John Philip Sousa (1854-1932) Discussion 2

According to Paul Bierley in John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon, Sousa’s philosophies on music were directly tied to his success as an American composer of music for the people instead of academia. As Bierley points out, “It was Sousa’s opinion that music for entertainment was of more value to the world than music for education” and that Sousa’s decision, made during his early years as a theatrical or stage musician, to embrace popular music “led him away from a possible career as a composer or conductor of more serious music,” an indication that Sousa considered popular music as more profitable than serious classical music which is borne out by the fact that he ended up becoming one of the first American millionaires.

Sousa himself admits that his major goal as a composer was to “reach every heart by simple, stirring music,” and to “lift the unmusical mind to a still higher form of musical art,” meaning that Sousa wished to appeal to the masses and those with limited knowledge and appreciation for serious music. Sousa also desired to “move all America, while busied in its various pursuits, by the power of direct and simple music” based on melodies that appealed to everyone. “I wanted to make a music for the people” says Sousa, “a music to be grasped at once” or perhaps immediately understood without the need for a second listening.

Bierley also relates that Sousa’s philosophies on music were directly linked to his great success as a bandmaster, composer, and musician, and that while many of his contemporaries were unemployed or had been “forced out of business by movies, radio, and the general mobility of the people” during the 1920’s, Sousa and his band of superior musicians were still “on the road” and “playing to standing room only crowds.” Thus, as a “master showman,” Sousa became what some call an “American phenomenon” whose simple yet beautiful music appealed to the common man and woman and who in many ways, became America’s first “pop sensation.”

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