Lt. John Philip Sousa
Written by Lt. Comm. John Philip Sousa, U.S.N.R.F
The boy, who has not an inordinate desire to excel in whatever line of endeavor he may be placed, will have hard sledding as the days go on. Of course, he who is so unfortunate as to be misplaced in a trade or profession that does not meet with his sympathy is to be pitied; but if a youngster is in love with the career mapped out for him, if he lacks in ambition and makes his slogan “Manana”, he cannot hope to reach an honorable height in his life’s work. One of the most necessary concomitants of adaptability, talent or genius is capacity for work, hard grinding and never ending work. The milkmaid, who takes her pail and sits in the middle of the field expecting the cows to back up to be milked, is going home with an empty pail; and, so it is with the student in any profession and especially in music. As far back as I can remember I studied with these objects in view – to be a composer and a conductor. When very young I had the pleasure of hearing the Theodore Thomas Orchestra; and that gave me the first idea of what beautiful and consummate musical expression could be made from a combination of instruments. To me it was a glimpse of heaven; and, in after years some of my happiest moments were spend with Mr. Thomas in discussing his genius in interpreting the works of the great masters.
When I was twelve or thirteen years old I was playing first violin in Ford’s Opera House, Washington; and a traveling comic opera company came for a week’s engagement. I took the first violin part of the opera we had been rehearsing to my teacher to mark some of the fingering and asked him if I would ever by able to write an opera. He smiled, and said, “Philip, you will write a better opera than this one”; and I have every reason to believe that since then a lot of people have agreed with him.
I was born in Washington, D.C.; and in my almost infancy Washington was an armed camp and there were regimental bands galore. During that period the ambition took possession of me to compose military music. The first march I wrote was played by the Marine Band of which years later I became conductor. I cannot recall any time in my life, from my very start as a student to the present moment, that i have ever given way to jealousy of either a fellow student or a fellow musician. Perhaps the main reason has been that I have always felt I could be a better student or a better musician; and, therefore, I was so busy improving my own knowledge that I have had no time to bother about the knowledge of another, unless in admiration. My career reads very much like a fairy story, for I desired to be a conductor of instrumental bodies and have been one for forty years; I desired to be a composer and I have been recognized as such for at least 35 years; I desired to go forth into all the corners of the world and conduct my own organization, and I have done so; and I believe I have toured over a greater expanse of territory than any other conductor; and possibly my compositions are as well known as those of any composer.