It is with heavy heart that I, John Philip Sousa, composer and patriot, address you today for the purpose of setting right a great injustice. Every year, the entire music faculty of Connellsville High School comes together to present one outstanding student with the John Philip Sousa award—a glorious wood-mounted plaque that shines as brightly as does my own legacy in the marching arts. And every year, they have done well in upholding my name. That is, until they announced the recipient for the 2007-2008 academic year.

The winner? A gum-snapping ne'er-do-well by the name of Brittany Collier, who in no way exemplifies the spirit of John Philip Sousa.

Some 30 years ago this institution, in an act I am most grateful for and not in the least surprised by, established the John Philip Sousa Award for the student who exhibits the most talent and dedication toward the live performance of marches. Yet that selfsame school has made a mockery of the honor which bears my name by awarding it to someone undeserving at best and scandalous at worst.

Brittany Collier. A brutish young imp with all the quick-stepping and gay revelry of a rotted barrel of Bartlett pears.

When I survey the long list of recipients across this great land, from Lane Tech in Chicago to the Virgil I. Grissom High School in Huntsville, Alabama, I see nothing but excellence in marchistry. Collier's inclusion among their ranks is more than a mere blemish on this veritable hall of heroes. It is a boil, a scar, an open, festering wound.

She is no better than a discordant note in an otherwise triumphant melody and if she continues to gorge herself on sweet cakes, nay will the greatest of my early marches be the only thing called "The Thunderer."

Know you that my consternation does not stem from the fact that the winner is of the fairer sex. In 2001 it was a young woman named Tina Aberdeen who lived up to the spirit, flair, and oompah-pah that is synonymous with my name. She was granted the award, and to it she accorded due respect. But Brittany Collier, who sits in the first chair clarinet—just one more honor for which she is utterly undeserving—is callow, of an easily distracted temperament, and cannot march for a hill of beans. She has made the name John Philip Sousa ring loud, clamorous, and hollow.

She doesn't even use her spit valve.

Last year's winner, Danny Klein, was by all accounts a deserving chap. I'd be proud to serve alongside him in the Marine Corps Band. I wonder what he's up to now? No doubt he's busy inspiring our men in uniform with his tuba playing. Now that's the spirit of John Philip Sousa! Not listening to Shakira on headphones until it's time for lunch, then bolting out the door to smoke cigarettes with one's friends, Miss Collier.

The very thought makes me shudder.

When I wrote "The Liberty Bell," it was meant as an homage to the spirit of patriotism and parades that filled my heart, not as a cheap melody to be slandered with vulgar raspberries and half-hearted toots. I fear something altogether different fills Miss Collier's heart. What has taken a century to build this classless harlot undoes with a single flat Fin the second strain. Her timing is off, her triplets sloppy, and her dress better befits a strumpet than a member of the noble regiment.

The John Philip Sousa Award used to be a true measure of excellence. It was bestowed upon young men and women who possessed the gravitas required to step in rhythm while dressed in the reddest of outfits and the highest of hats. It was never meant to fall into the hands of a scatter-brained oaf whose true passion is for jazz band.

If I were the one to pick—and by rights I ought to be, by God—I would dictate that this year's award for Connellsville High School's most revered musician should undoubtedly go to Tim Jenkins. Now there is a boy of promise. While he may not be the best performer, young Jenkins has worked harder at his instrument than anyone else in his class. His gaze is steady, his aim true, and his constitution strong. When his cymbals come together, the hills themselves shake. Never has anyone played them with such gusto. Certainly not that brazen, cow-eyed ragamuffin Brittany Collier and her equally contemptuous boyfriend, Terrance Krane.

Mark my words, Connellsville High Scool Class of 2008: If we don't honor this nation's great marching traditions, it may readily fall.