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Title Composer Description View or Listen Date Posted
Manhattan Beach March John Philip Sousa Guitar octet
Arranged by Tom Potter for 8 guitars.
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Parts: Gtr1  Gtr2  Gtr3  Gtr4  Gtr5  Gtr6  Gtr7  Gtr8

Title: "Manhattan Beach March "

Composer: John Philip Sousa (1854-1932)


Manhattan Beach is a community in lower Brooklyn, New York City, at the eastern end of the peninsula that once was the island called Coney Island.  (California also has a town called Manhattan Beach, near Los Angeles.  But it is unrelated to the story of Sousa's march.)

Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, in 1879 Click to enlarge (4566x1655, 2.8 MB)

In the 1890's, the area was a popular upper middle class summer resort.  The resort had been developed in 1877 by Long Island Railroad magnate Austin Corbin (1827-1896). 

Beginning in summer, 1893, one of the main attractions at Manhattan Beach was a series of concerts by John Philip Sousa's band.  In that year, Sousa wrote "Manhattan Beach March" as a theme song for his summer concerts.

You can read a memorable and poignant eye-witness account of a visit to Manhattan Beach in the chapter entitled, "A Vanished Seaside Resort" in The Color of a Great City by Theodore Dreiser (1871-1945), one of America's greatest writers.  Dreiser visited Manhattan Beach in the 1890's as a young man, and wrote about the amazing wealth and luxury on display, the lovely young women in bathing attire, and other amazing sights and sounds of the resort.  All this astonished a young man from the Midwest who had never been to an ocean beach before.

In the early years of the 20th century, the resort fell on hard times.  The big hotels disappeared and most of the 500 acres comprising the resort were sold to developers of the housing subdivisions that became the present-day community of Manhattan Beach.

Lower Brooklyn has problems with flooding during major Atlantic storms.  This was true to an unprecedented degree when Hurricane Sandy came ashore on October 30-31, 2012.  Much of Manhattan Beach then came under 8 or more feet of seawater.  Fortunately for their safety, most residents had obeyed an order to evacuate before the storm arrived.  They returned to find homes and businesses devastated.

The music

"Manhattan Beach March" is a musical portrait of an evening at the Manhattan Beach resort.  The piece has a four-measure introduction; the rest of the piece then has the structure AABBCCDD; that is, there are four sections, and each is played twice.  The C and D sections together comprise what musicologists call the Trio section of the March.  Notice the change of key at letter C.  As is typical in Sousa marches, we change key at the beginning of the Trio to the subdominant of the original key.

Here is what I think is happening in each section:

Section A (measures 5-20)

We experience here one of Manhattan Beach's most popular attractions: fireworks!  A rocket is launched at the first beat of measure 5.  The sforzando at the top of the melodic line at the first beat of measure 7 marks the explosion of the firework at its apogee, and is followed by a falling of the melodic line that mimics the "falling leaves" or embers of the explosion.  Then another firework is launched at the beginning of measure 9; it explodes at the beginning of measure 11, etc.  If this interpretation is correct, then we may assume that we should play the sforzandi in this section with considerable emphasis.

Section B (measures 21-52)

Perhaps the alternation of loud and soft snippets suggests the experience of riding on a carousel, while a calliope or wind band is playing close by.

Section C (measures 53-84)

In this relatively quiet part of the March, we hear the sound of ocean waves continually sweeping in and then gently receding.  We might imagine a pair of lovers who have wandered to a distant part of the beach and are sitting quietly, listening to the ebb and flow.

Section D (measures 85 to the end, marked Grandioso)

Here there is long crescendo from soft to loud, which is then followed by a long decrescendo from loud to soft.  This imitates the experience of someone who walks along the beach while a band is playing.  At first one is getting closer to the band, so the music gets louder, and reaches it's loudest when one is closest to the bandstand.  Then, as one walks further down the beach past the band, the music gets softer.  Thus, in a typical performance, the March does not end with a bang; rather, it fades out to a whisper.

Arrangement for 8 guitars

The source for this arrangement is the public domain version found in the IMSLP.org website (see references below). 

I wrote this arrangement of "Manhattan Beach March" for sight-reading by a guitar club or guitar class.  Some parts are easy, while others are more challenging.  To make the piece more guitar-friendly, I transposed the piece so that the initial key is E major instead of F major.

Performance instructions:

Play the repeat.  Do not play small notes: they are cue notes.  Long slurs indicate that you should try for a smooth, legato sound.  Perhaps most significant: observe the dynamic markings; the loudness markings (pp, p, mp, mf, f, ff), the crescendos and decrescendos, the accents and sforzandi, etc. are important. 

The metronome marking (half note = 104) is my suggestion; there is no metronome marking in the piano score that I used as my source.  Many recorded performances are faster than this, too fast in my opinion.  Some may prefer to play even slower than suggested here, say at half note = 92.  At that tempo, the March acquires a lovely lyricism.

Missing some players?

Septet: Guitars 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8
Sextet: Guitars 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8
Quintet: Guitars 1, 2, 3, 4, 8
Quartet: Guitars 1, 2, 3, 8

—Tom Potter

   May 20, 2013


Dreiser, Theodore, "A Vanished Seaside Resort", chapter in The Color of a Great City. Syracuse, N.Y: Syracuse University Press, 1996, reprint of the book originally published in 1923.  In Google Books.  An eye-witness description of the Manhattan Beach resort, written by one of America's greatest writers.

Glowinski, Patricia, "The Brooklyn Shore", in Brooklyn Historical Society Blog, June 3, 2011.

McManus, William, The Concord Band program notes for Manhattan Beach March, on Concord Band website.

Sousa, John Philip, "The Manhattan Beach March", transcription for piano, in Sousa's Great Marches, John Church, Cincinnati, 1893, reprinted by Dover Publications, 1975.  Download from IMSLP.org.  See also the version in the University of Tennessee Sheet Music Collection.

"John Philip Sousa" page in Dallas Wind Symphony website.

"John Philip Sousa" Wikipedia article.

Taylor, Will L., Image of Manhattan Beach, Wikimedia commons.

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