Do you know Sousa?

The North Coast Symphonic Band does, and is sharing some of the famous bandleader's marches, operettas and dance songs in the opening performance of its 2004-05 concert season, "If you knew Sousa like we knew Sousa...," Sunday, Nov. 21 at 3 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center in Astoria.

The concert, under the direction of conductor Dick Boberg, not only celebrates the 150th birthday of John Philip Sousa, "The March King," but also marks 25 years since the founding of the community band, which for a quarter century has attracted members young and old from up and down the coast and as far away as the Willamette Valley, all drawn by a love of music.

"Most of us started out in public school bands. After enjoying the experience, we just wanted to keep playing music," said band member Janet Bowler. "Many people played in high school band, took 25 years off to raise families and have careers, and now they've come back."

Keith Neal cradles his tuba during a Sousa number.Bowler, who plays flute and piccolo, was among a handful of local music lovers who helped found the symphonic band following the demise of a local community-based orchestra, which folded as its string players dwindled. The group maintains a membership of about 50 with a core group of long-time members - the band has had only three conductors in its 25 years - and a steady infusion of new musicians, she said. The band's membership stretches from Long Beach, Wash., to Cannon Beach on the coast and includes people from Portland and Eugene as well as high school students and retired seniors.

Playing in the band is also part social gathering, and for some members offers opportunities for other musical outlets, said Bowler, who also plays in a Celtic music group as well as the orchestra for the local production of the "Nutcracker" ballet. She also frequently joins small chamber groups who play various venues, including pre-show performances at the symphonic band's concerts. One such ensemble will play before Sunday's Sousa show.

During a recent rehearsal, trombonist Bill Sutton works on his solo in 'The Blue Bells of Scotland.'Sousa is synonymous with rousing marches like "The Stars and Stripes Forever" and the "Washington Post March." But the prolific bandleader also penned many waltzes, operettas and dance tunes.

"His band was considered a dance band," Bowler said. "He was writing the popular music of the day."

Sunday's show includes the "Liberty Bell March" and "The Honored Dead" funeral march, as well as "La Reine de la Mer" concert waltzes and "At the Movies Suite: A Suite of Scenarios for Cinematographers."

Clarinetist Susann Ragsdale keeps time with conductor Richard Boberg.Born in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 1854, Sousa had an early introduction to band music through his father, a Portugese immigrant, who played trombone for the U.S. Marine Corps Band. Sousa eventually took over the baton himself at age 26 and conducted the group for 12 years, bringing himself and the band national fame thanks to new songs like the "Washington Post March" and the brand-new technology of sound recording.

In 1892, Sousa formed his own band and gained even more fame with tours of Europe and the world. A British writer dubbed him "The March King."

The NCSB trombone section waits for their next cue.Along with his own music, Sousa promoted the creation of bands and orchestras in schools, sometimes inviting local children to play during the intermissions of his own concerts. He also was a leading figure in the fight for royalty rights for musicians.

Sousa's music is a natural for groups like the North Coast Symphonic Band, Bowler said.

"Everything has a melody you can follow," she said. "It fits a band quite well."

John Philip Sousa. Graphic from www.besmark.comIn the past, the North Coast Symphonic Band has performed orchestra music adapted to all-wind bands, with various instruments trying to reproduce the missing violins and cellos. With music like Sousa's written specifically for bands, each section - the brass, the woodwinds - comes through clearly, Bowler said.

Sunday's concert also includes pieces by composers who were contemporaries or admirers of Sousa, such as "Poet and Peasant Overture" by Franz von Suppe and "Over the Hills and Far Away" by Percy Aldridge Grainger. The works of Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Arthur Pryor are also featured.

The band welcomes potential new members, who can find out more by contacting Bowler at (503) 325-2431 or Dennis Hale at (503) 325-3891. There are no dues or fees, and tuition-paying students can receive college credit.

Along with new members, the band also relies on donations. Until recently, the band was supported by Clatsop Community College, which paid the conductor's salary and other operational expenses. The college still provides rehearsal space and other support, but since 2003, the group has been largely on its own financially, and because ticket proceeds don't cover its costs, the band must rely on fund-raising, Bowler said.

North Coast Symphonic Band

2004-05 Season Schedule

Sunday, Nov. 21, 3 p.m.

"If You Knew Sousa Like We Knew Sousa ..."

Performing Arts Center, Astoria

Sunday, Feb. 13, 3 p.m.

"Music from 42nd Street"

Performing Arts Center, Astoria

Sunday, April 3, 3 p.m.

"Pops"

Performing Arts Center, Astoria

Wednesday, April 6, time TBA

Seaside High School

Saturday, April 22, 8 p.m.

"Pops"

Coaster Theatre, Cannon Beach

Sunday, May 21, 3 p.m.

Guest Conductor Concert

Performing Arts Center, Astoria

Sunday, July 3, 7 p.m.

"Celebrate the 4th!"

Liberty Theater, Astoria

Monday, July 2, 2 p.m.

"Celebrate the 4th!"

Cannon Beach City Park, Cannon Beach

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