.  As reported in the Philedelphia Public Ledger (May 15, 1897) “… It is stirring enough to rouse the American eagle from his crag, and set him to shriek exultantly while he hurls his arrows at the aurora borealis.” (referring to the concert the Sousa Band gave the previous day at the Academy of Music). (Research done by Elizabeth Hartman, head of the music department, Free Library of Philadelphia.  [Quote] taken from John Philip Sousa, Descriptive Catalog of his Works (Paul E. Bierley, University of Illinois Press, 1973, page 71)).

The march was not quite so well received though and actually got an over average rating for a new Sousa march.  Yet, its popularity grew as Mr. Sousa used it during the Spanish-American War as a concert closer.  Coupled with his Trooping of the Colors, the march quickly gained a vigorous response from audiences and critics alike.  In fact, audiences rose from their chairs when the march was played.  Mr. Sousa added to the entertainment value of the march by having the piccolo(s) line up in front of the band for the final trio, and then added the trumpets and trombones [to] join them on the final repeat of the strain.

The march was performed on almost all of Mr. Sousa’s concerts and always drew tears to the eyes of the audience.  The author has noted the same emotional response of audiences to the march today.  The march has been named as the national march of the United States.

There are two commentaries of how the march was inspired.  The first came as the result of an interview on Mr. Sousa’s patriotism.  According to Mr. Sousa, the march was written with the inspiration of God.

“I was in Europe and I got a cablegram that my manager was dead.  I was in Italy and I wished to get home as soon as possible.  I rushed to Genoa, then to Paris and to England and sailed for America.  On board the steamer as I walked miles up and down the deck, back and forth, a mental band was playing ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Day after day as i walked it persisted in crashing into my very soul.  I wrote in on Christmas Day, 1896.” (Taken from program notes for the week beginning August 19th, 1923.  Bierley, John Philip Sousa, page 71.)

Researched by Marcus L. Neiman, Medina, Ohio


The wikipedia article on Stars & Stripes is bit thin on references, but it does allow you to listen to a vintage recording of Sousa himself conducting the march, from 1909.  The Stars & Stripes page at the Dallas Wind Symphony has other old recordings and Sousa’s original lyrics for the march.

Read more about the Sousa Band and its history at Click the link that says “Read more about this recording.”

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

John Philip Sousa on Wikipedia

Stars & Stripes is one of many Sousa marches (and other pieces by turn of the 19th-20th century composers) available at the Band Music PDF Library for free.  I encourage any enterprising band directors to take a look.

Check out this legit performance of Stars & Stripes, courtesy of the President’s Own United States Marine Band.  If you don’t like the conductor’s very informative monologue, skip to the performance at around 1:00.

Now, the Muppets’ take on Stars & Stripes:

Finally, an inspiring trombone choir version:


CFW 2013 band directors: click here for free, printable parts for the massed band.

Washington, D.C. native and legendary bandmaster John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) wrote a dozen operettas, six full-length operas, and over 100 marches, earning the title “March King”.  He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps at an early age and went on to become the conductor of the President’s Own Marine Band at age 26.  In 1892 he formed “Sousa and his Band”, which toured the United States and the world under his directorship for the next forty years to great acclaim.  Not only was Sousa’s band hugely popular, but it also exposed audiences all over the world to the latest, cutting-edge music, bringing excerpts of Wagner’s Parsifal to New York a decade before the Metropolitan Opera staged it, and introducing ragtime to Europe, helping to spark many a composer’s interest in American music.

Sousa originally wrote Liberty Bell in 1893.  It features the chimes, perhaps in homage to the famous American landmark after which it is named.  The march is now most famous for its use as the theme song to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

The march as used in the opening of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the 1970s British comedy show:

Now here it is in full played by the US Marine Band, complete with a short explanation of the piece by their conductor:

As played by the Rutgers Euphonium Choir:

Program notes on the march from the Concord (MA) Band.

A wealth of information on the Liberty Bell itself, famous crack and all.

Sousa shrine – including biography, complete works, and much more – at the Dallas Wind Symphony website.

Respighi, a renowned Italian composer of late Romantic-era music, wrote this piece in 1932, his only original composition for wind band. It is dedicated to Edwin Franko Goldman and the American Bandmaster’s Association. His inspiration for the piece came from a visit to Huntingtower Castle in Scotland.

A performance of Huntingtower on Youtube:

Huntingtower Castle on Undiscovered Scotland – lots of photos of the castle!

Huntingtower Castle on Wikipedia.

Respighi biography on Wikipedia.

Respighi biography and discography on

Victory at Sea is a 1950s television documentary series that chronicles the Pacific theater of World War II from the American perspective. Famed Broadway composer Richard Rodgers (South PacificThe King and IThe Sound of Music) composed 12 themes to form the basis of the series’s music.  Robert Russell Bennett is credited as orchestrator for the series (as he was for several Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals), but in reality he composed the bulk of the music for the 13-hour series using Rodgers’s themes as his basis.

The Austin Symphonic Band performs Victory at Sea:

Several Youtube excerpts of the Victory at Sea documentary.

Music site at – has lengthy excerpts of the music with several of the main themes contained in Bennett’s Symphonic Scenario.

