Yesterday was Independence Day in the US so we went to see a fireworks display. The orchestra played the usual fare of Broadway, Americana and such, and of course, invariably play the “1812 Overture” which kicks off the fireworks.
But for me that’s not the highlight. The highlight is John Philip Sousa’s, “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” a song I find not only to be great but actually the rare song that’s thrilling. You don’t have to be American to love this purely as a great march.
Sousa did not compose this song to be any sort of anthem per se. According to Wikipedia, he actually did it on hearing of the death of his Sousa band’s leader. Interestingly, it was first performed in 1897 at Willow Grove Park outside Philadelphia, an amusement park that is no longer there but where I misspent at least some of my youth.
What I love about this song is not so much that it stirs patriotic feelings in me. Sure, I’m patriotic but I’m hardly a flag-waver. What I love about it is that it’s such a magnificent song. I think it’s one of the best songs ever written, almost perfect in its construction.
You may well be familiar with a standard orchestral version of it. But I will be willing to bet that many people have never heard it played entirely on acoustic guitar. (And no, not just strummed). Guy Van Duser is a Massachusetts-based fingerstyle guitarist and part-time instructor at Berklee College of Music in Boston. He is a devout adherent of Chet Atkins, often mastering his complex playing style.
In 1977, he recorded an album called American Finger Style Guitar. Among other wonders, he recorded his solo version of “Stars and Stripes.” Most of the album is recorded in a studio but he did “Stars” live so people wouldn’t think he overdubbed it. Apparently he learned it by listening to a recording by the Michigan State marching band.
So, ladies and gentlemen. Prepare to be blown away. A little late for this year’s Independence Day but pretty damn early for next year’s. Here is Guy Van Duser performing “The Stars and Stripes Forever.”