Paul Murtha (b. 1960) is a composer, arranger, and conductor who has distinguished himself through his work as Chief Arranger for both the United States Military Academy Band at West Point (1990-1996) and “Pershing’s Own” United States Army Band (presently). He has written and arranged hundreds of pieces for bands at all levels. He wrote Aquia Landing in 2011 “in the classic style of J.P. Sousa using the form that he perfected in the early part of the 20th century.” He describes his inspiration in the program notes in the score:
Aquia Landing (pronounced /uh kwhy’ yuh/) is located at the confluence of Aquia Creek and the Potomac River in Stafford County, Virginia. A pivotal transportation hub between southern states and northern ports, passengers, cargo and entire rail cars were transferred from the RF&P Railroad to steamboat vessels which carried them from the Aquia Creek up the Potomac River to Washington, DC and Baltimore, MD. This key location also positioned Aquia Landing as a major gateway along the ‘Network to Freedom‘ through which fugitive slaves had to pass in order to reach freedom.
Shortly after the start of the Civil War, this important transportation hub became a site of interest to both sides. Union steamships and Confederate artillery exchanged fire for three days over the landing during the Battle of Aquia Creek (May 31-June 2, 1861). A year later in April 1862, the Union troops returned to Stafford, rebuilding the landing, and using it as an operations center for approximately five months. During that period, an estimated 10,000 freedom seekers who sought refuge behind Union lines passed through Stafford, many of whom are believed to have been shipped north from Stafford to Alexandria, VA or Washington, DC.
So what makes Aquia Landing a “Sousa-style” march? It can be summed up in the form: it opens with a 4-bar introduction, starting on the dominant chord (F major in this case). It lands firmly on the tonic (B-flat major) for the repeating first strain (m. 5), in which the melody is in the higher instruments. The melody shifts to the bass instruments in the second strain (m. 22), which also repeats. An interlude in the percussion (m. 39) leads to the trio (m. 47), which is in a different key (E-flat major, one more flat in everyone’s part), featuring a slower-paced melody. The trio melody appears a total of three times, each more intense than the one before, and each one separated from the other by a “dogfight” section in which the high and low instruments seem to fight each other. The march then ends with a classic Sousa stinger.
Click here for a professional-grade recording of Aquia Landing. If you prefer to hear a live performance, here is an actual middle school band doing it:
Also take a look at Paul Murtha’s publisher, Hal Leonard.