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Experiences of a Bandmaster   By: (1854-1932)

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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... Continue reading book >>

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