Sousa addendum: ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ piccolo part

As mentioned in my previous post on Sousa, the United States Marine Band is currently immersed in creating a new edition of all of the marches, in chronological order. Not only are the band’s recordings available for free downloading, but the scores and parts are too. Listen below to the Marine Band’s new recording of the march, follow along with the piccolo part and enjoy the single greatest countermelody in all of Sousa.




John Philip Sousa in front of a marching band in 1914.


Summer is upon us and that means that, as Americans, at some point in the next few months most of us will hear a Sousa march. The Pacific Symphony alone has four of them on its schedule. Richard Kaufman will lead the well known trio of marches, “The Washington Post,” “Semper Fidelis” and “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” on July 4, and later in the month, in three Symphony in the Cities concerts, Carl St.Clair will present “Hands Across the Sea” and, again, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Across the country, most if not all other classical music ensembles and concert bands that present outdoor concerts will also perform Sousa. Lots of people will hear Sousa marches. One can’t say for sure how many of those people will actually listen to them — Sousa is taken for granted, these days — but they’ll hear them.

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) was a remarkable man and a remarkable musician. In his day, he was one of the most famous people in the country, and plenty famous outside of it too. He was a novelist, a composer of operettas, a champion trapshooter (he’s in the trapshooting hall of fame), a founding member (along with Victor Herbert and Irving Berlin) of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, the developer of the sousaphone, a showman. He was best known, though, for his band — the Sousa Band toured the country and the world and gave 15,623 concerts between 1892-1931— and for his marches. He was dubbed, of course, “The March King.”

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Audio: Symphonic ‘La La Land’

I hope this will eventually become part of the symphonic pops repertoire. For those of you who have seen the movie, this is the music played during the scene inside the Griffith Observatory. It’s good to listen to it without the visuals. Music by Justin Hurwitz.

Band on the run: Youth Wind Ensemble to take European tour


Gregory X. Whitmore is a band guy through and through, a protege of the legendary bandsman H. Robert Reynolds, a former drum major of the Michigan Marching Band, able to rattle off the history of the “Washington Post March” at a moment’s notice. He’s also just finished his third season as music director of Pacific Symphony Youth Wind Ensemble, which has just finished its 10th. To celebrate the ensemble’s milestone, Whitmore is taking it on its first tour this summer — to Vienna, no less. The band will compete in the Summa Cum Laude International Youth Music Festival in July there.

“This just felt right,” Whitmore said recently, speaking of the festival over a cup of coffee. Not only is it held in Vienna, “the home of Western music,” filled with sites for musical pilgrims, “but more than that, the chance to have a concert in the Musikverein, the home of the Vienna Philharmonic, the chance to also play at the Vienna Konzerthaus” — where the Pacific Symphony culminated its own European tour in 2006 — “and the chance to play at the MuTh, the home of the Vienna Boys’ Choir, just was an exclamation point on what is going to be a superb tour.”

Though many orchestras support their own youth orchestras these days, few make room for youth wind ensembles as well. “That really is a testament to the vision of Mr. St.Clair and feeling very strongly about having a youth ensembles family that makes artistry and education a really tandem experience,” Whitmore said. Wind ensembles, or bands, have a rich history in the United States, and a rich repertoire. In the late 19th century, it was estimated that there were some 10,000 bands in the country, professional, military and amateur.

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Pianist Gloria Cheng to visit ‘Sonic Kitchen’


Pianist Gloria Cheng will be driving down the freeway (we’re guessing the 5) from her home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mount Washington next week to take part in the Pacific Symphony’s second and final “Sonic Kitchen” concert of the season. Cheng is one of the foremost contemporary music pianists in the world — Pierre Boulez once faxed her a piece in the middle of the night; she’s won a Grammy — and she’s being brought in to perform in a demanding program of new music which will include pieces by Frederic Rzewski, Philip Glass, George Crumb and others.

The concert is a musical supplement to the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art’s “Art as Protest,” an exhibit featuring a provocative array of visual artworks that aim to “afflict the comfortable, and comfort the afflicted.” Given the times, it is inevitably political.

To which music can quite naturally contribute, Cheng said by phone recently.

“So much music is political, whether the message is overt or not,” she said. “I mean even a Brahms symphony is political. I’m reminded of something that my husband said. My husband’s not a musician, and he really dislikes a lot of 19th century orchestral repertoire. Because he hears militarism in it, he hears class conflict in it.

“And I said, ‘Really, you hear all that?’ And he enlightened me to that; it’s absolutely there. It is. Listen to a Tchaikovsky symphony, so much is about marches and a militaristic kind of world view. And that existed, that’s there. So, I’m a musician and the politics, they’re embedded in any work of art. Sometimes you just have to delve a little deeper for it, but it’s always there.”

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Neglected Symphony: Symphony No. 3, ‘Sinfonia Sacra,’ by Andrzej Panufnik (1963)

I ran across this piece the other day and feel that I have to share it. Listeners, or many of them at least, are unnecessarily afraid of contemporary classical music (and in classical music, 1963 counts as contemporary). “Unnecessarily” afraid not because contemporary music is easy. Much, though by no means all, of it is quite difficult. At least at first.

No, listeners are unnecessarily afraid because they don’t trust their ears and mind to make sense of a particular piece of music if they just give them a chance to. Listen to a new piece closely, listen to a new piece more than once, and more often than not it will come into focus and you’ll get what’s going on. And when you get it, you’ll find enjoyment in it.

At any rate, here’s the Third Symphony of Polish composer and conductor Andrzej Panufnik (1914-1991). The piece was composed, the composer said, “as a tribute to Poland’s Millennium of Christianity and Statehood, and as an expression of my religious and patriotic feelings.” (The rest of his fascinating program note is here.) It’s a gorgeous piece with some craggy bits to be sure, but the Grand Canyon is craggy too and everyone likes that. Georg Solti conducts the Chicago Symphony in this live performance.