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E. E. Bagley and the National Emblem March

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     Edwin Eugene Bagley (May 29, 1857 – January 29, 1922) was an American composer, most famous for composing marches and in particular for the famous march National Emblem.  He was born in Craftsbury, VT, on May 29, 1857, and began his music career at the age of nine as a vocalist and comedian with Leavitt’s Bellringers, a company of entertainers that toured many of the larger cities of the United States. He began playing the cornet, traveling for six years with the Swiss Bellringers. After his touring days, he joined Blaisdell’s Orchestra of Concord, NH.  In 1880, he came to Boston, MA, as a solo cornet player at The Park Theater. For nine years, he traveled with the Bostonians, an opera company. While with this company, he changed from cornet to trombone. He also performed with the Germania Band of Boston and the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Edwin was married to Jannette S. Hoyt (1855–1927). His older brother Ezra M. Bagley (1853-1886) was first trumpet in the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1880 to 1884 and also composed marches for bands.  Bagley’s “National Emblem March” was composed in 1902 and published in 1906. Bagley finished the score during a 1902 train tour with his family band but became frustrated with the ending, and tossed the composition in a bin. Members of the band fortunately retrieved it and secretly rehearsed the score in the baggage car. Bagley was surprised when the band informed him minutes before the next concert that they would perform it. It became the most famous of all of Bagley’s marches. Despite this the composition did not make Bagley wealthy; he sold the copyright for $25.

The piece is a standard of the American march repertoire, appearing in eleven published editions. It is played as a patriotic tune on Independence Day celebrations in the United States and features the first twelve notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” played by euphoniums and trombones and ingeniously disguised in duple rather than triple time.  The U.S. military uses the trio section as ceremonial music for the color guard when presenting and retiring the colors. A theme from this march is popularly sung with the doggerel words “and the monkey wrapped his tail around the flagpole.”   Less demeaning words were written by lyricist Robert Levenson in 1918.  John Philip Sousa was once asked to list the three most effective street marches ever written. Not surprisingly, Sousa listed two of his own compositions, but he selected “National Emblem” for the third.

When Sousa formed and conducted the 350 member U.S. Navy Jackie Band at the Naval Station Great Lakes he chose five marches for World War I Liberty bond drives. Four were by Sousa—Semper Fidelis, Washington Post, The Thunderer, Stars and Stripes Forever, and Bagley’s National Emblem. National Emblem was also the favorite march composition of Frederick Fennell, who called the piece “as perfect a march as a march can be.”  The band of Arthur Pryor made the first recording of the march on May 19, 1908, followed by a United States Marine Band recording on March 21, 1914.  Bagley died at the Elliot Community Hospital in Keene, NH, on January 29, 1922, and is buried at the Greenlawn Cemetery in Keene. The Victorian Bandstand in Keene is named in his honor.

The following work by E. E. Bagley is contained in my collection:

National Emblem March

—material selected, adapted, and edited from several different sources



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