College band to re-create march music

April 06, 1993|By Robert A. Erlandson | Robert A. Erlandson,Staff Writer

When the rousing "Washington Post March" was composed by John Philip Sousa in 1889, it became an instant hit and remains a mainstay of bands today.

But the Post wasn't alone. Some 65 newspapers and press organizations, including The Sun, had marches dedicated to them in the 19th century heyday of concert bands.

In fact, there was hardly a business or civic organization that didn't have its own march.

Most of those tunes haven't been heard for decades. But Dana Rothlisberger, Towson State University's band director, plans to bring some of Baltimore's long-forgotten toe-tappers back to life on April 28 at the school's annual spring concert.

Dr. Rothlisberger will continue an old tradition. In 1860, Baltimore's municipal band and orchestra were the country's first and earned the city the title "Cradle of Municipal Music."

"My idea over the last year has been to re-create the programming from those old concerts," said Dr. Rothlisberger. "It will be eclectic, with concert music interspersed with these marches the same way Sousa did it."

In the grand era of band music, concerts were among the most popular forms of public entertainment.

Hundreds of new tunes were composed every year.

Marches really took off around 1890 with the introduction of the two-step, which was danced to the march tunes.

"We knew that two of the most popular newspaper marches were the Chicago Tribune and Washington Post marches, but we wanted to see what there might be about Baltimore," said Dr. Rothlisberger.

His friend, Bill Rehrig, music director at Franklin Middle School and compiler of a band music encyclopedia, unearthed four Baltimore marches. Besides two Sun marches, he found "Baltimore's Boast," by Russell Alexander, one of the era's best circus-music composers; and "The Baltimore Centennial March," composed in 1896 by Victor Herbert, the military bandmaster who won fame with operettas such as "Babes in Toyland" and "Naughty Marietta."

W. Paris Chambers, who directed the Great Southern Band in Baltimore during band music's heyday, wrote the first "Baltimore Sun March," which was published in 1888, the newspaper's 50th year. Ten years later, Annibale Buglione, a Sicilian immigrant who spent his career here as an Army bandmaster, wrote the second Sun march, most likely to capitalize on the popularity of the Post march.

Composers cranked out the marches rapidly, titling them in honor of people and organizations, knowing the sheet music "would sell like hot cakes" and make money, Mr. Rehrig said.

Many of the marches were actually written for piano to accompany the two-step and "never saw the light of day with a band," he added.

Once the dance craze subsided, so did the frantic production of marches. Playing it now presents a challenge to Dr. Rothlisberger, who got the music from Mr. Rehrig and is having it transcribed for his 55-member concert band with the assistance of a computer.

For example, the old E-flat coronet parts must be adapted for modern B-flat trumpets. And alto horn parts must be transposed for today's French horns.

"We change the key to the different instruments so it will sound right when we play," he said.

In the old days, each instrument's part had to be copied and engraved on printing plates.

Now, with a laser printer and a computer program to change the keys, the whole process is virtually automatic, Dr. Rothlisberger said.

Dr. Rothlisberger said he came up with the idea of re-creating old-time concert band programming after hearing historical papers delivered at professional conventions.

He used the format at last year's concert, which focused on the work of Patrick S. Gilmore, an Irish immigrant considered the father of the modern band and Sousa's model.

Baltimore remains "one of the great cities for summer band concerts," he said. This summer the city band will play its 133rd season of park concerts.

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