Think you know John Philip Sousa, great American bandmaster? Then see if you know this: How many waltzes did he write? For which armed services did he work for free? And which of his tunes became one of the most popular dance in the world?
It’s that unexpected side of Sousa that Tacoma Concert Band will explore this weekend in a Sousa-palooza concert in the Pantages Theater that goes way beyond marches into the mix of classics and patriotism that was Sousa’s broader influence on American culture.
“Sousa wrote over 100 marches, but he also wrote waltzes, rags and arrangements of big classical works (like Verdi),” explains band director Bob Musser. “In his lifetime he was probably the most well-known musician in America.”
He may also have been the most fervently patriotic: Sousa virtually donated his services as bandmaster to both the Navy and Marines, Musser says, working for just one dollar per month and listing his occupation as “salesman of Americanism.”
“That’s the kind of person he was,” Musser says.
The patriotism definitely spills over into Sousa’s marches, which became worldwide marching band standards and symbols of a bright, cheerful America during the early 1900s. But the bandleader and composer also wrote in other styles: On the Community Band’s “Sousa” program is the “Willow Blossoms” rag, as well as more familiar marches such as the “Kansas Wildcats” march, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” and “The Washington Post,” which in its day became a popular dance step internationally.
Sousa also used his band to bring light and heavy classics to middle America.
“When he showed up the whole town would stop for a holiday, almost,” Musser explains. “People would hear excerpts from symphonies before they ever had a chance to hear an orchestra. There just weren’t many orchestras — people would be introduced to this music by Sousa’s band.”
And so Tacoma Community band also will play some of those classics: excerpts from Verdi’s “Manzoni Requiem,” Bizet’s “Carmen” and Mozart’s “La Clemenza di Tito,” sung by soloist Heidi Vanderford, along with the “Light Cavalry Overture” of von Suppé and the “Fantasie Humoresque on Yankee Doodle,” written for the Sousa band by David Reeves and featuring every section in their own variation on the tune.
Musser will also do what Sousa did and feature stellar band musicians as soloists: Jason Gilliam playing Sarasate’s virtuoso violin piece “Zigeunerweisen” on euphonium, and cornettist Morris Northcutt and trombonist Bill Dyer in “Cousins” by Herbert Clarke, Sousa’s own cornet soloist.
“Sousa had the finest musicians in America in his band, because he paid well and played often,” Musser says.