What strikes you first about this piece of music? Which section or "musical phrase" is especially memorable? Why?
Identify the main sections of the song. What instruments do you hear in each section? Which predominate? What mood was Sousa trying to convey in each section?
What makes a good march? What other kinds of marches are there? Wedding, funeral, Mardi Gras, military, graduation, demonstration. What do these marches have in common? How do they differ?
What global political developments were occurring around the time Sousa wrote this march? Spanish American War, the rise of the United States as a world power. What role do you think this march played in those developments?
What images does this march "paint"? Imagine this march being played in the late 1890s. Who and where are you? What is happening? What is your role? How do you feel? What are you thinking?
"Stars and Stripes Forever" performed by Sousa's Band on Berliner Gramophone Company 78 rpm disc [berl1072]. Available on YouTube.
The recommended recording of this famous work is by the original Sousa band in a recording that dates from the 1890s, shortly after it was composed.
John Philip Sousa, the “March King,” built on a tradition of band music that had flourished during the Civil War. Sousa was director of the US Marine Band, and in 1892 he founded his own ensemble, which played at the Chicago World’s Fair the following year. “The Stars and Stripes Forever” demonstrates the full palette of instrumental effects in Sousa’s marches. According to Sousa, the composer “must be gifted with the ability to pick and choose here and there. … If he is a so-called purist in music, that tendency will rule his marches and will limit their appeal.”
As a composer of operettas, Sousa was skilled at writing and setting lyrics to his own march tunes. The words, however, were rarely sung outside the theater. His marches achieved universal popularity as instrumental music.
"The Stars and Stripes Forever," published just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, became a patriotic anthem for the nation, stirring audiences with war fever and encouraging ambitions of world power.