ACT II, SCENE 3.
TURKEY IN THE STRAW (1915), DIXIE (1859).
(1909. Sousa, age 55, is being interviewed by an arrogant “news hound”
Reporter (NR), played by T. They are DR. NR wears period horn-rimmed eyeglass frames)
NR: Mr. Sousa, thank you so much for taking the time away from your busy
schedule for this interview.
JP: Not at all, young man. Shall we proceed?
NR: Yes, of course. First, I just wanted to clear up the mystery of the
JP: (A bit ruffled, and interrupting) ...There is no mystery about the instrument,
young man. My original design specifically indicated the tubing should
encircle the player’s body, and the bell should point skyward, thus projecting
the sound upward and mushrooming it over the entire band, you see.
NR: Ah yes...the “raincatcher” model. (He laughs lightly, but snidely)
JP: Young man, I do not find that at all amusing...and if I ever discover
my bandsmen gave it that ridiculous nickname...
NR: (Wiping the smile off his face) Sorry, sir, I was only trying to be...
JP: (Interrupting) The 1898 model was quite satisfactory! Why on earth the
manufacturer decided, after nine years, to alter its design...and point the bell
NR: Perhaps we should change the subject, sir?
JP: Fine. (Muttering to himself) I won’t use the thing, anyway...
NP: (Half grinning) Right. Well...now that you are such a successful bandleader,
you still are campaigning vigorously in opposition to the phonograph and...
JP: (Interrupting again) Canned music, sir! It’s an ethical menace,
threat to live performances, and a flagrant abuse of composers’ rights!
NP: (Reeling a bit) That’s quite a mouthful, sir.
JP: Well, I hope your pencil is very sharp, young man, because here is an
go with it! I can absolutely guarantee you that, with President Roosevelt’s
promised support, the new copyright laws that Victor Herbert and I have
been so fervently fighting for will be passed, this year!
NP: And even if they’re not, sir, the public is buying more and more
of these new
phonograph records daily...and your music is amongst the most popular...
JP: (Regaining decorum as he interrupts) My good man, let me explain some-
thing to you. I am, first and foremost, an entertainer. My greatest pleasure
and stimulation comes from playing for the thousands of audiences, both
here in America and abroad, that I do; and it is my duty to entertain these
good people in the best possible situation: Live!
NR: And by “entertaining,” does that mean playing both good and
bad music, if
that’s what they want?
JP: (Ruffled) I beg your pardon, sir? My band’s repertoire consists
of works from
the most respected composers in the world…Wagner...Rossini...Tschaikow-
NP: (Interrupting with a nastly little laugh) ...and “Turkey in the Straw”???
JP: (A pause; eyeing him and almost clenching his teeth) And what, pray tell,
wrong with “Turkey in the Straw”?
NR: (Grinning) Well, no disrespect, sir, but isn’t it just a wee bit...well...corrrrny?
JP: Corny? Rubbish, sir! Artistic snobbery! Many an immortal tune has been
born in the stable or the cornfield. “Turkey in the Straw” is a perfectly magical
tune! Anyone should be proud of having written it!
NP: (Still trying to get the best of him) And...”Dixie”?
JP: (Smiling and pacing himself) Ah... ”Dixie”... Young man,
let me tell you
Something about the public: They will tell you what they want to hear...and if
it is “Dixie,” then, by God, they shall have it! (About to trump his ace) Listen,
there was a series of concerts given in Fayetteville, North Carolina, back in
the summer of 1891, as I recall, where every other tune was “Dixie!”
NP: (Backing off; a beat) ...you’re joking!
JP: (Enjoying the coup) Not at all. (Recalling the event with a sense of
and mysticality, then crescendoing with excitement) The first playing of it...it
was as though...an electric shock had just traversed right through the assem-
bly. A rebel yell, starting up on the grandstand, went booming down the
street, through the surging crowd...never was there so tremendous and thrilling a
shout! People were hugging one another...a myriad of hats went rocketing
heavenward...and for a full fifteen minutes pandemonium reigned!
NR: (Somewhat awestruck at Sousa’s transformation) Just from playing “Dixie”?
JP: (Smugly) Precisely. The audience simply couldn’t get enough of
We actually had to play it 8 times. (He chuckles)
JP: So you see, sir, that is why it is my duty to play what the public wants
whether it is the William Tell Overture, the Battle Hymn of the Republic”...
NR: (Sheepishly) ...or ”Turkey in the Straw”?...
JP: ...or “Dixie!”
(Band immediately plays “Turkey in the Straw”/”Dixie” medley as Sousa proudly walks off DR with NP in hot pursuit)