The Invincible Eagle

The tenth piece in the concert is titled “The Invincible Eagle”. It was written by John Philip Sousa (see below) in 1901; the edition we are playing was edited and arranged by Keith Brion (see also below) and Loras Schissel (see also below) in 1995.

John Philip Sousa was born on November 6, 1854, in Washington, D.C., near the Marine Barracks where his father, Antonio, played trombone in the U.S. Marine Band. John Philip was the third of 10 children of John Antonio Sousa (born in Spain of Portuguese parents) and Maria Elisabeth Trinkhaus (born in Bavaria). Young John Philip grew up surrounded by military band music, and when he was just six, he began studying voice, violin, piano, flute, cornet, baritone, trombone and alto horn.

By all accounts, John Philip was an adventure-loving boy, and when, at the age of 13, he tried to run away to join a circus band, his father instead enlisted him in the Marine Band as a band apprentice. Except for a period of six months, Sousa remained in the band until he was 20 years old. In addition to his musical training in the Marine Band, he studied music theory and composition with George Felix Benkert, a noted Washington orchestra leader and teacher. It was during his years in the Marines that Sousa wrote his first composition, “Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes”.

Discharged from the Marines in 1875, the 21-year-old Sousa began performing on violin, touring and eventually conducting theater orchestras, including Gilbert & Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore on Broadway.

In 1879, Sousa met Jane van Middlesworth Bellis, and they married on December 30, 1879. Just a year later, the couple returned to Washington, D.C., where Sousa assumed leadership of the U.S. Marine Band. Over the next 12 years, Sousa conducted the “The President's Own” band, serving under Presidents Hayes, Garfield, Cleveland, Arthur and Harrison.

Sousa, the composer, first received acclaim in military band circles with the writing of his march “The Gladiator” in 1886. In 1888, he wrote “Semper Fidelis”, which he dedicated to “the officers and men of the Marine Corps.” It is traditionally known as the “official” march of the Marine Corps.

Under Sousa, the Marine Band also made its first recordings. The phonograph was a relatively new invention, and the Columbia Phonograph Company sought a military band to record. The Marine Band was chosen, and 60 cylinders were released in the fall of 1890. By 1897, more than 400 different titles were available for sale, placing Sousa's marches among the first and most popular pieces ever recorded, and making the Marine Band one of the world's first "recording stars." Interestingly, Sousa actually directed the band in very few of the recordings (he left that to an assistant). He detested mechanical recordings of music.

After two successful but limited tours with the Marine Band in 1891 and 1892, promoter David Blakely convinced Sousa to resign and organize a civilian concert band; thus was born Sousa's New Marine Band.

The band's first concert was performed on Sept. 26, 1892 at Stillman Music Hall in Plainfield, New Jersey. Two days earlier, legendary bandleader Patrick Gilmore had died in St. Louis. Nineteen of Gilmore's former musicians eventually joined Sousa's band, including Herbert L. Clarke (cornet) and E. A. Lefebre (saxophone). Although its original name was Sousa's New Marine Band, criticism from Washington eventually forced the band to drop the “New Marine” part of its name.

In 1896, Sousa and his wife were vacationing in Europe when word came that David Blakely had died. The couple immediately left for home. It was on the return voyage home that Sousa was inspired to begin writing his most famous composition, “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

From 1900 to 1931, the Sousa Band toured the U.S., Europe, Great Britain, the Canary Islands and the South Pacific (Australia and New Zealand during the band's 13-month round-the-world tour undertaken in 1910-11), strengthening its growing reputation as the most admired American band of its time.

Between 1879 and 1915, Sousa wrote 11 operettas, of which El Capitan (1896), The Bride Elect (1897), and The Free Lance (1906) were particularly successful. He also wrote at least 70 songs, 11 waltzes, 12 other dance pieces, 11 suites, 14 humoresques, and 27 fantasies. This was in addition to the 137 marches for which he is most famous.

In 1893, Sousa collaborated with James Welsh Pepper to develop a type of bass tuba made to his specifications and eventually called the sousaphone. Contrary to popular opinion, the instrument was intended for concert use, with its bell pointed upward (“to send the sound upward and over the band”). The so-called “raincatchers” were eventually modified to have forward facing bells, and now are most commonly used for marching bands.

During World War I, Sousa enlisted in the U.S. Navy (at the age of 62!) and took charge of the band-training center at Great Lakes Naval Base, in Illinois. For the U.S. Department of the Navy he compiled National, Patriotic and Typical Airs of All Lands.

After World War I, Sousa continued to tour with his band while championing the cause of music education for all children. He also received several honorary degrees and fought for composers' rights, testifying before Congress in 1927 and 1928.

Sousa's last appearance before the Marine Band was in 1932 in Washington, D.C. Sousa, as a distinguished guest, rose from the speaker's table, took the baton from Captain Taylor Branson, the band's director, and led the band in “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Later that year, one day after conducting a rehearsal of the Ringgold Band in Reading, Pa., the 77-year old Sousa passed away on March 6, 1932. The last piece Sousa had rehearsed with the band was “The Stars and Stripes Forever”.

Sousa had many talents aside from music, authoring three novels and a full-length autobiography, as well as a number of articles and letters-to-the-editor on a variety of subjects. He was also an avid horseman, until he broke his neck in a fall in 1921 and had to stop riding.

