John Philip Sousa’s historic resistance to technology in music learning

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In this article, I explore John Philip Sousa’s historic resistance to music technology and his belief that sound recordings would negatively impact music education and musical amateurism. I review Sousa’s primary arguments from two 1906 essays and his testimony to the US Congress from the same year, based on the fundamental premise that machines themselves sing or perform, severing the connection between live listener and performer and thus rendering recordings a poor substitute for real music. Sousa coined the phrase “canned music,” and I track engagement with this phrase among the hundreds of newspapers and magazines focused on Sousa’s resistance. To better understand the construction of Sousa’s beliefs, I then review how his rich musical upbringing around the US Marine Band and the theaters of Washington DC lead to his conception of music as a dramatic ritual. And I examine the curious coda of Sousa’s life, during which he recanted his beliefs and conducted his band for radio, finding that in fact these experiences reinforced Sousa’s worries. The discussion considers how Sousa’s ideas can help us better to examine the contemporary shift to digital music by combining Sousa’s ideas with those of Sherry Turkle. Copyright © 2021 SAGE Publications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-25
JournalJournal of Historical Research in Music Education
Issue number1
Early online dateAug 2021
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


Thibeault, M. D. (2022). John Philip Sousa’s historic resistance to technology in music learning. Journal of Historical Research in Music Education, 44(1), 5-25. doi: 10.1177/15366006211033966


  • Music education history
  • Sound studies
  • Media education
  • John Philip Sousa
  • Sound recordings
  • Twentieth century


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