SOUSA AT ARCADIA                                              

Leamington Spa Courier, January 23, 1903
Courtesy of David Tolley, Northampton, England

Sousa (pronounced Su-sa) came to Leamington on Saturday night, in the glory of the bold advertisement that has contributed so much to his fame.  The black van that brought his fixings was labelled in huge red and white letters on all its sides ‘Sousa and his band’ and it stood in front of the Pump Room unblushing amid the general state.    And all Leamington flocked to hear or to see Sousa.  The carriages were so numerous that at the close of the performance they lined both sides of the road almost to the Courier office.   The non-ticket holders stood in queue in the garden path in patient hope of standing room.   The hall was full.   Such an audience, at such prices, has rarely been seen in Leamington.

Great military bands come and go scarcely noticed by any but the musical enthusiasts, but Sousa – well, there is only Sousa and possibly only one chance of seeing him. So the proverbial everybody rushed to see Sousa.

As the audience were filling the hall they had the preliminary satisfaction of seeing the name ‘Sousa’  in huge letters on a black box above and behind the amphitheatre of seats and here and there a stray, dark uniformed bandsman.   The white painted letters spoke eloquently of  the purpose of the gathering.  It carried forward the story of the van in the street – it was Sousa.     And the programmes, single sheets of stout paper that cost less than half a farthing and sold freely for threepence, were Sousa’s.  And the bonanza profit was Sousa’s.  And the programme was varied by Sousa until its possible value receded into recurring decimals.

Sousa, who asks the world to sympathise with him because somebody has pirated his marches, is the same Sousa that sells a sheet of paper for threepence.

Presently Sousa himself appeared.  His jolly, hirsute visage showed pleasure at his reception, and there was a twinkle of delight in the spectacled beam he cast upon the solid phalanx of an expectant auditorium.

Sousa conducts easily.  He has his band perfectly at command.  The sympathy between the players and conductor is electric.  He knows them as they know him.   Long attrition has smoothed asperities and the glittering and fantastic instruments are as much at his will as the diapason is in the command of an organist.  It’s an all-fired thing, this band and you don’t forget it.

Nothing could have been better than the overture.  The reeds had good parts and the brasses were not too brassy.   The band was never too loud.

‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ followed, the title hoisted on top of the Sousa box to mark a variation from the programme.  Then a trombone solo with orchestral obligato.  The instrumentalist, Mr Arthur Pryor, was encored, and the box label read ‘Ìn the deep cellar’, which proved to be the well-known ‘The Cellar Cool’, excellently played, reaching the lowest note obtainable on a trombone.

A suite by Sousa ‘The Coquette’, ‘The Summer Girl’ and ‘The Dancing Girl’, showed how much the composer relies on melody.

‘The Passing of Ragtime‘, a title of possibly American significance, preceded a solo by Miss Estelle Leibling, ‘Thou Brilliant Bird’, which afforded a remarkable instance of the similarity of the soprano voice to the notes of a flute.  The blending was perfect, and in the bird-like passages it was often difficult to say whether the greater volume of the note should be credited to the singer, or to the flautist.  

‘In the realms of the dances’ was the title of a Sousa ‘mosaic’ of popular waltz tunes.  As an encore to this we had the bizarre ‘Washington Post March’.  For this we were all grateful.   In the hands of a rough brass band the curious blaring horn interruptions of the melody are the torture of sensitive ears.  With Sousa’s band one could have laughed outright at the humour of them.  Of course the Post March was encored, and we had an attempt to symphonise such curiously contrasted airs as ‘The Minstrel Boy’ and ‘He is an Englishman’ on a leitmotif of ‘Soldiers of the King’.

The Sousa march ‘Imperial Edward’, dedicated by special permission to the King, is a dashing orchestration.  The five trombone players rise and give the first phrase of the English National Anthem, to justify the title.  ‘El Capitan’ is another Sousa title, and so probably is ‘The Coon Band Contest’.

Miss Maud Powell, an admirable violinist, was heartily recalled for her Sarasate solo, ‘Zigeunerweisen’ and the performance closed with a brisk breakdown, ‘Plantation Songs and Dances’, full of Christy Minstrel airs, in which ‘Dixie’s land’ predominated.   The band then rose and played the English National Anthem.

Speaking of Sousa’s orchestra it should never be forgotten that the American flavour of it is part and parcel of that wonderful advertisement attitude which is a condition of celebrity across the Atlantic.

Sousa builds his march on melody and to obtain striking effects he perpetrates the most astonishing interruptions and smoothes the jagged edges with clever orchestration.  His use of discords is marvellous and he reaches his most humorous effects in that way.  Very pretty in deed is the sudden tinkle of the musical glasses carrying on the melody in the pause of the brasses.   And everything is done perfectly.  Every bandsman carries his own score in his head and plays with his heart.

This band could play anything well, and by long association it has come to play the Sousa music better than any other band could play it.   The music is there, the difficult bizarre effects are there in all their surprise power and the bold Sousa colouring brightens and singularises it all.

