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John Phillip Sousa (1854-1932) was known as the “March King.” He wrote 135 marches (including Stars And Stripes Forever), 15 operettas, 70 songs, and hundreds of other works. An excellent source of information on Sousa is www.dws.org/sousa. For information on current marching and military bands, try www.marchingarts.com .
Perhaps the most famous American march not written by Sousa is “National Emblem” by E.E. Bagley. Written in 1906, it includes an excerpt from “The Star-Spangled Banner “ in its opening theme. Stephen Foster wrote a march that was used during the Civil War. Even Peter Tchaikovsky wrote a march for his brother's regiment of the Russian army.
Another interesting development: drum and bugle corps. Originally a type of military band, they have evolved into a form of marching band, sometimes with 100-200 members, performing highly complex musical and precision marching shows. Competitions are held during warm weather months. For more information, try Drum Corps International: www.dci.org.
Military bands during the Civil War tended to be made up of valved brass instruments and drums, since instruments such as trombones, with its long sections of thin tubing, or oboes, with their delicate reed assemblies, were easily damaged during the rigors of campaigning. Popular instruments for such bands were trumpets, cornets, and sax horns. Not to be confused with saxophones (which were also invented by Frenchman Adophe Sax), sax horns look to our eyes like miniature tubas.
The band of choice during the Revolutionary War was the Fife and Drum corps. A fife is an ancestor of the modern flute/piccolo, and small in size. It has a high, piercing tone that carries well outdoors, and is therefore suitable for marching to. In present days, many military bands also maintain a Fife and Drum corps, and there are many civilian fife and drum organizations as well.
An interesting development is the high school and college bands that perform during football games. As band directors looked for ways to expand the scope and size of these increasingly complex entertainments, they began including more and more classical music. Nowadays, it is not uncommon during a halftime show to hear excerpts from Modest Moussorgsky's “A Night on Bald Mountain” or Gustav Holst's “The Planets.”