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Bryan Proksch publishes ‘A Sousa Reader'

A Sousa Reader, Essays, Interviews, and Clippings. Edited by Bryan Proksch. Forward by John Philip Sousa IVBryan Proksch, associate professor of music at Lamar University, has edited a new book of writings by famed composer John Philip Sousa. Published through Gia Publications, "A Sousa Reader: Essays, Interviews, and Clippings," gathers works by Sousa and his contemporaries to give us a greater understanding of this iconic figure.

An American composer and conductor nicknamed “The March King,” Sousa (1854-1932) was known primarily for military and patriotic marches. Lionized across the country and occasionally embroiled in controversy, he was also an entertaining writer. Proksch’s book includes Sousa’s satirical argument against recorded music, his testimony to Congress about international copyright law, the assembling of his “ideal band,” patriotism and nationalism in music, the pleasures of making music, and even a recipe for spaghetti. Band directors and enthusiasts, fans of Sousa’s toe-tapping marches, and music historians will find this user-friendly collection a delight.

“I wrote the book because I needed it for my research and there was nothing like it out there for Sousa,” said Proksch. “In recent years it has become kind of uncool to do primary source research, so we don't have very easy access to the thoughts and writings of a lot of very important figures in music history. So wanting to work more on Sousa, I needed to know his thoughts and views on a variety of issues, and there was nowhere to turn to aside from going to an archive. The book will save scholars a lot of trouble in the future by at least giving them an overview of his thoughts.”

Dr. Bryan ProkschProksch worked with Sousa's great-grandson, John Philip Sousa IV, to obtain copyright releases on Sousa's writings that are included in the book. Sousa IV also wrote the forward for the volume. After conceiving the idea for the book, Proksch spent a great deal of time in the Sousa Archive at the University of Illinois, identifying, transcribing, and editing the writings that he thought most worthy of being included in the collection. In addition to writing the book’s introduction and methodology, Proksch wrote introductions to contextualize each of the items and included footnotes explaining things that a modern reader might not understand, or in some cases showing areas where Sousa was mistaken or incorrect.

“I think the book is going to surprise people because virtually all of Sousa’s writings have been hidden away for so long. He was frank and opinionated; he was kind of like a Teddy Roosevelt ‘Rough Rider,’ but for music,” said Proksch. “He had a real affection for guns (trapshooting) and other sports, such as boxing. I think the most important aspect of the book is how it shows a ‘popular’ musician - really one of the first ‘popular’ musicians in the sense of popular music vs. classical music - creating a public persona for himself. And that popularity included voicing his opinions on music, of course, but also on many other issues. Sousa was surprisingly liberal in his views on prohibition and women's suffrage, for example, and yet rather conservative on musical matters.”

An associate professor of music literature and musicology in the Mary Morgan Moore Department of Music, Proksch joined the faculty at LU after earning his B.A. from Centre College, his M.A. from Pennsylvania State University, and his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In addition to Sousa, his research centers on the reception and “revival” of Haydn’s music in the early twentieth century, Viennese Classicism, and the history of the trumpet. In 2015, he published “Reviving Haydn: New Appreciations in the Twentieth Century.” Proksch also hosts a music history show, "Behind the Music," on  91.3 KVLU Public Radio. The show, which airs Sundays at noon, discusses various musical styles in an effort to make the history of music fun and accessible to all.