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Structure: Souza Marches

Hear me out.


I played flute in high school, in the marching band, and was soundly terrible. That isn’t the point. The point is, the one oeuvre of music I took away was the underlying structure of the Sousa march.


Every American has heard a Sousa march, and I would wager, many non-Americans have heard them, too. John Philip Sousa was an American born composer, with a German mother, who created many iconic songs that are still blasted by the barely musical and actually musical alike. Why? Because they’re fun. They have the oom-PAH feel and the typical rising action to blaring climax journey, the scattered woodwinds and the screaming brass. Every. Single. Time.


The secret to surviving the flute contribution of the Sousa march is to play the exact same part on repeat, on full blast – no matter what the rest of the band is doing. The first time, the brass establishes the main tune. You play your piece. No one can hear you. The second time, the brass plays a dissolution which feels exactly like it sounds. It’s as though the sound is unwinding itself and falling apart. In the dogfight, you (the flute) play your part. No one can hear you except for the high notes, so that you poke off the rose stem as a series of aural thorns. The third time, the brass joins in with a rising threat of imminent blare and then it’s blastoff! No one can hear you. Play your heart out, anyway.


In written form, try including the counter theme a few times. The first time, maybe it’s a conversation. Or an authority figure no one likes. The second time, maybe it’s the muddy middle with a contained sub-plot (secondary story with the exact same characters) that play out something you wanted to say about the main plot or want the reader to know about the main plot before you make your big point. The third time, maybe no one can see it. Maybe not even you. It’ll still be there.

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