El McMeen ‘strikes up the band’

Sparta. The Sparta resident releases a new album, the first-ever arrangements of John Philip Sousa marches for guitar.

Sparta /
24 Sep 2020 | 02:28

El McMeen is known for his affinity for guitar music. Now, working with Mel Bay Publications, one of the pre-eminent publishers of guitar music in the world, he has released an album of John Philip Sousa marches titled “Strike Up the Band.”

“This is the first album ever of Sousa marches arranged for guitar, and some or all of these marches have never, to my knowledge, been recorded on guitar,” he said. “This is my first new guitar recording in over a decade. The music is very difficult, the arrangements are all mine – and in an alternative tuning CGDGAD.”

Included are “El Capitan,” “King Cotton,” “Hands Across the Sea,” “Semper Fidelis,” “The Liberty Bell,” and “The Thunderer.”

“I know of no other guitar recordings of any of the six great Sousa marches on this recording,” McMeen said. “The arrangements and performances on the recording are all my own.”

McMeen was a serious clarinetist starting in the fourth grade through his freshman year at Harvard. “I played in competitive bands and orchestras,” he said. “I didn’t start playing guitar until senior year in secondary school – circa 1965 – and have played incessantly since then, first as accompaniment for my singing. Then, in the mid-to late-1980 I found my ‘voice’ on the instrument as a guitar soloist.”

His first two recordings were released by Shanachie Records (now Shanachie Entertainment) in 1991 and 1992. That was the beginning of his grand crescendo.

He is included in the Digitaldreamdoor listing of the top 100 acoustic guitarists of all time. Hhe has written or co-written 10 guitar music books for Mel Bay, some out of print, with four more to be released in 2020-21. His memoir, “Growing Up in God’s Country,” is a number one new release on Amazon.

McMeen was born in central Pennsylvania, in Lewistown. He and his wife lived in Sparta from 2002 to 2012, returned to Pennsylvania for five years, and then moved permanently to Sparta in 2017.

‘A word from the Lord’

“Strike up the Band” is a special creation for McMeen. He arranged his first band march for guitar in 2015, at age 68.

“An older dog can apparently learn some new tricks,” he said. “I can, moreover, identify the time and circumstances under which I decided to do a whole guitar album on band march music – early June 2019, before 7 a.m., on the way to my weekly Christian men’s fellowship group in Sparta. I firmly believe that it was a word from the Lord. The plan was substantially implemented in a very short period of time, in under three weeks from the day I received the idea.”

McMeen said the album represents “a gratifying combination of my passion as a guitarist and my earlier musical experience as a serious clarinetist in various concert bands and orchestras. Thus, strong personal considerations were factors in the genesis of this book. But the music itself drove the endeavor. These marches are compelling, with timeless melodies and drama in development.”

He identifies the target audience as acoustic guitarists worldwide with an interest in great American music, and those who simply “want a challenge.”

The album is downloadable on the Bandcamp site at elmcmeen.bandcamp.com.

“There are often delays in its appearance on other platforms, therefore, Bandcamp is the main portal for my music now,” McMeen said.

The album is also available on all the major streaming services, and the hard disc can be ordered by contacting McMeen through his website, elmcmeen.com.

The album represents “a gratifying combination of my passion as a guitarist and my earlier musical experience as a serious clarinetist in various concert bands and orchestras. Thus, strong personal considerations were factors in the genesis of this book. But the music itself drove the endeavor. These marches are compelling, with timeless melodies and drama in development.” --El McMeen