For years, the world’s largest archive of original compositions and arrangements by John Philip Sousa -- more than four tons of it -- was stuffed into file drawers and cabinets, accessible to only a privileged few.
Now, with the 150th anniversary of Sousa’s birth today, University of Illinois curator Scott Schwartz is bringing the personal papers, music and other memorabilia from American’s best-known bandmaster out of the dark for a monthlong Sousa Sesquicentennial Celebration.
“If music is just notes on a page in a box, it’s silence,” Schwartz said. “My goal is to make this stuff available, usable. Program it, get it out there, get people thinking about music in America.”
Sousa’s only connection to the university was his long friendship with its first band director, A. Austin Harding, begun in 1906 when Sousa’s band performed in Champaign. Sousa eventually composed the “University of Illinois March” and was made an honorary conductor of the university’s Concert Band, according to a tribute Harding wrote after Sousa’s death.
Because of the friendship and his affection for the University of Illinois bands, Sousa promised to have his papers sent to the school. Thirty-nine trunks and two boxes arrived in August 1932, six months after Sousa’s death.
While Sousa is well known for his marches, including “Stars and Stripes Forever,” “The Washington Post March,” “Semper Fidelis” and “The Thunderer,” he also composed in other styles. Besides 137 marches, Sousa wrote five overtures, 15 operettas, 11 suites, 24 dances, 28 fantasies and 322 arrangements of 19th century symphonic works for band.
“People forget that he was the most popular and well-known musician in the world. That really is no stretch,” said Loras John Schissel, a music specialist at the Library of Congress and a Sousa expert. “All of the music at Illinois gives us a wonderful perspective of music in the world from 1892 to 1932.”
The university’s marching band will perform Sousa music during halftime of today’s football game, and on Sunday the university’s Wind Symphony will re-create a performance by Sousa’s band.