Today is Sousa Day, as I have noted before in this webspace, and it's a fine day to find an A at 440...
punning aside--and I acknowledge that the puns are bad, but I am years a
father and can safely offer such things--I do wonder about the
popularity of Sousa's music, both during his time and in the times that
have followed. Admittedly, I stopped being a music major before I got to
the part of the curriculum that dealt with historical development and
trends in music, so it may well be because of my failure that I do not
have my head wrapped fully around the matter, but why marches--and
Sousa's marches--had and have the cachet they do is not something that
is clear to me. I've played enough of them, and enough parts in them, to
know that they are energetic pieces, readily accessible to ensembles of
reasonable but not exceptional competence--that I've been able to play
them is testament to that, because I've never been that good a performer.
energetic, player-accessible pieces do not necessarily make for staying
power. There are any number of such pieces that have received less
attention in succeeding generations--such as works by Patrick S.
Gilmore, for example. Nor is it accessibility to listeners that does it;
again, there are many works that were easy to hear that are no longer
heard. And, if the parallel argument from literature can be made (of
course I was going to find my way there at some point, being who and
what I am), and it is the tastes of the socially dominant that make for
staying power, then it still eludes me at the moment why Sousa's music
would continue to have its place. How the interests of the putatively
mighty are served by it is not clear; what the wealthy and powerful gain
from it is not evident, at least not to me.
do not make such comments to condemn Sousa, certainly. Whatever the
reasons for his music's continued cachet, his marches are standard band
fare, and I am a once and present bandsman; it may be nostalgia that
drives me thus, but I am still pushed to appreciate the music. I enjoy a
good performance of it, either as one of the people doing the
performing or as one of the people in the audience; it was certainly the
case when I was living in New York City and the service bands would
come through and give concerts, and I think it would be the case now if I
had again the opportunity to attend such a thing. (My part of the world
does not get many such opportunities, and other circumstances do not
always conduce to my going even when there is such a chance.) But that
does not mean I do not wonder about why it is that a thing is so, and it
does not mean I should not encourage others to ask similar questions.
Assumptions should be examined.