Saturday, July 5, 2014

5 July 2014 Semper Fi and other Sousa grandeur

          Last night we stayed home and watched the PBS  Capital Fourth broadcast.  The initial performers were mostly people I did not/do not recognize.  Most of the music these people performed had little or nothing to do with the celebration of 4 July as “Independence Day.”  I would have enjoyed performances by American singer-songwriters  and musicians such as Arlo Guthrie, George Gershwin, and others.  There are enough great performers and great music to fill out the 90 minutes of programming that was broadcast last night. 
          It was only when the local fireworks already had Loki looking for a bunker that the national fireworks began.  The national fireworks are wonderfully impressive.  I’ve been privileged to see them in D.C., on the mall once.  That’s one of those things that would never have happened for me except for meeting Gloria. 
          The PBS programming used only four Sousa marches to background the pyrotechnics.  They used “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “Washington Post,” “ The Thunderer,” and “Semper Fidelis.”   I’d be willing to bet that 50% of the attendees would not have been able to correctly identify those Sousa pieces.
          Annually, I am reminded of how many times we played those pieces and other marches during high school half time shows.  The band I played in was different from most then and even more today by nature of it’s performance. 
          Our band director wrote half time shows for universities as well as for us.  We performed precision drill show rather than pattern shows.  We performed a different show each time we stepped on to the field.  This meant using new music for each show.  Further, we had to memorize all the music, 60-80 pieces/per season.  No one carried music on the field or in parades.  Despite having ca. 200 band students, we marched only 124 in our half time shows.  The competition for on field slots was intense and exclusive.  There were band students who spent all of their high school years in the band but who never set foot upon the field. 
          Sousa was one of those rare people who manage to arrive at the perfect place and time.  His works have stood the test of time.  They cross genre and usage lines quite handily.  The same man who scored Semper Fidelis also penned the Liberty Bell march that became the theme for Monty Python’s Flying Circus.


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