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- The Experiences of a Bandmaster - 1/2 -
THE EXPERIENCES OF A BANDMASTER
By John Philip Sousa
During eighteen years spent in playing music for the masses, twelve years in the service of the United States and six in that of the general public, many curious and interesting incidents have come under my observation.
While conductor of the Marine Band, which plays at all the state functions given by the President at the Executive Mansion, I saw much of the social life of the White House and was brought into more or less direct contact with all the executives under whom I had the honor of successively serving--Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Arthur, Cleveland and Harrison.
They were all very appreciative of music, and in this respect were quite unlike General Grant, of whom it is said that he knew only two tunes, one of which was "Yankee Doodle" and the other wasn't!
The President's Embarrassing Demand.
I think I may say that more than one President, relieved from the onerous duties of a great reception, has found rest by sitting quietly in the corner of a convenient room and listening to the music.
Once, on the occasion of a state dinner, President Arthur came to the door of the main lobby of the White House, where the Marine Band was always stationed, and beckoning me to his side asked me to play the "Cachuca." When I explained that we did not have the music with us but would be glad to include it in the next programme, the President looked surprised and remarked:
"Why, Sousa, I thought you could play anything. I'm sure you can; now give us the 'Cachuca.'"
This placed me in a predicament, as I did not wish the President to believe that the band was not at all times able to respond to his wishes. Fortunately, one of the bandmen remembered the melody and played it over softly to me on his cornet in a corner. I hastily wrote out several parts for the leading instruments, and told the rest of the band to vamp in the key of E flat. Then we played the "Cachuca" to the entire satisfaction of Mr. Arthur, who came again to the door and said: "There, I knew you could play it."
The ladies of the White House were always interested in the music, and frequently suggested selections for the programmes, Mrs. Hayes being particularly fond of American ballads. During the brief Garfield administration there were no state receptions or dinners given by the President, and the band did not play at the White House, except for a few of Mrs. Garfield's receptions immediately after the inauguration. While Mrs. McElroy was mistress of the Executive Mansion for her brother, President Arthur, the lighter music was much in favor, as there were always many young people at the Mansion.
Miss Rose Elizabeth Cleveland was much interested in music, and evinced a partiality for Arthur Sullivan's melodies. Mrs. Harrison's favorite music was Nevin's "Good Night, Beloved" and the Sousa marches. The soundness of Mrs. Cleveland's musical taste was shown by her liking for the "Tannhauser" overture and other music of that character.
The Marine Band played all the music for President Cleveland's wedding, which took place in the Blue Room of the White House. The distance from the room up-stairs to the exact spot where the ceremony was to take place was carefully measured by Colonel Lamont and myself, in order that the music might be timed to the precise number of steps the wedding party would have to take; and the climax of the Mendelssohn "Wedding March" was played by the band just as the bride and groom reached the clergyman.
President Cleveland's Veto.
A few days before the ceremony I submitted my musical programme to Colonel Lamont for the President's approval, and among the numbers was a quartet called "The Student of Love," from one of my operas. Even in the anticipation of his happiness Mr. Cleveland was keenly alive to the opportunities for humorous remarks which this title might afford to irreverent newspaper men; and he said to his secretary: "Tell Sousa he can play that quartet, but he had better omit the name of it." Accordingly, "The Student of Love" was conspicuous by its absence.
When North Carolina celebrated its centenary, the Marine Band was ordered to Fayetteville to participate in the ceremonies. The little Southern town was much interested in the advent of the "President's Band," and the prevailing opinion was that "Dixie" would be tabooed music with us. Before the exercises a local committee waited upon me and intimated that "Dixie" was a popular melody in that vicinity.
"Of course," said the spokesman, "we don't want you to play anything you don't want to, but please remember, sir, that we are very fond of 'Dixie' here."
Bowing gravely, I thanked the committee for their interest in my programme, but left them completely in the dark as to whether I intended to play the loved song of the South or not.
"Dixie," by the President's Band.
The ceremonies opened with a patriotic address by Governor Fowle, lauding the glories of the American flag and naturally the only appropriate music to such a sentiment was "The Star-Spangled Banner," which the crowd patriotically cheered.
The tone of the succeeding oration was equally fervid, but the speaker enlarged upon the glories of the Commonwealth whose one hundredth anniversary was being celebrated. The orator sat down, there was a momentary pause, and then as I raised my baton the strains of "Dixie" fell upon the delighted ears of the thousands round the platform.
The unexpected had happened, and such a shout as went up from that throng I have never heard equaled. Hats were tossed in the air, gray-bearded men embraced, and for a few minutes a jubilant pandemonium reigned supreme. During the rest of our stay in Fayetteville the repertoire of the Marine Band was on this order: "Yankee Doodle,"--"Dixie;" "Star-Spangled Banner,"--"Dixie;" "Red, White and Blue,"--"Dixie."
In all my experience the acme of patriotic fervor was reached during a reunion of the Loyal Legion at Philadelphia some years ago. The exercises were held in the Academy of Music, and the band occupied the orchestra pit in front of the stage, which was crowded with distinguished veterans.
I had strung together for the occasion a number of war-songs, bugle-calls and patriotic airs, and when the band played them the martial spirit began to stir the people. As we broke into "Marching Through Georgia," a distinguished-looking old soldier stepped to the foot-lights and began to sing the familiar words of the famous song in a loud, clear voice. The entire audience joined in, and as the swelling volume of melody rolled through the house, the enthusiasm waxed more intense.
Verse after verse was sung, interrupted with frantic cheers, until it seemed that the very ecstasy of enthusiasm had been reached. It was only when physically exhausted that the audience calmed down and the exercises proceeded.
A Chorus of Ten Thousand.
During the World's Fair at Chicago my present band was giving nightly concerts in the Court of Honor surrounding the lagoon. Onone beautiful night in June fully ten thousand people were gathered round the bandstand while we were playing a medley of popular songs.
Director Tomlins, of the World's Fair Choral Associations, was on the stand, and exclaiming, "Keep that up, Sousa!" he turned to the crowd and motioned the people to join him in singing. With the background of the stately buildings of the White City, this mighty chorus, led by the band, sang the songs of the people-"Home, Sweet Home," "Suwanee River," "Annie Laurie," "My Old Kentucky Home," etc., and never did the familiar melodies sound so grandly beautiful.
The influence of music to quiet disorder and to allay fear is quite as potent as its power to excite and to stir enthusiasm. A case in point happened at the St. Louis Exposition, where my band was giving a series of concerts. There was an enormous audience in the music hall when, in the middle of the programme, every electric light suddenly went out, leaving the house in complete darkness.
A succession of sharp cries from women, the hasty shuffling of feet, and the nervous tension manifest in every one, gave proof that a panic was probably imminent. I called softly to the band, "Yankee Doodle!" and the men quickly responded by playing the good old tune from memory in the darkness, quickly following it with "Dixie" on my orders. The audience began to quiet down, and some scattering applause gave assurance that the excitement was abating.
"The Star-Spangled Banner" still further restored confidence, and when we played "Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be?" and "Wait Till The Clouds Roll By," every one was laughing and making the best of the gloom. In a short time the gas was turned on, and the concert proceeded with adequate lighting.
In the desire to do especial honor to a certain foreign representative during the World's Fair, I had a particular piece of music in which he was interested arranged for my band, and agreed to play it at a specified concert. The music was given to a member of the band with instructions to copy the parts and deliver them at the band-stand.
The foreign gentleman was present at the concert with a large party of friends, whom he had invited to hear this particular piece of music. When the librarian asked the musician for the parts, he
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