• Ian Passmore

Music that doesn't suck, No. 44: Easter Monday!

Happy Easter Monday, friends! It’s the perfect time for us to cover an American heavy-hitter: John Philip Sousa. Most of us know Sousa for his many, MANY marches — think: The Stars and Stripes Forever, The Washington Post, Semper Fidelis, The Liberty Bell. The list goes on and on to more than 130! His compositional output was not limited to marches, though; he also wrote a number of operettas, overtures, suites, and — as was the standard practice for bands in his day — a great number of transcriptions from the orchestral repertoire. He was also a renowned conductor…first, of the United States Marine Corps Band and later (and much more famously) of his own Sousa Band. (Fun fact: Sousa was also an expert trapshooter, and is enshrined in the Trapshooting Hall of Fame!)

Sousa wrote his suite Tales of a Traveler in 1911, while on an international tour with his Sousa Band. That version of the suite ended with a stately piece originally titled “Grand Promenade at the White House,” which was changed to “Coronation March” to potentially accompany the coronation of King George V…then published as “Grand Festival March.” The piece was not used at the actual coronation, as that event only featured the music of English composers; but, for reasons unknown, the “Coronation March” title was restored soon after. That lasted until 1928….

In 1928, Sousa composed a more lively, ragtime piece to replace the “Coronation March.” That piece was entitled, “Easter Monday on the White House Lawn.” Easter egg rolling is a White House tradition that dates back to 1816 and First Lady Dolly Madison. The Marine Band premiered the work at the 1929 egg rolling, with Sousa conducting. He recalled, “with the children rolling eggs, dancing, and romping, a scene of animation persists itself; the elders, from the President to the merest passerby, look on the scene with joy and pleasure.”

It’s only appropriate that we feature the legendary United States Marine Corps Band (AKA, “The President’s Own”) for this one, conducted by their longtime Director —and now, Director Emeritus — Col. John Bourgeois. Enjoy!

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