We have only to add that this sensational visit is due to Mr C.S. Birch.   Too many people are saying that anybody else could have engaged Sousa .  Perhaps so, but Mr Birch did it and the credit of bringing Sousa to Leamington should be given to him.



Leamington Spa Courier, January 23, 1903
                                  Courtesy of David Tolley, Northampton, England  

After the performance at Arcadia the band had engaged with Mr Birch to play a programme of music at WarwickCastle, from eleven o’clock till midnight, with Lady Warwick’s house party as an audience.

As the engagement had been made through Mr Birch he arranged for ten carriages to be sent by Mr Daniels of Warwick who supplies carriages for the castle.

Unfortunately the sudden change in the weather  – the extraordinary ‘Ground Frost’  – made the roads all but impassable for horses whose shoes had not been roughed and the change appears to have come too suddenly to afford time for the ‘roughing’.

Mr Daniels did his best, it was impossible to convey the whole band party to Warwick and some fifteen members of the band did not get to the castle.  Outside the Pump Rooms the men waited on the slippery causeway, while the policemen slided about in their endeavour to prevent the cluster of bystanders from assuming the dimensions of a crowd.  One officer actually succumbed on the treacherous foothold, and his helmet flew into the road to the irrational and unrespecting amusement of the spectators.    Mr Birch was eagerly calling out for any cabs whose horses had been roughed, but the supply of these was quite unequal to the demand.

Mr & Mrs Sousa drove off in Lady Warwick’s carriage, the coachman driving at a gingerly pace.  Mr Birch remained behind to attend to the carriages – arrangements.   The bandsmen took the situation cheerfully and chatted freely with the spectators.   Most of them spoke with a pronounced American drawl – “We shall be here all night, sure.”  “When we went to Sandringham the arrangements were just all perfect all right”.   “I’d do anything for home and mother”.

The popular notion that the band is made up of ‘foreigners’ i.e. Italians and Germans, was laughed at by the bandsmen and they attributed the impression to the unusual pattern of their caps.

Slowly the carriages came up, and in batches the men were driven to the castle, until a telephone message was received saying that as the concert had begun, the remainder would not be wanted, and about fifteen of the men went home to their lodgings, contented enough with the message for they had played at two concerts (at Stratford and Leamington), since leaving Cheltenham at 10.15 in the morning.

It should be explained here that it was the intention that the bandsmen should stay in Leamington on Saturday night.  The original idea of taking a special train from Warwick to Paddington after the castle concert, had been set aside by Mr Sousa himself, and the special train was ordered for 10 o’clock on Sunday morning.

So that all the bandsmen had secured lodgings in Leamington and there was no inconvenience on this account.  What might have proved to many bands an insurmountable difficulty was the trouble that occurred to the music.

This was sent along at 10.30 by the old road, in a trap driven by Mr Duke  of Clemens Street, Leamington, but the progress on the ice-coated road was so slow that the music did not get to Warwick until considerably later than, of course, would have been the case, had the road been in its usual condition.  

To make matters worse, at the AvonBridge, a four-wheeled cab skidded into Mr Duke’s trap and both horses went down, but only the cab horse required to be taken out to be retraced. 

When the music reached the castle the concert had commenced, the band playing from memory, and, as Mr Sousa declared, without a mistake.   The lady soloists, Miss Estelle Leibling (soprano) and Miss Maud Powell (violinist), took part in the concert at the castle, and subsequently with Mr and Mrs Sousa took supper with Lord and Lady Warwick. 

A substantial repast was provided for the bandsmen, carriages were in waiting to bring them back to Leamington, but it is said that some of them preferred to walk because they feared a cab accident in the slippery state of the roads.

Whether this was the reason or whether the number of carriages was insufficient, it is certain that a number of the bandsmen did walk to Leamington carrying their instruments and amongst them was the proud guardian of the Sousaphone, the monstrous bell-shaped instrument, which, bulked so largely on the stage of the ‘Arcadia’.

The departure was from Leamington GWRS on Sunday by special train.  This was at first timed for 10 o’clock, later for 10.45, and ultimately steamed out of Leamington at 10.30.   The last to enter the train was the Sousaphone player who arrived too late for his gigantic instrument to be included in the baggage.   The baggage man absolutely refused to take the instrument as he had packed all the rest and the van was locked.

As the train was starting the belated instrumentalist was seen carefully wriggling his instrument through the carriage doorway.  The train was composed of dining carriages and dinner was served en route, although a number of the waiters, expecting the train to start at 10.45 did not arrive in time to accompany it.

The band reached Paddington in ample time for the concert at the Alhambra theatre, in the afternoon at two o’clock, where they played again in the evening.  

Mr Sousa was interviewed by a London morning paper reporter, and is credited with the confession that he longed for rest, which is not at all surprising under the circumstances. 



Maud's Advice and Adventures

THE MAUD POWELL SOCIETY  68 Grandview Avenue Brevard, North Carolina 28712  828-884-8500
Privacy Statement   Copyright © 2009 - 2024 by The Maud Powell Society for Music and Education   Login