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F. E. Bigelow and Our Director

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Frederick Ellsworth Bigelow (1873-1929) was born on August 20, 1873, one of six children, five of them boys, to Charles H. (b. 1831) and Ann “Annie” (Jordon) Bigelow (b. 1842) and raised in Ashland, MA. In 1892, as a young man, he helped to found the Ashland Brass Band with his music teacher, Joseph Morrisette; and shortly thereafter composed “Our Director” (affectionately known as “O.D.”) ,  a march dedicated to Morrisette. After earning a degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy, Bigelow moved to Salem and took a position as head druggist for a store on Lafayette Street. In 1913 he established his own Forest River Pharmacy.   He married Nellie Uran at unknown date; they had no children. Bigelow also played saxophone in the Salem Cadet Band under Jean Missud.  Missud was so impressed with Bigelow’s composition that he published it himself in 1895.

This was the beginning of the march’s fame. Around the turn of the century it was appropriated as a fight song for Harvard football games and soon picked up by other colleges for the same purpose.  When publisher Walter Jacobs secured the rights to reprint it with words by well-known lyricist Jack Yellin (of Ain’t She Sweet fame) as “The Battle Song of Liberty,” its popularity sparked anew.  Widely popular in the U.S. during World War I, in Europe the tune was nearly ubiquitous.   Though “Our Director” may be Bigelow’s most famous composition, there were others. Many Internet resources state that Bigelow is known to have written only three compositions.  This is, however, inaccurate. He actually wrote at least eleven original compositions for band. Some featured solo alto sax. He also wrote several arrangements of works by other composers for band with solo sax or trombone and duets for two saxes. The Salem Cadet Band under Jean Missud premiered all these compositions and arrangements.

Another of Bigelow’s greatly popular marches was “The NC-4 March” dedicated to Lt. Commander Albert C. Read and the men of the NC4 to honor an early trans-Atlantic airplane flight. Though the name may not mean much to us today, the title refers to a very hot topic of 1919. The Navy-Curtiss-4 was a flying boat, what we would now call a seaplane, designed by Glenn Curtiss and his team, and manufactured by Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company. It made the first successful transatlantic flight from May 8 to 27, 1919.  Though he spent his life as a pharmacist, Bigelow played cornet in numerous New England Brass Bands. Frederick died in 1929.  In his tribute to Bigelow published after he passed on, Joseph L. Rainey said, “When bands, through lack of ability, were unable to perform the more difficult marches, they always found a friend in ‘Our Director’ that they could rely on.”  According to the Heritage Encyclopedia of Band Music, Our Director is “one of the most famous of all marches. It has been adapted by countless schools, colleges, clubs and other organizations as their alma mater or fight song.”

My collection includes the following works by F. E. Bigelow:

The NC-4.

Our Director (March).

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

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