John Philip Sousa, violinist

While the composer of iconic marches is famous for directing the U.S. Marine Band and his own world-famous ensembles, John Philip Sousa’s early life as a violin prodigy is relatively unknown.

A sickly child, Sousa was home-schooled, and from the age of six his studies included lessons with an Italian violin teacher. He showed tremendous promise, and his father, a trombonist in the Marine Band, enlisted him as a Marine apprentice when he was 13; there he studied academics and several instruments.

Sousa went on to play the violin in orchestras and chamber groups, where he developed a taste for cutting-edge art music that he never lost; for example, his band performed excerpts from Wagner’s Die Meistersinger ten years before the opera’s first U.S. production.

This according to “John Philip Sousa’s violin: An American original” by Erin Shrader (Strings XXV/4:187 [November 2010] pp. 53–56). Above, Sousa’s childhood violin before (background) and after it was restored by John Montgomery. Below, Sousa’s Band performs Carl Friedemann’s Slavonic rhapsody.

Related article: Cylinder Preservation and Digitization Project

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Filed under Curiosities, Instruments, Popular music, Romantic era

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