The Gladiator March

John P. Sousa
Year of composition
Moderate (Grades 4-6)
4 minutes
Classical music
String quartet
Instrumental parts
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American bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa did more than anyone to elevate the status of the military wind band through creation and performance. Sousa's boyhood coincided with the American Civil War. The sounds of military bands were constantly in the air. His first musical training was on the violin, and his father instructed him on several wind instruments. At 13 the lure of a visiting circus was a powerful incentive for the boy to join up as a musician; however, his astute father, himself a bandsman, caught wind of the lad's intention and procured an apprenticeship in the Marine Corps Band for his son. It proved to be a happy move for all involved. The young musician sharpened his skills in that musical organization called the "President's own." He composed his first march, ?Salutation?, at 16.

At 18, Sousa began to play violin in various theater orchestras. In 1880, Sousa was appointed leader of the Marine Corps Band, which he would serve for 12 years, under five presidents. He now began to hit his stride with his own marches, turning out such classics as ?Semper Fidelis?, ?The Washington Post?, ?The Thunderer?, and ?The High School Cadets?. In 1892 Sousa, resigning his position with the Marine Corps, organized his own band, known simply as ?Sousa's Band?. Through national, European, and world tours, the band's success was nothing short of a phenomenon, Sousa receiving many honors and decorations from the royal families of Great Britain and Europe.

He continued turning out his series of comic operas, including the highly successful ?El Capitan? (1895). From his pen flowed songs, symphonic poems, and more marches, this period seeing ?The Liberty Bell? (1893), ?King Cotton? (1895), ?Hands Across the Sea? (1899) and, most notably, ?The Stars and Stripes Forever? (1897).

Among his many achievements was his being a founder of ASCAP. He also helped develop the Sousaphone, a large tuba which features in parade bands. Ultimately, his compositions are his monument. But particularly it is the marches which endure. Sousa was not afraid to invest his marches with beautiful melody and unusual harmonies, placing them above being merely parade music. Sousa continued to explore within his chosen field until the end and many from his final decade such as The Gridiron Club and Sesquicentennial Exposition are remarkable for their inventiveness and vitality. The composer himself mused upon what constitutes the perfect march, stating that "it should make a man with a wooden leg step out." In virtually all of his creations in this field, Sousa passed this standard with flying colors.

This arrangement comes with a supplemental third violin part, and an optional bass part for use with string orchestra.

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