The word “march” in a musical context can have different meanings. You can physically march to the beat of a song by moving your feet in time with the music; you can also play a march in a marching band, which refers to a type of musical composition. These compositions have a characteristic sound that usually shows up in certain situations.
Many marches have a military history and evoke a certain patriotic quality. You usually hear these types of marches on Independence Day, Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, or during parades. There are also circus marches, concert marches, and college fight songs.
Today, we will share with you ten traditional marching band songs covering the different styles of marches you might come across. We hope you enjoy listening to the marches embedded in our article, learn about the historical background for marches, and discover famous composers who are known for writing classic marches!
John Philip Sousa
John Philip Sousa is one of the most famous composers of military marches and considered “The March King” or “The American March King.” He actively composed marches during the late 1800s and the early 1900s.
The first five compositions on our list were composed by Sousa and are regularly still performed today.
1. Semper Fidelis
Sousa composed Semper Fidelis in 1888 while leading the United States Marine Band. It later became the official march of the United States Marine Corps.
Semper Fidelis also means “Always faithful” which is the motto of Marines. The video below shows “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band performing Semper Fidelis.
2. The Washington Post March
The Washington Post March is another very popular composition written by John Philip Sousa in 1889. The video below shows the United States Army Field Band performing an arrangement of the Washington Post March by Keith Brion and Loras Schissel.
3. The Thunderer
The Thunderer was composed by John Philip Sousa in 1889. The video below once again shows “The President’s Own” United States Marine Band, this time performing The Thunderer.
4. The Liberty Bell March
The Liberty Bell March is another popular Sousa march written in 1893. The Liberty Bell March reached an even wider audience after its use in Monty Python’s Flying Circus as the TV show theme music.
Below are two versions of The Liberty Bell; one recorded by the U.S. Marine Band, and the other from the original TV broadcast of Monty Python.
5. Stars and Stripes Forever
Stars and Stripes Forever is the National March of the United States. This is perhaps the most famous and most well known march on our list. The composition was written in 1896 and is performed regularly during patriotic events around the U.S.
The recording below is from a 1929 radio broadcast with John Philip Sousa speaking and conducting the musicians.
Karl L. King
Karl L. King is another famous composer who was known for writing marches. Rather than military marches, King was better known for circus marches. These types of marches typically have more comical elements to them because of their circus context.
6. “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite”
Karl L. King wrote “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite” in 1913. As the title suggests, this march was originally meant to be performed at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The video below shows the United States Army Field Band performing the march, and the conductor gets the audience involved through some interactive participation.
There are many marches composed in a more classical style that are typically played in a concert hall. Some of the earlier selections might appear outside during a parade or at a football game. These concert marches can also appear in marching band performances, but likely as excerpts or during a field show.
7. “Entrance of the Gladiators”
“Entrance of the Gladiators” Op. 68 is a march composed by Julius Fučík Czech composer 1897. The piece can also be referred to as Thunder and Blazes. It was originally published in 1901 and is a Grade 4 level of difficulty. Many people recognize the use of descending chromatic scales at the beginning. You can see that sections of music by viewing the piccolo part here.
The United States Marine Band recorded this performance of the march for their 2006 release, “Not Sousa: Great Marches Not By John Philip Sousa, Volume 1.”
8. “Three Marches Militaires” Op. 51, D. 7338
Marche Militaire is a well-known composition by Franz Schubert. This selection differs from the others on our list since it was originally written for piano four hands (two players). It was later arranged for various groups of instruments such as orchestra and band. The video below is a performance by The Band of The Grenadier Guards from 1997.
British marches are also very popular and have a different style than the others on our list. They typically have a lighter quality and are not usually taken as fast as American marches.
9. “The Pomp and Circumstance Marches”, Op. 39 Sir Edward Elgar 1904
Pomp and Circumstance is another famous march that you often hear at graduations. While not typically a “marching band” composition, it is a famous, very well-known march written by British composer Edward Elgar. Many high school bands program this piece when graduating seniors complete high school. Below is an outstanding performance of the full composition by the BBC Singers, BBC Symphony Chorus, and BBC Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sakari Aramo.
10. “Colonel Bogey March”
Colonel Bogey March is a famous British March by Lieutenant F. J. Ricketts written in 1914. The composition gained more popularity after its use in the film “The Bridge On the River Kwai”. There is a recognizable whistling part at the beginning of the piece. Below is a performance of the full piece, followed by the movie clip.
In the movie clip from The Bridge On The River Kwai, the whistling begins at 0:38. The band gradually swells in at 2:28. This is a great example of how marches can appear outside of marching band, and add to different forms of media to create a certain aesthetic.
Marches have a long history and often tie into traditional military bands. We hope that our list introduced you to some popular traditional marches. Additionally, we hope the article gave you perspective on different march styles. Many people may think of one particular kind of sound when they hear the word march, but now you know about several different kinds of marches. We encourage you to listen for marches during upcoming sporting events, in movies, parades, or other occasions when they may appear.
Check out these other articles with more Marching Band Music:
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