John Philip Sousa is the perfect composer to talk about during the week we celebrate Independence Day in America. Born in Washington DC in 1854, Sousa was raised surrounded by band music. His father played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band and young Sousa began learning band instruments, as well as the violin, by the age of six! When he tried to run away and join a circus band as a teenager, his father found him and put him in the Marine Band.
At age 21, Sousa left the Marine Band and went on to perform violin and conduct theater orchestras. After marrying his wife several years later, he returned to DC to become the Marine Band leader. He conducted the band for twelve years before starting up his own band, The Sousa Band. With this band, Sousa traveled the world, spreading patriotism wherever he performed. While he did write several operettas, Sousa is mainly remembered for his band music.
“The Stars and Stripes Forever” is perhaps his most famous march and has become symbolic of America and the flag. He wrote the march while feeling homesick on a voyage home from Europe. The piece was such a hit that most people expected to hear it at every Sousa Band concert. It’s ironic that “The Stars and Stripes Forever” ended up being the last piece Sousa conducted before passing away in 1932.