Victory at Sea on the Museum of Broadcast Communications website.

Victory at Sea on the Internet Movie Data Base.

Richard Rodgers biography on Wikipedia.

Robert Russell Bennett biography on Wikipedia.

Jan Van der Roost is a contemporary Belgian composer.  His inspiration for Canterbury Chorale came from a visit to Canterbury Cathedral in England.  Follow the links below for a description of the piece in Van der Roost’s own words.

Canterbury Chorale on Youtube:

Jan Van der Roost’s website.

Van der Roost’s description of Canterbury Chorale.

Canterbury Cathedral on the web.

Gustav Holst (1874-1934) was a British composer and teacher.  After studying composition at London’s Royal College of Music, he spent the early part of his career playing trombone in an opera orchestra.  It was not until the early 1900s that his career as a composer began to take off.  Around this same time he acquired positions at both St. Paul’s Girls’ School and Morley College that he would hold until retirement, despite his rising star as a composer.  His music was influenced by his interest in English folk songs and Hindu mysticism, late-Romantic era composers like Strauss and Delius, and avante-garde composers of his time like Stravinsky and Schoenberg.  He is perhaps best known for composing The Planets, a massive orchestral suite that depicts the astrological character of each known planet.  His works for wind band (two suites and a tone poem, Hammersmith) are foundational to the modern wind literature.

The First Suite is particularly important to the later development of artistic music for wind band.  Holst wrote it in 1909 for an ensemble that came to define the instrumentation that bands would use for at least the next century and beyond.  Oddly, it was not performed until 1920, and published a year later.  Since then, the First Suite has left an indelible mark on band musicians and audiences around the world.  Its appeal is in its simplicity and its artistry.  While there are difficult passages and exposed solo work in many instruments, it places few extreme demands on the players, and it uses a straightforward and easily-identifiable theme throughout its 3 movements.  Yet this theme is turned and pulled into many different forms, and put on an emotional roller-coaster of doubts, sweet reveries, ecstatic joy, and triumph.  Truly, the impact that the First Suite still makes on those who hear it is impossible to put into words.  It is a classic piece of art music that has helped to define the development of a century of wind band music.

The US Marine Band performing the complete Suite on Youtube.  Not much to look at, but GREAT listening!

Detailed historical discussion of First Suite on

First Suite on Wikipedia.

First Suite program notes on (Singapore). – a major web resource for information on the composer.

Leroy Anderson (pronounced le-ROY) wrote several legendary classical-pops pieces that remain popular, many of which he also arranged for wind band.  Among them are Sleigh RideThe Irish WasherwomanBugler’s Holiday, and Belle of the Ball.  June 29, 2008 marked the centennial of Anderson’s birth, and so our performance of Belle of the Ball will help to celebrate that milestone.

A German community band with a rockin’ horn section performs Belle of the Ball: – a treasure trove of information on the composer and his music, including a listening room.

Belle of the Ball lyrics.

Once Upon a Sleigh Ride – a PBS documentary about Anderson and his music.

Belle of the Ball described at

Robert Jager is an American composer educated at the University of Michigan.  He has written dozens of works for several media.  He is the only composer to have won the Ostwald Prize from the American Bandmasters’ Association three times.  He wrote Esprit de Corps in 1984 on a commission from the United States Marine Band and its conductor, Colonel John Bourgeois.  The piece is a fantasy on The Marine’s Hymn, taking the familiar theme in new, exciting directions.

From the title page of the Esprit de Corps score:

Based on The Marines’ Hymn, this work is a kind of fantasy-march, as well as a tribute to the United States Marine Band. Full of energy and drama, the composition has its solemn moments and its lighter moments (for example, the quasi-waltz in the middle of the piece). The composer intends that this work should display the fervor and virtuosity of the Marine Band and the musical spirit and integrity of its conductor, Colonel John R. Bourgeois, for whom the initial tempo marking, “Tempo di Bourgeois,” is named. Colonel John Bourgeois is a dramatic, spirited conductor, who reflects the excitement of the music being played. When a tempo is supposed to be “bright” he makes sure it is exactly that. Because the tempo of Esprit de Corps is to be very bright, the marking just had to be “Tempo di Bourgeois!”

Robert Jager’s website – including bio, list of compositions, and more.

Esprit de Corps page on Robert Jager’s website including a better-quality audio recording of the last minute or so of the piece.

Official history of The Marines’ Hymn
on the United States Marine Band website.

“The President’s Own” United States Marine Band website. They are, without question, one of the finest bands in the world, no matter who is president.

Aaron Copland (1900-1990) is one of the titans of American art music.  A native New Yorker, he went to France at age 21 and became the first American to study with the legendary Nadia Boulanger.  His Organ Symphony, written for Boulanger, provided his breakthrough into composition stardom.  After experimenting with many different styles, he became best known for his idiomatic treatment of Americana, leaving behind such chestnuts as The Tender Land (1954), Billy The Kid (1938), and Appalachian Spring (1944).  This last piece won Copland the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 1945.  He was also an acclaimed conductor and writer.

