Stars and Stripes Forever
by Nan Raphael
The first time I played Stars and Stripes was with my high school band. It was tradition that whoever was playing solo flute got to play the solo in Stars and Stripes. It was quite an honor. I prepared by playing along with a recording from an LP of Sousa Marches.
During the course of my 26 year career in the US Army Field Band I had the honor of playing the solo in Stars and Stripes Forever at the end of every concert. I would estimate that I played that solo around 3,000 times and never tired of it. Since out of the band I still occasionally get to play it as a guest artist with a community or university band. Most recently, I joined 13 other well known piccoloists from around the world in a performance of it on the closing concert with the US Army Field Band (my alma mater) at the National Flute Association Convention in my hometown, Washington, DC.
I feel a special affinity for John Philip Sousa since he was born in Washington, DC and lived in my neighborhood… Capitol Hill. Mr Sousa was born in 1854 to a large musical family. He was the 3rd of 10 children. He got an early start with his musical studies at the age of 6. He learned to play several instruments and at the age of 13 he was enlisted into the Marine Band by his father after he attempted to run away and join a circus band. His first composition, Moonlight Over the Potomac, was published when he was 18. After 5 years away from Washington, performing and conducting, he came back to lead the Marine Band which he did for 12 years from 1880-1892. With the encouragement of the band’s promoter David Blakley, John Philip started his own band which became the first American Band to tour Europe and the first to log over 1,000,000 miles on the road.
In 1896, while on vacation in Europe, John Philip Sousa’s promoter David Blakely died so he had to return home to take care of the Band’s business and prepare the band for an upcoming tour. Following is a quote from his journal on how S&S came to being. “Here came on one of the most vivid incidents of my career. as the vessel (Teutonic) steamed out of the harbor, I was pacing the deck, absorbed in thoughts of my manager’s death and the many duties and decisions that awaited me in New York. Suddenly, I began to sense a rhythmic beat of a band playing within my brain. Throughout the whole tense voyage, that imaginary band continued to unfold the same themes echoing and re-echoing the most distinct melody. I did not transfer a note of that music to paper while I was on the steamer, but when we reached shore, I set down the measures that my brain-band had been playing for me, and not a note of it has ever changed.” 1932- one year after the Sousa Band folded- Sousa died at age 77 after conducting a rehearsal of the Ringgold Band in Reading, PA. The last piece he conducted was the Stars and Stripes Forever. The march became immediately popular and in 1988 it became the official National March as stated in Title 36, Section 10, paragraph 188 of the US Code.
John Philip Sousa and family members are buried at Congressional Cemetery which lies on the southeastern corner of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The Cemetery is one of the most historic cemeteries in the country and has become a popular place for both locals and tourists to visit. The dog walking community was the catalyst for it’s revitalization and now offers a wide variety of activities such as tours, 5K races, movies and even a chamber recital series called Notes from the Crypt.
How fortuitous after playing Stars and Stripes so many times that I get to pass by his resting place every morning with my dog. Perhaps the spirit of John Philip Sousa had a hand in this? So, if you are planning a visit to DC, please add Congressional Cemetery to your list.
Since retiring from the US Army Field Band in 2003, Nan Raphael, now an artist for Gemeinhardt Flutes, has been a guest artist/clinician nationwide, piccoloist with the International Flute Orchestra, Washington Winds, Columbia Flute Choir and Capitol City Symphony. Nan has written several articles about piccolo playing for Flute Talk and the Flute Society of Washington Newsletter as well as being published in the National Flute Association’s Pedagogy Anthology Vol. 2. She has 4 piccolo CD’s and a book of piccolo excerpts from the symphonic band repertoire. www.nanraphael.com