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Remembering “Pershing’s Own” on Independence Day: Military Band Music in the NLS Collection

The following is a guest post by Carter Rawson.

John J. Pershing. Portrait, three-quarter figure, facing left. [No date recorded on caption card]. Taken from Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540. //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2004672051/

In the spirit of Independence Day, let us recall General John “Black Jack” Pershing, a singular figure in the evolution of the band music we so enjoy on our celebration of July 4th. Pershing, perhaps most famously known as commander of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I, was also an unlikely savior of French musical tradition. For music historians and military band enthusiasts, the signing of the armistice in 1918 that ended WWI signaled a musical renaissance for the US Army, which led to the formation of a permanent band at the commander’s behest. During the war, Pershing took a distinct personal interest in improving the quality of music in the US Army as a matter of morale while stationed at Chaumont in France.

Walter Damrosch. [No date recorded on caption card]. Taken from George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 //www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014681150/

Pershing, having witnessed local French military bands with excellent musical training, requested New York Symphony director Walter Damrosch in late 1918 to expose occupying US soldiers with musical aptitude to French music instruction and repertoire. Damrosch was then introduced to Chaumont music instructor Francis Casadesus. The two began a unique collaboration in the autumn of 1918 and winter of 1919 to train the best available American soldier-musicians at Chaumont with more rigorous instruction. This training program produced the AEF General Headquarters Band, which became a successful prototype for a permanent US Army Band.

Francis Casadesus (1870-1954). Photo courtesy of Carter Rawson.

Possessing the rare strength of character that allowed him to function as musician, pedagogue and impresario, Damrosch himself permanently changed the landscape for cross-cultural exchange with French music and musicianship. Not only did he succeed in standing up a nascent Army band program overseas for rotation back to the US, Damrosch leveraged Pershing’s support to launch the Conservatoire Américain de Fontainebleau in the summer of 1921. The school has since trained generations of budding American music students including Aaron Copland, Roy Harris, and Elliott Carter. January of 1922 witnessed the formal debut of “Pershing’s Own,” the US Army Band, and the rest is history.

In this long summer of virtual concerts and backyard picnics, the NLS Music Section offers this delightful assortment of military band music in our collection to bring the best of July 4th spirit from the National Mall to your home. Below is a selection of songs popularized by American military bands, as well as other selections related to this post available from the NLS music collection. To borrow any materials mentioned in this blog, you may access BARD or contact the Music Section by phone at 1-800-424-8567, option 2, or e-mail [email protected].

Audio Books

Damrosch, Walter.  Exploring Theme and Variation: How to Say the Same Thing Musically In Many Ways. Walter Damrosch introduces the audience to the variation form, using examples from the Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and Rustic Symphony by Carl Goldmark. (DBM00030)

How Music Expresses Nature. In this recording, Walter Damrosch discusses how music can express nature, with the use of musical examples. (DBM00221)

Percussion Instruments. Conductor and composer Walter Damrosch discusses the importance of percussion music in cultural life and how percussion instruments are used to define the intricate rhythms of dances in various countries. Examples illustrate the importance of percussion in the indigenous music of Africa, the Middle East, Mexico, and South America. (DBM00210)

String Instruments. Illustrates how string instruments can produce coloristic effects. Shows how the cello and double-bass violin produce the baritone and basso equivalents of the human voice. (DBM00223)

The Woodwinds. Walter Damrosch discusses and illustrates the history of the woodwind and its relationship to the orchestra, using Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 5 and the second movement of Schubert’s C minor Symphony as examples. (DBM00335)

The March. Sampling of different types of marches. Includes eight selections from the classical and modern repertoire. (DBM00196)

Smith, Gene. Until the Last Trumpet Sounds: the Life of General of the Armies John J. Pershing. Portrait of the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France in 1918. Chronicles his years at West Point, on the Western frontier, and in the Mexican and Spanish-American Wars, before he led his nation’s forces in World War I. Discusses the triumphs and tragedies that visited his extraordinary life. (DB49464)

Whorf, Mike. I Love to Hear a Military Band. This brief history of military bands and the march includes musical examples by Sousa and Gilmore, as well as commentary on band music by Frederick Fennell. (DBM00345)

Braille Music

Goldman, Edwin Franko. On the Mall: March. Arranged by Andrew Balant and transcribed in music braille by June Gow for flute in single line format. (BRM36849)

Ives, Charles. Variations on “America”. For organ in bar over bar format. (BRM22307)

Sousa, John Philip. El Capitan: March. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM07276)

The Stars and Stripes Forever: March. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM00470)

The Washington Post: March. For piano in bar over bar format. (BRM07422)

Grainger, Percy. Children’s March: Over the Hills and Far Away. For 2 pianos in bar over bar format. (BRM00216)

Large-Print Music

Happy Birthday America. Includes “The Battle cry of freedom,” “This is my country,” and “God bless America.” (LPM00415)

For further information about the Conservatoire Américain de Fontainebleau, please see this recent NLS Music blog post.

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