Friday, July 18, 2008

No, I'm not knocking Sousa...

Here's a topic that some people find infuriating. They get so mad at me when I state that my favorite march king is not John Philip Sousa. I tell them that Sousa is my favorite composer of what I call "serious marches", but that I prefer "fun marches". I guess it's an emotional thing. Let me recap a true story from May that started all this.

The Knightwind Ensemble was performing at a Senior Apartment complex, one of those buildings with apartments for independent Seniors, and also apartments for those needing assisted living. The director asked the audience to name American composers, hoping that someone would mention the name "George Gershwin". Instead one gentleman shouted "John Philip Sousa". When our director mentioned that he was looking for a different name, the gentleman became upset. However, the audience did enjoy the Gershwin medley and the issue was forgotten.

But it showed me that to some people, Sousa was the greatest American composer ever, greater than Gershwin, Copland and Bernstein! And it illustrates why, when I mention that he did well at "serious marches" but that other marches are more fun, they are so upset with me. And then, when I mention the name Henry Fillmore, they do not recognize it. Fillmore is the guy that I think of for fun marches! I guess Fillmore needed better PR! But then again, Fillmore never really did what he was told to do...

At a young age, Henry Fillmore was very interested in the slide trombone. His father was not happy about that. His father, a very conservative publisher of church music, felt that the trombone was a sinful instrument. But Fillmore's mother got him a trombone anyway. Later, Henry did something else that his father was not happy about: he ran away to join a circus and married an exotic dancer working in the circus. Bet he scored a lot of points with that one!

Fillmore was always proud of his compositions. Fellow composer John Klohr told Fillmore that his marches sold because of his name, and not because they were good. So on a bet with Klohr, Fillmore wrote a new march under the name Gus Beans from Lima, Ohio. He named the march Mt. Healthy, after one of the suburbs of Cincinnati. And it was a hit anyway. Actually, he wrote marches under 5 or 6 different names. His march total was well over 200. If you're keeping score, Sousa wrote 136. However, to be fair, Sousa also wrote suites and operettas.

Fillmore's most famous group of tunes are known as The Trombone Family, a group of 15 rags featuring trombone smears. The one I most commonly hear at band concerts is Lassus Trombone. It turns out that Lassus Trombone was one of Sousa's favorites as well.

So for me, the summer band concert should end with a serious Sousa march...but somewhere in the middle should be one of two works by Henry Fillmore...lots of fun during the concert and a serious march for the ending! Doesn't get any better than that!

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