From Interlochen's archives: John Philip Sousa visits Interlochen
The March King visited Interlochen's National High School Orchestra and Band Camp twice: in 1930 and 1931.
From its earliest days, Interlochen has attracted some of the most famous and respected names in music.
In 1930 and 1931, the third and fourth years ever of Interlochen's National High School Orchestra and Band Camp (renamed the National Music Camp in 1932 and again renamed Interlochen Arts Camp in 1991), none other than John Philip Sousa came to visit.
He was then and still is arguably the most important band composer and conductor in the history of the United States.
Sousa made his first visit to Interlochen in July 1930.
On the afternoon of Sousa's arrival, Austin Harding conducted an ensemble of musicians from between 15 and 20 massed bands from northern Michigan to welcome him to Interlochen (see program below).
That evening, Interlochen's High School Band performed a program of Sousa's music conducted by "the March King" himself (see photo below).
That concert was broadcast nationally on CBS Radio.
In 1931, Sousa returned to Interlochen for the second and ultimately final time.
This visit brought even more musicians and visitors to Interlochen to see "the March King" in action.
During one 1931 concert (see program below), Sousa conducted a band of nearly 600 young musicians from Michigan, Indiana and Ohio.
This concert included the premiere of Sousa's March no. 136, "The Northern Pines." The march was written specifically for Interlochen, and Sousa donated the royalties from the piece to a special camp scholarship fund.
According to the 1931 concert program, the young musicians were reading "The Northern Pines" from a handwritten manuscript because the piece had not yet been published.
In fact, students at Interlochen performed "The Northern Pines" before Sousa's own band did.
This 1931 performance led by Sousa had nearly 10,000 people in the audience (see photo below). As a point of reference, Interlochen's Kresge Auditorium now seats about 4,000 people.
Unfortunately, audio recordings from Sousa's time at Interlochen have not survived.
The musicians' memories of the event live on, though.
In a remembrance written for the Library of Congress, Frederick Fennell recalled being teenage percussionist in the band under Sousa's baton.
We played our hearts out for him. In this last summer of his life he was seventy-seven years old and comparatively frail, but he was "Our Sousa," the "King of the March."
Fennell frequently conducted "The Northern Pines" throughout his career, including more than sixty years years at Interlochen. Fennell even made of of the very first recordings of "The Northern Pines" with the Eastman Wind Ensemble in the 1950s.
"The Northern Pines" was the last march Sousa ever composed, and his 1931 visit to Interlochen was also his last.
He died the following March at the age of 77.
Sousa and his music are synonymous with the American band tradition. In 1987, his march "Stars and Stripes Forever" was named the national March of the United States.