CHAMPAIGN, ILL. For years, the world's largest archive of original compositions and arrangements by John Philip Sousa -- more than four tons of it -- was stuffed into file drawers and cabinets, accessible to only to a privileged few.
Now, with the 150th anniversary of Sousa's birth today, University of Illinois curator Scott Schwartz is bringing the personal papers, music and other memorabilia from American's best-known bandmaster out of the dark for a monthlong Sousa Sesquicentennial Celebration.
"If music is just notes on a page in a box, it's silence," Schwartz said. "My goal is to make this stuff available, useable. Program it, get it out there, get people thinking about music in America."
Sousa's only connection to the university was his long friendship with its first band director, A. Austin Harding, begun in 1906 when Sousa's band performed in Champaign. Sousa eventually composed the "University of Illinois March" and was made an honorary conductor of the university's Concert Band, according to a tribute Harding wrote after Sousa's death.
Because of the friendship and his affection for the University of Illinois bands, Sousa promised to have his papers sent to the school. Thirty-nine trunks and two boxes arrived in August 1932, six months after Sousa's death.
While Sousa is well-known for his marches, including "Stars and Stripes Forever," "The Washington Post March," "Semper Fidelis" and "The Thunderer," he also composed in other styles. Besides 137 marches, Sousa wrote five overtures, 15 operettas, 11 suites, 24 dances, 28 fantasies and composed 322 arrangements of 19th-century symphonic works for band.
"People forget that he was the most popular and well-known musician in the world. That really is no stretch," said Loras John Schissel, a music specialist at the Library of Congress and Sousa expert. "All of the music at Illinois gives us a wonderful perspective of music in the world from 1892 to 1932."
Schwartz, who spent a decade as a music archivist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History before arriving at Illinois last year, has carefully catalogued Sousa's music and other collections in boxes stored neatly in a climate-controlled room.
Many of the original Sousa manuscripts, including the complete score for "Stars and Stripes Forever," are kept at the Library of Congress in Washington. But the Illinois collection includes the individual parts for that piece, as well as parts for "Semper Fidelis" and the full score and parts for Sousa's operetta "El Capitan."
In all, the Sousa collection at Illinois has 3,400 titles of published and manuscript music. It also includes performance programs, newspaper clippings, one of Sousa's batons and his music stand and podium.
The U.S. Senate recognized Sousa's contribution to the country's musical heritage on Oct. 10 when it passed a resolution marking the sesquicentennial of Sousa's birth on Nov. 6, 1854, and designating November as "American Music Month to celebrate music performance, education and scholarship in the United States."
Much of Sousa's music is uniquely American, Schwartz said. That makes it a natural focus for a monthlong celebration of American music at the university that also will include folk music, country music, 19th-century parlor music and jazz.
The university's marching band will perform Sousa music at halftime of today's football game, and on Sunday the university's Wind Symphony will re-create a performance by Sousa's band, using music from the Sousa collection.
"The markings in the materials allow us to make sure our style meets Sousa's intent," said James F. Keene, the university's director of bands, who will portray Sousa at the concert.