Sousa’s music stands the march of time

There are times when a composer’s name comes to serve as a popular synonym for an entire genre of music.

So it is with John Philip Sousa, the Washington, D.C.-born composer and conductor whose name has become synonymous with marches and patriotic tunes.

But it turns out that Sousa’s musical creations actually extend beyond such familiar marches as “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “Semper Fidelis” and “The Liberty Bell” (better known by most these days as the “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” theme).

During a free concert Sunday, Southern Nevadans can become reacquainted, or acquainted, with the man who has been dubbed “The March King.”

The concert will be presented by the National Community Band under the direction of Col. John R. Bourgeois, director emeritus of the United States Marine Band, whose career with the band spanned nine presidents.

In addition to being the longest-serving conductor of the Marine band, known as “The President’s Own,” Bourgeois is the world’s leading authority on the music of Sousa, said Thomas Leslie, UNLV’s director of bands and a member of the John Philip Sousa Foundation’s board of directors.

Sunday’s program will include a few Sousa marches, a ballet suite written by Sousa and a medley from the Sousa operetta “The Bride Elect.” It also will include such selections as a Tchaikovsky transcription and songs from Broadway and the movies.

What’s behind America’s enduring love for Sousa? First, Leslie said, is that “when Sousa wrote his marches and music, it was the popular music of the day. His touring band played dance halls all over America.

“This was dance music at the turn of the century. So marches and galops and waltzes were originally used not as, necessarily, military marches, they were used as dance music. So when he became the father of the march and the father of the American band, he was just writing music that people at the time wanted to hear.”

Over the years, Sousa’s marches became emblematic of American cultures and values. “Whenever we hear those marches, it makes us feel patriotic,” Leslie said.

The National Community Band is made up of 82 musicians representing 25 states. Members include professionals, amateurs and advanced students, said Leslie, who is expecting a robust turnout this weekend.

Las Vegas last hosted the National Community Band four years ago. That show filled 550-seat Judy Bayley Theatre at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and saw “probably 200 people standing out in the lobby,” Leslie recalled.

This time, the free concert moves to the more spacious confines of the 1,832-seat Artemus Ham Hall.

The event four years ago also reaffirmed the nearly universal appeal of Sousa’s music. The audience was “really diverse,” Leslie noted. “It wasn’t just gray-haired folks. There were a lot of children and a lot of teenagers there.

“I mean, if you want a great Sunday afternoon where you can sit back, put your feet up, relax and enjoy a really good performance of some great music — and free — this is a great day for it.”

Contact reporter John Przybys at jprzybys@ or 702-383-0280.

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