Academic journal article Notes

The Digital Sousa and New Online Resources from the United States Marine Band

Academic journal article Notes

The Digital Sousa and New Online Resources from the United States Marine Band

Article excerpt


The oldest continuously operating musical ensemble in the United States, "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, is also home to a significant performing ensemble library and archives. In recent years the band and its library have been working to make their resources--especially those related to their most famous director John Philip Sousa--more readily available to the public. This article outlines the history of the ensemble and Sousa's relationship to it. It then describes the band's two major digital initiatives. The Complete Marches of John Philip Sousa is a multiyear project to edit and record each of Sousa's approximately 130 marches. The Marine Band editions rely on the earliest printed sources, but they differ from other Sousa editions in that they document this ensemble's long history with Sousa's music. In undertaking this project, the Marine Band has also scanned two major primary sources related to Sousa: the Sousa Band encore and press books. This article outlines the ways scholars might use both resources by examining the encore books' value in editing Sousa's music, and the press books' remarkable potential for looking at musical interaction with American social and political history. All of these materials--the press books, encore books, and newly created editions--are freely available on the Marine Band's Web site. Taken together they provide a unique level of access to one of America's most celebrated musicians.


In the fall of 1906, the composer and bandleader John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) sounded a dire alarm: "sweeping across the country with the speed of a transient fashion in slang or Panama hats, political war cries or popular novels, comes now the mechanical device to sing for us a song or play for us a piano." (1) His mission was to warn Americans of the dangers inherent in a new technology: recorded sound. Sousa feared that piano rolls and cylinders, which bypassed "human skill, intelligence, and soul," would destroy musical culture in the United States: "for when music can be heard in the homes without the labor of study and close application, and without the slow process of acquiring a technic, it will be simply a question of time when the amateur disappears entirely." (2)

Given Sousa's well-documented objection to one transformative technology, it is perhaps surprising to now find him so well represented by another. Over the past several years, "The President's Own" United States Marine Band, which Sousa directed between 1880 and 1892, has undertaken several digital projects that promise to provide scholars, educators, conductors, and the listening public with ever greater access to the March King and his music. This paper describes the band's two most significant contributions to establishing Sousa's online legacy: an ambitious editing and recording project of the composer's complete march output, and the scanning of the Sousa Band encore and press books. The first of these projects makes Sousa's most significant work as a composer widely and freely available in both printed and recorded form, while the second provides scholars with easy access to a major repository of primary sources related not only to Sousa, but to American cultural history more broadly. These initiatives have involved the United States Marine Band as a whole, but they rely particularly on the holdings of the ensemble's library and archives, which act not only as the library for a major working ensemble, but also as a significant repository for the study of military and patriotic music in the United States.


The United States Marine Band is today perhaps the most celebrated military ensemble in the world. Each year it provides music for approximately 200 White House events, supports funerals at Arlington National Cemetery and other ceremonies, gives public concerts, takes part in an active and varied recording schedule, provides educational performances and clinics in schools, and undertakes national concert tours. …

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