Monday, March 4, 2019


Today is Sousa Day, as I have noted before in this webspace, and it's a fine day to find an A at 440...
Terrible 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.
Yet 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.
I 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.

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