91Classical kicked off our first voting round of March Music Madness last Monday intending it to be straightforward, lighthearted fun. Early Tuesday morning, everything changed. In the wake of the tornadoes, we hoped listening to wind ensemble music and picking which ones should move on in the competition might provide a much-needed, momentary respite. And indeed, listeners still turned out to vote for their favorites— including one that feels symbolic for a city grappling with disaster.
Selections by women fared extraordinarily well in this first round. Seven out of these eight pieces advanced. These include Fanfare Ritmico, by the Nashville Symphony’s guest composer from this past weekend, Jennifer Higdon. In a matchup that included the largest time spans between the pieces’ premieres, Shelley Hanson’s Islas y Montanas is also moving on. Perhaps it’s understandable that, as much as Tennessee enjoys music by Memphis-born Judith Lang Zaimont, Nashville may not feel ready to vote for a piece titled City Rain, and as such it was our one piece by a woman to be eliminated.
It’s inevitable that there will be some upsets in the first round of any tournament. Joseph Schwantner’s …and the mountains rising nowhere was a popular final four pick in brackets that were sent to the station, but that pick was not reflected by the audience vote. Likewise, we received many comments from listeners who were tickled by the subject matter for Godzilla Eats Las Vegas by Eric Whitacre, but that dramatic comedy is not moving on. Ronald Lo Presti’s Elegy for a Young American, Holst’s First Suite in Eb, and David Holsinger’s On a Hymnsong of Philip Bliss are all fairly standard repertoire for symphonic bands. Despite their popularity on band concert programs, all three of those pieces were all eliminated.
After last year’s first-round elimination of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, we should not be surprised to see a noted favorite eliminated early, but there were shouts of surprise in the 91Classical office when we learned that the first round of voting did not reward John Philip Sousa’s The Stars and Stripes Forever.
In a publicity interview for the Sousa Band, the composer said that the trio of The Stars and Stripes Forever was meant to symbolize each part of the country as he knew it in 1896. The broad melody representing the North, the obbligato piccolo emblematic of the South, and the added countermelody of the trombones portraying the West. With any other title and no explanation from the composer, the piece would have no patriotic implication. It does not quote Yankee Doodle or the Star Spangled Banner. The publisher had so little confidence in the piece that he suggested the word “Forever” be removed from the title. But the excitement the piece is able to evoke, along with the composer’s sincere feelings, have created a massive success. In Sousa’s lifetime the sheet music sales alone netted him $400,000 in profit – the equivalent of $7.5 million today.
The history of the piece has not always been cheerful though. It holds the nickname “The Disaster March” from its use as a signal in theaters and circuses— places that accompanied their shows with live bands. When there was a fire or other life-threatening emergency, the band would play that familiar opening as a signal to evacuate the building in an orderly manner. One known instance is a circus fire that happened in 1944 in Hartford, CT. Thanks to quick signaling, most of the audience of 7,000 were saved.
It’s a timely elimination for Nashville. In a week that broke the hearts of many, Nashvillians once again showed up by the thousands to take care of their neighbors. Crews sent from other cities to do relief work had to regroup when jobs they were assigned had already been done by volunteers. Organizations had to ask that volunteers stop bringing in material donations because storage venues were full. Yes, Nashville has experienced another disaster. The response is not without its problems and is far from over. But Nashville doesn’t need Sousa’s Disaster March to sound the alert. Music City has already heard the call.
Here is the updated bracket:
Voting for Round 2 will be open shortly.
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