I am picky about marches. You would think that because I’m a band director and understand the importance of marches to band heritage, I would embrace all marches like I would a grandkid on a weekend visit. That isn’t the case. and no, I am not a horn player. My relationship with marches is complicated. There are marches I like to listen to but don’t want to play or conduct. There are marches I love to play but not conduct. There are marches I like to conduct but not play.
My favorite marches are by Henry Fillmore. I don’t particularly love conducting or listening to Karl L. King marches, though I had King’s Circus Days as an earworm for about a week last summer after conducting it at a community band rehearsal. On the other hand, since I am a euphonium player, I love playing King marches; he’s my hero in that regard. I love listening to Sousa marches more than conducting them; and I have what might best be termed Sousanesia – hearing a Sousa march for the 100th time and still not remembering the exact title.
I think my earliest introduction to a march came while watching the 1957 movie classic The Bridge On the River Kwai where the infectiously whistled melody from Colonel Bogey March was used to great effect. As an adolescent, the melody was also used as a popular playground song, which made it even more appealing to my juvenile mind:
Comet – it tastes like gasoline.
Comet – it makes your mouth turn
Comet – it makes you vomit,
So buy some Comet, and vomit,
Of course, I first started performing marches when I joined beginning band and then continued playing them for concerts throughout my formative years. It’s hard to believe that marches were once popular enough to play at football games, but I know the practice was fading fast in the late-1970s when I was in high school. As a director in 1993, I tried playing Sousa’s Liberty Bell March at a football game once, but I could imagine Sousa raising his eyebrows at the less than enthusiastic response from the student body. Playing it during the same quarter as The Locomotion was like mixing oil and water. I decided to leave march-playing at football games to schools like Texas A&M. After the Liberty Bell experiment, I didn’t hear a march at a football game until I attended an Aggie home game three years ago. Their performance of Strategic Air Command by Clifton Williams threw me into such a state of delightful disorientation that I choked on my popcorn.
As you might imagine, selecting a march or two each year has been somewhat traumatic for me, particularly because I don’t like repeating tunes. Selecting marches for younger bands is even more difficult. With easy and medium-easy level marches for young bands, I have two overriding principles – the music must sound more difficult than it is, and it absolutely cannot be clunky or cheesy. Here are my all-time favorites in order of preference. Recordings and copies of these marches are readily available except where noted.
Command March by John Edmondson. I love the trilling and thrilling obbligato flute part in this one.
His Honor by Henry Fillmore, arr. by Andrew Balent. The middle-school level flourishing of the flutes and first clarinets makes this a winner in my book.
Americans We by Henry Fillmore, arr. by Andrew Balent. This is another faithful adaptation for young bands. Good solid attacks and open, clear tones on repeated eighth notes are a must on this one, particularly in the low brass.
Noble Heritage by David Shaffer. This is an oldie, but goodie. I don’t think this one has made the rounds as much as it deserves. It is now published as an Archive Edition. That makes me feel old as I directed the piece when it was first published.
On the Mall by Edwin Goldman, arr. by Andrew Balent. Unfortunately, this one is out-of-print but is worth seeking out online.
Winchester March by John Edmondson. Musically pleasing like Edmondson’s Command March, it has a nice flute and clarinet countermelody and a grandioso section for contrast.
Newcastle March by Johnnie Vinson. This classic march is great from beginning to end. Vinson includes a very nice section contrasting the woodwinds and brass.
Colonel Bogey March by Kenneth Alford, arr. Mark Williams is a great arrangement of this classic. (Don’t teach the kids the words to the Comet jingle. You’re bound to regret it.)
Military Escort by Harold Bennett (Henry Fillmore), arr. by Andrew Balent. I told you I liked Henry Fillmore. This one is a little trickier than the previous two Fillmore marches that I recommended, this music needs solid trumpet players for the introduction and tonally-strong trombones and baritones for an extended melody.
A Galop to End All Galops by Warren Barker is another oldie but goodie. You can find a recording of this one on YouTube.
Lassus Trombone, by Henry Fillmore, arr. by Larry Clark provides a medium-easy, catchy version of this classic.
Infernal Galop by Jacques Offenbach, arr. by Evan VanDoren. This light classic, also known as Can Can from the dance associated with it, is slightly cheesy in my book (mainly due to mental images of high-kicking dancers) but not enough to keep it off my list. This is an imaginative arrangement that requires a proficient keyboard player.
Grand Galop by Johnnie Vinson. There is nothing like a good galop to close a concert.
Mad Dash by Timothy Loest. A catchy circus galop in the style of Karl King.
New Forest March by Johnnie Vinson offers a British-style march with similarities to Vinson’s Newcastle March.
Zia! Zia! by Claude T. Smith. Even though this is not typical of Smith’s output (no 7/8 measures), this is a great way to introduce your students to the works of a composer who was very popular earlier in my career. A Spanish march, Zia! Zia! has the colors and percussion you expect in this genre with just a sprinkle of Smith-like harmonization.
Courage March by Harold Bennett (Henry Fillmore), arr. by Nick Contorno. Good trombones and euphoniums are needed for the important counter melodies throughout the piece.