Monday, July 30, 2012

How I got interested in all this

While on sabbatical this summer, I had the opportunity to take my family to the Interlochen Center for the Arts, in Interlochen, Michigan, where I had been both a student (National Music Camp, 1979) and a staff member (NMC, 1981, Interlochen Arts Academy, 1984-86).

I recalled from those years that "The Original Sousaphone" was on display there in the Giddings Concourse. As a former Sousaphone player (USC Trojan Marching Band, 1979-83), I was hoping to check it out again, but it was no longer to be seen - that is, until I was directed to a room in the library basement where I met John Beery, who is the curator for the impressive Greenleaf collection of instruments.

John very graciously not only allowed me to see the horn, but also to hold it and play it a bit, as pictured above. Needless to say, I was  thrilled!

The framed information sheet that had accompanied the Sousaphone when it was on display features a photo of Herman Conrad (who was with Sousa's band from 1892-1903) and says the following:

The Original Sousaphone, 1898 - This double Bb instrument was built especially for John Philip Sousa's band in 1898. It was a variety of a Helicon, with the bell opening upward. To honor Sousa, the name "Sousaphone" was suggested by Herman Conrad, a six-foot eight-inch giant who was the first man to play the Sousaphone professionally, using it on a world tour. Conrad's immense stature, together with the fact that this was the largest band instrument ever manufactured, caused the "Monster Sousaphone," as it was called, to be come a sensation. This instrument has been around the world many times and had been played before every king and queen and head of state of every country by 1931 when it was returned to Conn. It sold for $250 in 1898. Ten years later, in 1908, Conn built the first bell front Sousaphone which is the most popular type in the American band of today.
Upon returning home, I began to research the invention of the Sousaphone and began to wonder just how much of what that info sheet says is true. Is it really the very first Sousaphone? I quickly learned that there was debate about the claim. Further, did Conrad actually play it while he was with Sousa's band? And was he the one to suggest calling it a "Sousaphone."? (And, okay, was he really that tall?!).

Answers to all of these questions, and many others, will (eventually) be answered in this blog.

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