Sousa: ‘Hands Across the Sea’

As is custom, music director Carl St.Clair will once again hold a conducting clinic for children before the orchestra’s Symphony in the Cities events in Mission Viejo and Irvine this month, and then have them come to stage en masse during the concert to lead Sousa’s “Hands Across the Sea.”

Sousa wrote this march in 1899, with such hits as “The Washington Post,” “El Capitan” and “Stars and Stripes Forever” already under his belt. And hits they were. The march was a popular dance form at the time and Sousa was one of the most famous musicians in the country. There was estimated to be more than 10,000 wind bands extant and amateur music-making was in its heyday. Consequently, when a new Sousa march was published, it arrived in a multitude of arrangements for different ensembles and solo instruments.

Here’s the title page of the first edition of “Hands Across the Sea.” Click to enlarge and scroll to the bottom to see the arrangements available.

Sousa later explained the dedicatory quotation (top right of title page) and the title:

“After the Spanish war there was some feeling in Europe anent our republic regarding this war. Some of the nations…thought we were not justified while others gave us credit for the honesty of our purpose. One night I was reading an old play and I came across this line, ‘A sudden thought strikes me,—let us swear an eternal friendship.’ That almost immediately suggested the title “Hands Across the Sea” for that composition and within a few weeks that now famous march became a living fact.”

Here’s a fine recording of it by the United States Marine Band.

The original 1st cornet part.


Happy 4th

As you will probably hear “Star and Stripes Forever,” or “Semper Fidelis” or “The Washington Post” or some other famous Sousa march today, I thought I’d share one of his lesser known gems, the “George Washington Bicentennial” March. Rudolf Urbanec conducts the Czechoslovak Brass Orchestra, of course. Happy 4th.

Symphony in the Cities program announced

This summer’s Symphony in the Cities concerts, conducted by Carl St.Clair, will be held in Mission Viejo and Irvine on July 28 and July 29, respectively. Programming for these alfresco events has now been announced. The musical fare will include selections from American musicals, patriotic songs and marches, and operatic hits. Soprano Chelsea Chaves and tenor Nick Preston are the guests.

The concert begins with the arrival of the children (who will have been coached by St.Clair) to conduct John Philip Sousa’s “Hands Across the Sea” March, a tradition on these occasions.

A set from American musicals comes next, featuring music by Gershwin (from “Strike Up the Band” and “Girl Crazy”) and Lerner and Loewe (from “My Fair Lady”).

Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” Suite (arranged by Jack Mason) and the Mambo from same transition to an operatic set that includes the Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro” and famous arias from Puccini (including “Nessun dorma”) and Verdi.

The event winds up with a medley saluting the armed forces, “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” in sing-along performances and, of course, “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

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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