John Steinbeck’s 1933 novella The Red Pony was adapted into a feature length film of the same name in 1949.  Aaron Copland composed the score for the film.  The Oklamhoma City University band program note database provides more information on the music and its origin:

Copland wrote the music for the film The Red Pony in 1948, on the studio lot of Republic Pictures in the San Fernando Valley, California.  The orchestral concert suite, completed during August of the same year, was prepared in response to a commission from Efrem Kurtz, who included it in his first program as conductor of the Houston Symphony Orchestra on October 30, 1948.  The band version of The Red Pony was made by the composer in 1966.  Four movements of the six-part orchestral suite were retained as best suitable for band transcription.  The first performance of this work was scheduled for the U.S. Navy Band under Anthony Mitchell at the Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in December 1968.

John Steinbeck’s well-known tale is a series of vignettes concerning a ten-year-old boy named Jody and his life in a California ranch setting.  In the first movement, “Dream March and Circus Music”, Jody has a way of going off into daydreams.  Two of them are pictured here:  in the first, Jody imagines himself with the cow-hand Billy Buck at the head of an army of knights in silvery armor; in the second, Jody is a whip-cracking ringmaster at the circus.  The fourth movement, “Happy Ending”, contains a folk-like melody suggesting the open-air quality of country living and then builds to a climax.

Wikipedia article on the original novella.

Scoredaddy blog entry on Copland’s Red Pony score. If you look hard enough, you’ll find a link to download the original LP recording of the full soundtrack.

Copland has a huge presence on the internet, thus this site will feature only the main portals into his work.  Please click far beyond the sites listed here for a complete idea of Copland’s footprint on the web.

Fanfare for Aaron Copland – a blog with information on the composer, extraordinarily useful links, and some downloadable versions of old LP recordings.  This is the place to explore the several links beyond the main site.

Aaron Copland Wikipedia Biography.

Quotes from Aaron Copland on Wikiquote.

New York Times archive of Copland-related material. Includes reviews of his music and books as well as several fascinating articles that he wrote.

Now some videos.  At last, a full band recording has emerged.  This comes from the Gustavus Wind Orchestra:

Here are a couple of the movements (Dream March and Circus Music) in the orchestra version:

Some highlights of the rest of the music in this trailer/preview for the movie:

French composer Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) is a unique figure in music history.  He never mastered one single instrument, dabbling in the guitar and flute early in his life.  He initially studied medicine before leaving school to become a composer.  His most famous work is among his earliest: the Symphonie Fantastique.  He developed a great love for Shakespeare, basing several of his composition on the bard’s work.  He was prone to fits of passion and obsession in both his life and his music.  As a young man he fell madly in love with Harriet Smithson, an actress whom he saw play Ophelia in Hamlet.  He pursued her for years and finally convinced her to marry him, only to have the marriage fall apart in short order.  He wrote his music on a grand scale: his Requiem, for example, was scored for: 20 woodwinds; a brass section of 12 horns, 4 cornets and tubas, and 4 additional antiphonal brass choirs of 38 musicians total; 26 percussionists on 16 timpani, 10 cymbals and more; more than 100 strings; a choir of at least 210 voices, plus a tenor soloist.  That’s over 400 musicians in total.  His experience with such immense musical forces lent him great expertise in instrumentation and orchestration, and led him to write a treatise on the subject.  He was prolific as a writer and critic throughout his life, often supporting his family on his writer’s income between compositions.

The “March to the Scaffold” is the fourth of five movements in the Symphonie Fantastique.  The symphony as a whole tells the story, in music, of a troubled young artist and his quest for his true love.  The true love is represented musically by a melody known as the idee fixe (fixed idea).  This melody appears in every movement of the symphony.  The first movement introduces the idee fixe and chronicles the beginnings of the young artist’s quest.  The second is a waltz, moving the action to a fabulous-sounding ball.  The third moves to an imagined countryside where a storm is brewing, reminiscent of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.  The fourth movement takes on a nightmarish character: having taken opium, the young artist dreams that he has killed his true love and is about to be executed for his crime.  This movement thus depicts the artist’s forced march to the scaffold.  The idee fixe appears only once, as a sudden remeniscence just before the guillotine strikes the young man’s head right off and the movement comes to a perversely joyous conclusion.  The symphony’s final movement imagines the young artist, still in his opium dream, transported to hell.  Here he sees his true love, now grotesque and distorted in comically demonic fashion.  The creatures of hell amass around the artist, gleefully celebrating his demise.

Berlioz wrote his own program to the piece, which he provided for audience members to read as they listened.  Two versions of it are reprinted here.  I prefer the first.

There is one go-to site on Berlioz: The Hector Berlioz Website. Go here for literally everything you could possibly want to know about him, including a detailed biography, descriptions of every work, and also downloadable scores of several of his works.

Symphonie Fantastique has many varied descriptions and tributes on the web:



An AOL member. Includes a manuscript of the idee fixe.

A British rock musician. He modernizes the program and discusses why Berlioz is still relevant.

This just scratches the surface.  Google it for even more!

The band version of “March to the Scaffold”:

Finally, “March to the Scaffold” performed by Leonard Bernstein and the Orchestre National de France: