Piece of the Week: Picadore March by John Philip Sousa

The Picadore March

There was a time, not so long ago, when marches were America’s most popular form of pop music. Originally invented as a way to keep marching troops in step (hence the name), by the 19th century march music had moved beyond the military drill field and into the town squares, circus tents, and even ballrooms of America. March bands were the iPods of their day, providing the soundtrack to all manner of social events. No bandleader was more famous than John Philip Sousa, who is remembered as the “March King,” and his rousing compositions remain popular to this day. “The Picador March,” as it was originally known, was written around the same time that Sousa created some of his other best-known pieces, including “The Washington Post March” and “The Thunderer.”

In this Carl Fischer arrangement of “The Picadore (March),” arranger Andrew Balent makes Sousa’s Spanish-tinged piece accessible to medium level concert bands.

Audio Sample

Audio provided by Carl Fischer, LLC.

Composition Notes:

John Philip Sousa wrote “The Picadore March” in 1889 while he was the leader of the Marine Band, a “picadore” being the horseman during a bull fight. Play at a steady tempo with clean articulation and careful balance. Proper dynamic control will make for an exciting performance. Take care to build phrases to the high points at mm. 11, 34, 50, 66, and 98. Play from m. 87 the first time at mp with the high woodwinds featured, and the second time ff.

Composer Biography

John Philip Sousa (1854-1932), America’s “March King,” was born in Washington, D.C. where he attended public schools while also studying music at a private conservatory. He entered the U.S. Marines as an apprentice musician at the age of thirteen, studying the violin and theory and served for seven years before being honorably discharged. Sousa performed and conducted in the Washington and Philadelphia area for the next six years before returning to the Marine Band as its conductor. During the twelve years that Sousa served as conductor of the Marine Band, he established the group as one of the finest in the world. It was during this time that he developed the model that would later form the basis for his own band. In 1892, the Sousa band was formed using the finest performers of the day. The band toured extensively throughout the U.S. and abroad to sold-out crowds. While Sousa is best known as a writer of marches (he composed 136 marches), he also left an extensive library of other works for band including operettas, suites, humoresques, fantasies, dances and descriptive pieces. Sousa also arranged works for band in which he “borrowed” melodies from other composers.

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