Willow Grove Park - Sousa's Last Thoughts
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Unique view into Sousa’s last thoughts

James Francis Cooke was the editor of The Etude Music Magazine, published by Theodore Presser Co. of Philadelphia. He was both a close friend of Sousa (see below) and publisher of much of his music. His editorial for the June 1932 issue was a tribute and unique look into the thoughts of Sousa’s last hours and general philosophy of musical composition.

On the second page of the article, Cooke writes: "On the day before his passing Commander Sousa made a trip to Philadelphia and came directly from his hotel to the writer’s office. He was on his way to Reading PA to guest conduct the Ringgold Band. That evening he and friends dined at the editor’s home and later went to see the play "If Booth Had Missed." The Commander was an eleven-year-old boy in Washington when Lincoln died, and he enjoyed the performance hugely. The following morning he visited the Presser Home for Retired Music Teachers."

"I have listened to a higher power"

During the visit to the editor’s office he presented the following question as though it were the chief business of his call. "Dr. Cooke, do you believe in God?" Although the writer knew his old friend was familiar with his religious convictions, my reply was, "Why certainly, Commander." "Well," he replied, "I am glad to hear that. I believe in God. I believe firmly in God. The trouble with the modernistic music of today is that it is written by men who don’t believe in any kind of a god. That is the reason why it will not last. Only that lasts which comes from God. these composers think that they do it themselves. Fools! they can acquire technic. they can learn the machinery of composition. They can build great musical structures but they can’t make living things. they are not alive. All of my music, all of my melodies are not of my own making; no matter how light, they came from a higher source. I have listened to a higher power."

"Music inspires, enriches and ennobles. It revives the soul."

The editorial continues: "Four times during the day he died, Sousa returned to this idea and expressed it in various forms, once remarking, "If there is no God, how could Schubert have rained out several masterpieces, one after the other in one day?"
"Voltaire used to laugh at the idea of God but down in his heart he knew there was a God. At the end he called aloud for his faith. Is there any music of great moment coming out of Russia now? Russia is in chaos and its music is in chaos. Take a man’s belief away from him and at once his art starves.
They say that music is luxury. It is, to anyone without a soul. Music is of no use to a chimpanzee. Music inspires, enriches and ennobles. It revives the soul. Surely anything that does that is a necessity and not a luxury. With man, music at times is the thing which brings him closest to this Maker."

Cooke continues "It actually seemed as though the great bandmaster had made the trip to us to leave this significant message to pass on to young American musicians. Sousa’s marches have stimulated millions. He was the greatest inspiration of his age."

1 The two men first met when Cooke was a teenager and had won a contest to have two of his marches played by Sousa at Manhattan Beach. Unable to afford transportation, Cooke walked from Brooklyn to the beach and back - twelve miles. After their performance he introduced himself to the famous conductor who replied "You little rascal! You couldn’t have written them." Sousa then took that beaming boy over to the luxurious hotel veranda and treated him to ice cream.

Cooke writes: "Little did the bandmaster dream that at one time that same boy would head the company publishing most of his famous compositions. The friendship that began then lasted until the day of the Commander’s death."

(Website editor’s note: We can not tell of whom Sousa was referring.
Mussorgsky had died in 1881, almost 50 years earlier, Tschaikowsky had died in 1893, almost 40 years earlier, Shostakovich’s first symphony had been composed 7 years earlier, Prokofiev was then age 41, Copland was 32. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue had premiered 8 years earlier.
Until a resurgence of his other compositions, only Sousa’s marches are regularly performed, while the music composers listed above receive frequent performance.)

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