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Marquette back in step with its own Sousa march

By Jo Curtis Dugan, The Milwaukee Journal - November 23, 1974

    Fifty years ago this month, John Philip Sousa directed a march he wrote in honor of Marquette University, but over the years the event has marched out of most people's memories.  

    One of those few who does remember is Louis A. LeMieux, 3050 Santa Barbara Dr., Brookfield, and because of him, the long forgotten march has been resurrected and is being played again, LeMieux himself, at the invitation of Marquette University Band Director W. J. Geisheker, will direct the band in the "Marquette University March" at 2 p.m. Sunday as a part of the "Falling Into Winter" concert at Marquette.  The program will take place at the Brooks Memorial Union's ballroom on the campus.  

    The auditorium was the setting for the song's debut back in 1924 when Lt. Cmdr. (he directed the United States Marine Band for 12 years) John Philip Sousa was in Milwaukee to simultaneously direct his band in concert, celebrate his 70th birthday ...and keep a promise.  

    The promise was made the year before in The Milwaukee Journal lobby, and LeMieux , then a 21 year old Marquette student and a trumpet player in the university band, was there to year it.  

    "Marquette awarded an honorary doctor of music degree to Sousa on Nov. 16, 1923," LeMieux explained, "and the next morning the university band escorted him to the Journal building.  There in the lobby, he led us in our school song, 'Ring Out Ahoya' and when he finished he spontaneously asked for a pencil and a sheet of paper.  He quickly drew five lines and a few notes and promised that this would be the theme of a march he would write in honor of Marquette.  One year later to the month I was privileged to be a part of that fulfilled promise."

    The date was Saturday evening, Nov. 8, 1924, and the entire program was repeated the next day at matinee and evening performances.  Listed as: "March, 'Marquette University' (new) ...Sousa," it was selection 7b (7a was a saxophone solo by Mr. Robert Gooding) out of 10 numbers scheduled for that evening.

    "Up until that moment," LeMieux remembered, "only the Sousa band was seated onstage, but when it was time to premiere the 'Marquette University March' a curtain was raised from behind the band to reveal the Marquette University band.  Sousa then led the two bands together in the 'Marquette University March,' and followed that with his famous 'Stars and Stripes Forever."  It was an experience I'll never forget."

    LeMieux, 72, and a longtime chemistry teacher at Marquette University High School, cherished his souvenir of the event, a copy of the program autographed by Sousa.  The cover features a large picture of "The March King," with his familiar mustache and spectacles, impressive in his full uniform ornately trimmed with braid and brass. 

    Above and below the picture is the invitation to "Celebrate with us an event that touches the hearts of all of us who are inspired by the true patriotism and highest devotion of a Great American.  The 70th birthday of John Philip Sousa."  His birthday was actually Nov. 6 but the occasion was considered worthy of an ongoing celebration.  "The whole country was fond of the man," LeMieux said, "I, myself, had a certain reverence for him and never missed his concerts when he came to town."

Music on sale

    For some years, the music for the "Marquette University March" was for sale at Kaun's music store on Grand (later Wisconsin) Ave., and notice of that appeared on the inside of the souvenir program.  Sousa presented the original manuscript to Marquette where it is a part of the university archives.

    After graduation from the university, LeMieux began teaching at the high school, where he organized the band in 1927 and directed it for 28 years.  "In those early years," LeMieux recalled, "the 'Marquette University March' was played often by both the university and high school bands, then occasionally, and finally, not at all."  Last year LeMieux mentioned the song to the director of the Marquette high band, Joseph LaSpisa, who encouraged LeMieux to reintroduce the march at the band's 1973 concert in the high school auditorium.

Music missing

    "When I went to the high school music files, I discovered that the 'Marquette University March' music had disappeared.  I called Krainik's music store ... Kaun's successor ... but they didn't have it either.  Finally, I found copies of it in the university's music library.  Mr. Geisheker heard it played at the high school performance and scheduled it for his concert this year in honor of the march's 50th anniversary."

    Though Sousa composed voluminously, apparently he honored only a few schools.  Besides Marquette, one source lists the Universities of Minnesota, Michigan, Nebraska, Illinois, Kansas and Wisconsin.  The latter's title is, "Wisconsin, Forward Forever."

    LeMieux remembers Sousa as "a perfect gentleman.  Small in stature, quiet, friendly and not al all flamboyant.  But my fondest memory is when, during the playing of 'The Stars and Stripes Forever' he directed the trumpet section and looked right at me.  That was a thrill I'll never forget!"

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