“The Invincible Eagle” was composed in 1901 and dedicated to the 1901 Pan-American Exposition held in Buffalo, New York. Sousa began composing the march during an evening train trip between Buffalo and New York City, sketching his ideas in a pocket notebook, as related below:

In his 1984 book, The Works of John Philip Sousa, Paul E. Bierley shared the account of Blanche Duffield, soprano of the Sousa Band, who witnessed Sousa working on “The Invincible Eagle” during a 1901 train trip:

“It was [on] a train between Buffalo and New York. Outside the coach the lights of towns along the route flashed by like ghosts fluttering at the window panes. The night was dark and the few stars above twinkled fitfully. Mr. Sousa sat in his chair in the dimly lit Pullman. At the further end of the car a porter diligently brushed cushions. At intervals the engine whistled as if in pain.

“Suddenly and without previous warning, Mr. Sousa began to describe circles in the air with a pencil, jerking back and forth in his seat. Gradually the circumference of his pencil’s arcs diminished and Mr. Sousa drew a notebook from his pocket, still humming to himself. Notebook and pencil met. Breves and semi-breves appeared on the page’s virgin surface. Quarter notes and sixteenth notes followed in orderly array. Meanwhile Mr. Sousa furrowed his brow and from his pursed lips came a stirring air—rather a martial blare, as if hidden trombones, tubas, and saxophones were striving to gain utterance. Now Mr. Sousa’s pencil traveled faster and faster, and page after page of the notebook were turned back, each filled with martial bars. [I] looked on from over the top of a magazine and listened with enthusiasm as Mr. Sousa’s famous march, “The Invincible Eagle,” took form.”

Originally, Sousa thought “The Invincible Eagle” would surpass “The Stars and Stripes Forever” as a patriotic composition. Sousa dedicated his march to the Pan-American Exposition, which was held in Buffalo in the summer of 1901. He wrote the march for his band's performance at the exposition, and originally considered naming it the “Spirit of Niagara”. Soon after “The Invincible Eagle” premiered, Sousa remarked:

“It is what I call one of my sunshine marches. Some of my heavy marches are intended to convey the impression of the stir and strife of warfare, but The Invincible Eagle shows the military spirit at its lightest and brightest – the parade spirit ... with the bravery of uniform, the sheen of silken stands, and the gleam of polished steel.”

Editor/arranger Keith Brion (b. 1933) studied music education and piccolo at West Chester State University, then taught in New Jersey schools while studying for a Master's Degree in Music Education at Rutgers University. He played piccolo with the New Jersey Symphony, and founded the North Jersey Wind Symphony, of which he was music director. He was later a band educator and music supervisor in the New Jersey public schools, and Director of Bands of Yale University, where he led the Yale Band in performances at venues such as the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall.

In 1979, Brion founded the New Sousa Band, of which he is the music director and conductor. This band is dedicated to playing the music of John Philip Sousa and recreating the performance style of Sousa's original band; Brion also appears in the persona of Sousa, dressed as Sousa did. Brion has performed with a number of orchestras and bands, including the Stockholm Symphonic Wind Orchestra, New York City's Goldman Band, The California Wind Orchestra, and the Allentown Band. He has also performed with military bands, such as the United States Marine Band, United States Army Field Band, United States Army Band, United States Coast Guard Band and the U.S. Army Band of Europe in Heidelberg, Germany. Brion has also presented "Sousa revival concerts" with leading American orchestras, such as the Boston Pops Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the St. Louis Symphony, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Editor/arranger Loras John Schissel (b. 1964) studied brass instruments and conducting with Carlton Stewart, Frederick Fennell, and John Paynter. In the years following his studies at the University of Northern Iowa, he has distinguished himself as a prominent conductor, orchestrator, and musicologist.

Deeply committed to young musicians, he has appeared as conductor of all-state music festivals and of festival bands and orchestras in more than 30 states. As a composer and orchestrator, Schissel has created an extensive catalogue of over 500 works for orchestra, symphonic wind band, and jazz ensemble. His musical score for Bill Moyers: America’s First River, The Hudson that first appeared on PBS in April 2002, received extensive critical acclaim. He also created musical scores for two films for the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home in Hyde Park, New York. As a recording artist, Schissel has amassed a large discography with a wide variety of ensembles and various musical genres.

Schissel is a senior musicologist at the Library of Congress and a leading authority on the music of Percy Aldridge Grainger, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, and former Boston Symphony Orchestra conductor Serge Koussevitzky. He co-authored The Complete Literary and Musical Works of John Philip Sousa and is currently co-authoring The Musical Works of Karl L. King with Gene Milford of the University of Akron. Schissel appeared in the award-winning PBS documentary If You Knew Sousa for the American Experience series, as well as Ben Wattenberg’s Think Tank. He serves as a commentator on the Voice of America and for the United States Information Service. In recognition of his world travels, he was inducted into the Circumnavigators Club of New York, in May 2002, and in 2005 he was elected to membership in the prestigious American Bandmasters Association. He is also an honorary conductor of the historic Ringgold Band ─ the last band conducted by John Philip Sousa.

Schissel made his debut with the Cleveland Orchestra in May 2007, conducting three performances of an Education Concert titled Spirit of America. The same month, he also made his debut with the Phoenix Symphony, conducting a program entitled Gershwin Celebration. In July 2008, he made his debut with the United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own) on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. In 2011 he led the Cleveland Orchestra in a 9/11 commemoration concert on Public Square in downtown Cleveland.

In 2013, at the request of the George and Ira Gershwin family, Schissel began work at the University of Michigan School of Music as a board member of the “Gershwin Editions” creating new authoritative editions of George Gershwin's concert music. Mr. Schissel is the music director and conductor of both the Virginia Grand Military Band, of which he is the founder, and the Cleveland Orchestra’s Blossom Festival Band, two of the finest concert bands in the world. He has traveled throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia conducting orchestras, bands, and choral ensembles in a broad range of musical styles and varied programs.

The music for The Invincible Eagle was provided for the band by David Luke, in memory of Christopher M. Kerns, USN retired.