March, March, March

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Marches are an important style of music that has been around for centuries. The first marches were military pieces intended to accompany and regulate the footsteps of soldiers. The style and format of marches were developed and perfected in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. There are many types of marches today, including those written for weddings, funerals, ceremonies, sporting events, and circuses. All marches share some characteristics. Every march has a strong rhythm and a meter of two or four beats per measure. The tempo ranges from 70 beats per minute for a funeral march (Dirge) to 140 beats or faster for a circus march (Screamer). The format of a march includes an introduction, first strain (repeated), second strain (repeated), trio, break strain, trio, break strain, and trio. Occasionally the break strain is omitted, and the trio (repeated) is followed by a fourth strain (repeated). Another variation is to return to the beginning (da capo or D.C.) and end the march with the first and second strains. John Philip Sousa worte marches for the United States Marine Band while he was the conductor (1880-1892) and later toured the world with his own "Sousa Band." Of the 136 marches that Sousa wrote, over 50 are still played by wind ensembles worldwide. His Stars & Stripes Forever is the National March of the United States. After the turn of the century, Sousa was joined by Karl L. King, Henry Fillmore, Fred Jewell, and Edwin Goldman. King composed many circus marches, while Fillmore specialized in marches that featured the "Trombone Smear."

John Philip Sousa wrote: "Marches, of course, are well known to have a peculiar appeal to me. Although during my busy life I have written ten operas and a hundred other things -- cantatas, symphonic poems, suites, waltzes, songs, dances and the like -- marches are, in a sense, my musical children.... The march speaks to a fundamental rhythm in the human organization and is answered. A march stimulates every center of vitality, wakens the imagination.... I can speak with confidence because I have seen men profounly moved by a few measures of a really inspired march. But a march must be good. It must be as free from padding as a marble statue. Every line must be carved with unerring skill. Once padded, it ceases to be a march. There is no form of musical composition where the harmonic structure must be more clean-cut. The whole process is an exacting one. There must be a melody which appeals to the musical and unmusical alike. There must be no confusion in counterpoints. The composer must, to be sure, follow accepted harmonization...." Sousa considered Semper Fidelis his best march.


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