Chief arranger for 'The President's Own' band speaks at conference

June 11, 2004|JULIE McGLOTHLIN

What do Sousa marches, Gershwin pieces, and music from the popular cartoon Sponge Bob Squarepants all have in common?

They have all been arranged in versions by Stephen Bulla, the chief arranger to "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band and White House Orchestra, and who was one of the speakers at the 2004 Great American Brass Band Festival Conference on American Band History.

Earlier this week, festival organizers were concerned that President Reagan's funeral would interfere with Bulla's presentation, because his duties include providing scores for former president's funerals.

As Reagan's health began to deteriorate last fall, the music for his funeral became a priority for Bulla, whose job it was to arrange the music chosen by the Reagan family. That work was complete.


This morning in the Weisiger Theater of the Norton Center for the Arts, Bulla discussed "Reconstructing and Orchestrating Sousa's Last March: The Library of Congress March." In the spring of 2003, Bulla finished the Sousa march, which was the only one left incomplete when he died in 1932. At the request of Loras Schissel, music specialist for the Library of Congress and a Sousa expert, and the Sousa family, Bulla reconstructed and completed the march using only "piano sketches and a couple of melodies."

"It wasn't like I was trying to inject myself in [the march]. The whole point was to be authentic," says Bulla. In order to maintain this authenticity, Bulla worked with some of Sousa's other pieces from his late period. Having spent years working with Sousa music through the U.S. Marine Band, Bulla was able to follow Sousa's "forms," using typical percussion patterns as well as melodic clues to complete the march.

"It was a pretty awesome job to be assigned with. It is a real thrill for me and it has so much historical significance. I was just jazzed about doing it," says Bulla.

It seems fitting that the chief arranger for the U.S. Marine Band should be the one to finish Sousa's march, as Sousa was both a member and later the leader of "The President's Own."

"Library of Congress March" debuted last year

The completed "Library of Congress March" was debuted at the Library of Congress on May 6, 2003, at a tribute to philanthropist John Kluge and with John Philip Sousa IV, Sousa's great-grandson, in attendance. The Sousa family requested that the march be made available to the general public and it is accessible to everyone on the Library of Congress Web page.

At the conference this morning, Bulla showed examples of the original fragments of the Library of Congress March, discussed the march's completion and then led the 257th Army Band in performing the piece. Festival-goers who wish to hear this "new" Sousa march can attend the 257th Army Band's other performances this weekend, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, where the march will be part of their program.

In addition to arranging music for presidential funerals, Bulla selects the "right music" for state dinners, special events and visiting dignitaries and other events. While easy-listening, show tunes, Disney pieces and other American fare are the norm for official White House events, Bulla also arranges music for U.S. Marine Band programs in schools, including music from the Simpsons and Sponge Bob Squarepants.

"What I learned in the job is that I'd be writing all kinds, all styles of music." As an arranger, Bulla does most of his work behind the scenes, creating and rehearsing pieces while the directors of the Marine Band actually do the performance conducting.

Bulla has been the staff arranger for "The President's Own" since 1980. In addition to his work with the U.S. Marine Band and the Salvation Army, Bulla also does freelance work, including the musical score the Discovery Channel series "Century of Flight," and several jazz trombone ensemble CDs entitled "Spiritual To The Bone." He is returning to the GABBF after leading the National Capital Band and performing in the Southern Territorial Band, both Salvation Army Bands, at previous festivals.

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