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Sousa spirit returns to Sheldon

An old-fashioned fife and drum corps will begin around 6 p.m. Saturday Sept. 15 starting at Liberty's and making its way to the Sheldon Theatre prior to the John Philip Sousa Memorial Band concert.1 / 2
The John Philip Sousa Band will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday Sept. 15 at the Sheldon Theatre.2 / 2

Classic big band sound used to be a quintessential part of American culture - over 100 years ago.

The John Philip Sousa Memorial Band has devoted their entire longevity to preserving that nostalgic sound. The band will be returning for their 17th consecutive year at the Sheldon Theatre, Saturday Sept. 15.

"The concerts we play at the Sheldon are different every year," said Sousa director Scott Crosbie. "Basically this show is one of our favorites, a highlight of our season -- we always sell out and it's just a riot."

The band commemorates the famous band director John Philip Sousa, whose famous marches such as "Stars and Stripes Forever" and "Washington Post," earned himself the status of possibly the most famous band march composer in the world at the turn of the century.

In fact, Sousa himself performed at the Sheldon in 1906 and 1928.

Crosbie compares Sousa to that era as the Beatles were to the 1960s.

"He was plugged into to the American psyche," Crosbie explained about Sousa. "There is something in our DNA that he recognized and knew how to put the right sequence of notes down to resonate with us."

The memorial band plays the famous "Stars and Stripes Forever" march at every concert.

"Every time we play it, it is like it's the first time," he said. "It's magical."

The 45-piece band is sponsored by the city of Edina, Minn., and plays a handful of concerts throughout the region with musicians from all over the Twin Cities, including Edina, Richfield, St. Louis Park, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Andover, Apple Valley, Vadnais Heights, and Bloomington.

"We are not a usual concert band," Crosbie added. "We are more of a band show."

The band was founded in 1970 - the year Crosbie graduated from Edina High School.

"Myself and a bunch of friends from Edina Concert Band got together that summer and I purchased 50 uniforms from Buffalo High School for $3 a piece," Crosbie said. "So we loaded those up and brought them home and went down to Groth Music Store and bought a bunch of marches, and we had a band."

Originally calling themselves "Band on Wheels," the band would jump in their cars, arrive at a location - unannounced - form up, march down a neighborhood street to a park and then play a short concert.

"It was fun because it was spontaneous," Crosbie said. Surprised and sometimes confused listeners would ask band members who they were and where they came from - but Band on Wheels would not tell. "It was totally nuts," he said. "It's what you do when you're 18 years old, I guess."

As time passed, the band decided on a new, more meaningful name, which has stuck for the last 33 years. "Most of our marches were Sousa and we all just loved Sousa anyway, so we all just thought let's just make it John Philip Sousa Memorial Band," said Crosbie. "With permission from the Sousa family, our name became the First John Philip Sousa Memorial Band."

This year's concert will incorporate some of the old-fashioned antics of the band's early days - but this time the show is no surprise. A section of the band, performing on authentic fife and drums will start at Liberty's at 6 p.m. and play outside a few downtown businesses, making their way to the Sheldon's grass knoll area where The Friends of the Sheldon are hosting a welcome reception. "Many people may have never heard a fife and drum corps play," Crosbie said, "We play all 18th century music - it's like hearing living history."

The fifes and drums are ancient instruments, heavily used by armies to accompany marching soldiers. Ropes are a key part in the construction of the drum, creating tension to tighten the skins.

The concert performance at 7 p.m. offers a wide selection of compositions. Highlights include: "The Floral Dance," written in 1911; "My Sweetheart Went Down with the Ship" a song written after the Titanic sunk in 1912; "Hello Dolly" a Walt Disney show tune; "General Mix - Up USA" a march crammed with just about every patriotic song into one; a polka piece using old-fashioned elk horns with a trombone feature; and much more.

"The whole key is not boring the audience," Crosbie adds "If you turn a 45-piece loose and do it right they can just excite the whole place. Making music, having fun and inviting to people to share that fun with them is what this band is all about."

Stacy Bengs-Silverberg

Stacy Bengs has been a photojournalist at the Red Wing Republican Eagle since 2010. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism and art from the University of Minnesota.

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