The March as Musical Drama and the Spectacle of John Philip Sousa

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2011

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Journal of the American Musicological Society 64 (Summer 2011): 289-318

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Abstract

John Philip Sousa’s phenomenal appeal for early twentieth-century American audiences lay in large part in the dramatic nature of his marches, their performance practice, and his own persona as the March King. Sousa was responsible for transforming the earlier da capo parade march into a linear work suitable for concert performance. When combined with the now largely forgotten performance practice of the Sousa Band, these marches became miniature dramas. Sousa’s famous marches, however, were seldom featured on printed handbills. Rather, the March King connected to his audiences by inviting them to take part fictitiously in concert programming by calling for Sousa’s marches as encores. Such encores not only allowed Sousa to remain humbly invisible on programs, but also provided audiences with the illusion of an intimate conversation with a celebrity entertainer, a conversation that reinforced nineteenth-century notions of American manhood. Through his advertising and concert work, Sousa strove to appear not as a distant celebrity, but simply as a more successful version of the Americans in his audience.

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