Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 7, 2009

Sousa-mania: 10K attended concert

10,000 flocked to Interlochen band concert in 1930

INTERLOCHEN -- With school band season kicking in and the music festival season winding down, think about putting two together.

Then you might understand why some 10,000 people swarmed into Interlochen camp on July 28, 1930.

The crowds were there to see John Philip Sousa conduct the fledgling National High School Orchestra Camp's band and 15 area high school bands in two Sunday concerts at the Bowl, an outdoor amphitheater. The camp, now known as Interlochen Arts Academy, is next door to Interlochen State Park, south of Traverse City.

Sousa was 75 then and considered the king of American bandmasters. The music camp was just a babe in the woods.

Joseph Maddy, a University of Michigan music professor, had founded the camp just two years before at a time when high school bands and school music programs were still a cause -- and something Sousa strongly supported. In fact, the nation's "March King" was the first and most famous of early celebrities Maddy invited to Interlochen to attract talented music students and bolster the reputation of his summer camp for high school musicians.

Excitement was high at the music camp that summer. Many today consider Sousa America's first superstar. He had conducted the U.S. Marine Band from 1880 to 1892 and then formed the popular Sousa Band, which he conducted almost till the end of his life. It was the first American musical organization to go on world tour and was a popular musical act for more than 30 years.

The Sousa Band played waltzes, symphonies, ragtime and other music, too. He had written more than 100 marches, including classics like "Stars and Stripes Forever," "Washington Post" and "Semper Fidelis" as well as several books and operettas.

The Columbia Broadcasting System was scheduled to broadcast the first hour of the Sunday evening concert across the country. It would be the camp's first broadcast.

The concerts enthralled many area residents for yet another reason. Maddy also had invited 15 area high school bands, a total of 400 students, to play with the music camp band that Sousa would conduct.

The area bands came from Beulah-Benzonia, Traverse City, Frankfort, Elk Rapids, Ludington, Kingsley, Lake City, Charlevoix, Honor, Elberta, East Jordan, Manton, Onekama and Buckley. There was also the possibility that the Shriners band, meeting in Traverse City that week for a convention, might be there as well.

The festivities started on Friday, July 25, when the "Knight of the Baton" arrived to start rehearsals.

The camp's 150-member band greeted him at the entrance. Camp personnel lined both sides of the road.

On Sunday, cars jammed the camp parking lot. Audiences crowded every seat in the Bowl and spilled over along the sides, front and back into the woods. Sousa, ever the showman, did not fail them, according to enthused accounts in the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

"Sousa's personality as well as his conducting that has made him the premier American band director swept the audience into bursts of applause as the familiar strains of his marches were played by the host of young musicians that followed closely every movement of his batons," the paper reported. "The hot rays of the sun made little impression upon the audience ... the inspiration of his work and skill left little time for contemplation of other than the music which he produced."

Sousa came back to the music camp in July 1931. By then, he had written "The Northern Pines," one of his last marches, which he dedicated to the National Music Camp. He also donated his royalties from it to the camp scholarship fund.

He died the following year on March 6, 1932, of a heart attack at Reading, Pa., at age 77. Today, "Stars and Stripes Forever" is 113 years old.