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Marching Bands


MARCHING BANDS, using mostly percussion and wind instruments, originally served the military by providing communication and music in the field as troops marched from one locale to another. Broader instrumentation was eventually added for parades, ceremonies, and review, especially after brass instrument valves were patented in 1818, which allowed a bigger "outdoor" sound to be projected before crowds.

The brass band first became important in America during the Civil War. Union Army Bandmaster Patrick S. Gilmore's band instrumentation is still the model for the concert band. It was John Philip Sousa (1854–1932), however, who took this music to its zenith. After twelve years as the leader of the U.S. Marine Band, he formed his own "Sousa's Band" in 1892 and began touring the United States and Europe. His marches are considered a distinctively American music, and his "Stars and Stripes Forever," written in 1896, is his most popular piece. As professional touring bands began to disappear in the early twentieth century, American schools filled the void. Beginning with the bandmaster A. A. Harding at the University of Illinois, school bands across the country conducted by both former professional band directors and academically trained teachers participated in nationwide playing and marching contests. Municipal and military bands continued, but colleges and universities clearly had gained the spotlight. In the mid-twentieth century, band music finally received the attention of world class European and American composers such as Robert Russell Bennett, Morton Gould, Vincent Persichetti, and William Schuman.


Smith, Michelle K. Band Music in American Life: A Social History,1850–1990. Amawalk, N.Y.: Jackdaw, 1993.

Christine E.Hoffman

See alsoFootball ; Music: Popular .

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