David Vroman - Extraordinary Impersonation as John Philip Sousa

February 22, 2011

Every two years, something magical happens on campus that makes me feel like I'm being transported back in time to the early 1900s. Our very own director of bands, Dr. David Vroman, pulls his white band uniform from the closet and dresses as the great bandmaster John Philip Sousa. Bearded and bespectacled, he then leads the Bradley Symphonic Winds in a tribute concert to the great conductor and composer. Sunday was one of those magical days as the band played to a full house in the Dingeldine Music Center.

Dr. Vroman made sure the afternoon was not only entertaining, but educational as he arranged for Scott W. Schwartz of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois to present a lecture about the famed musician. In addition, news anchor Bob Larson served as narrator during the concert and added other tidbits of information about Sousa.

Did you know that John Philip Sousa "played in Peoria" 17 times between 1892 and 1931? I still remember when he brought his famous band to the Peoria Coliseum in 1902. When John Philip Sousa came to town, it was a big deal" in Peoria and in other cities across the nation"_even in other parts of the world!

People loved to hear his music and to watch him. He was a showman who knew how to give the audience what they wanted. As Mr. Larson told the audience, Sousa played music the people appreciated rather than pieces designed to impress other musicians.

He would always play nine selections, plus encores. At each concert, one selection was chosen to appeal to the region in which he was playing. When he was in a college town, he would play the school song, and that included the "Bradley Loyalty Song" when he came to Peoria. Dr. Vroman kept that tradition alive and led the band in Bradley's school song while the audience clapped along, just like they do at athletic events.

A highlight of the afternoon was a performance by Linden Christ as soprano Marjorie Moody, "The Lady in White." Ms. Moody accompanied the Sousa band on tour, lending her operatic voice to concerts, and Ms. Christ's performance added authenticity to this special tribute.

During the pre-concert lecture, Mr. Schwartz talked about Sousa's love of baseball. Sousa grew up in the Washington, D.C. area and played baseball in a sandlot in front of the White House. He said that when Sousa was playing ball, President Abraham Lincoln could have been watching the games. I couldn't help but envision Mr. Lincoln, concerned with all the worries of the Civil War, taking a brief break and watching Sousa and his friends play. Mr. Schwartz said in those days, the glory came not from home runs, but from stealing bases.

Ah, I did so love the journey back in time. The concert ended with a grand finale of patriotic music and a tribute to the veterans in the audience. The afternoon was an energetic trip down Memory Lane that I'll not soon forget. Many thanks to Dr. Vroman and to our talented students in the Bradley Symphonic Winds. What a glorious Sunday afternoon!

Reprinted from the Bradley University Blog, Lydia's View