Bryan Proksch, associate professor of music history has published a book of writings called “A Sousa Reader: Essays, Interviews, and Clippings” by famed composer John Philip Sousa.
“The book is basically a primary source reader, and gathers documents from Sousa’s life and puts him out there for people to see — there has been a lot of research on Sousa,” Proksch said. “The book focuses on him as a band master and his famous marches that he wrote.
“As far as scholarship is concerned, there is really little access to who Sousa actually was, and my book will save scholars a lot of time in the future by giving them an overview of his thoughts.”
Sousa (1854-1932) is an iconic American composer and conductor, nicknamed “The March King,” who was primarily known for military and patriotic marches and was a celebrity in his own time across America.
He is best known as the director of the United States Marine Corps Band and for helping to select the “Star Spangled Banner,” as the national anthem. However, Sousa wanted to be remembered as a classical composer, but he was viewed differently by the public, which controlled the direction of his career.
“Sousa was a very popular figure of his time and he was the first sort of famous popular American musician, the tradition that will eventually lead to the notion of famous musical stars in Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Michael Jackson,” Proksch said.
Proksch’s history elaborates on how the conductor became well-known and the struggles he had to overcome. Sousa the musician was also Sousa the writer.
“The great thing about Sousa is that he isn’t overly consistent in his beliefs, about what music is supposed to do or mean, or how popular music functions,” Prok-sch said.
“The book gathers those beliefs and shows the complexity of Sousa. But it’s not just marches in America. There are other underlying issues in a way that really haven’t been available up to this point.
“Sousa’s band toured for 50 years, and he becomes known throughout the country, as Sousa the great bandmaster and great patriotic march composer.”
Proksch said book that uses archival documents that show Sousa’s essays, and his testimony in front of Congress about copyright laws in 1909.
“So artists could get royalties for not just creating the song and having someone else take the credit,” he said.
Proksch said he picked Sousa because it seemed like the right thing to do. He also wanted to do something different, since he had already written his dissertation about Austrian composer Joseph Haydn which included a small paragraph about Sousa.
“Early in life, Sousa studies music and he becomes the director of a prominent theater orchestra,” Proksch said. “He gets hired to take over the U.S. Marine Band and he transforms them from a hodgepodge local D.C. ensemble into what we would call the first modern concert band. The ensemble existed before he came in, but the Marine Band seen at presidential inaugurations today is the same ensemble that Sousa built and remolded during his time.”
The book covers Sousa’s transition from running the Marine Band to becoming “The March King.”
“Sousa runs the Marine band for a while until the government interferes, because Sousa wanted to charge admission for the concert tour,” Proksch said. “But since the ensemble was government run, Sousa wasn’t paid and he quits after he receives business from New York.”
Sousa’s first major gig was the Chicago World Fair New Colombian Exposition in 1893. From that point on, Sousa became known as the leader of American music and took two tours each year around the country, including playing three different times in Beaumont, Proksch said.
Sousa took many world tours, visiting places like South Africa and Australia, and he also made a number of European tours, all with the notion of fostering what is American music to the world.
“Sousa wants to be seen as a classical composer and well respected artist — what he would call a high-class composer,” Proksch said. “But at the same time, the public views him as a popular composer not a classical one. So he is not seen as the same kind of composer as a Brahms, Offenbach or even a Gilbert and Sullivan kind of guy. He really struggles with that, and (in) a lot of documents that end up in the book, Sousa argues for the validity of the band.”
The book, which is published by Gia, may be bought on Amazon for $20, in the 212 Simmons Music Building.