Monday, July 30, 2012

Sousa on the first Sousaphone

The Sousaphone, as you could probably guess, was named in honor of John Philip Sousa, the famous band leader and composer (1854-1932). But what's the story behind the first Sousaphone?

In a very interesting article in the August 30, 1922 edition of the Christian Science Monitor, Sousa himself recounted this:

The Sousaphone received its name through a suggestion made by me to J. W. Pepper, the instrument manufacturer of Philadelphia, fully 30 odd years ago. At that time, the United States Marine Band, of Washington, D. C., of which I was conductor, used a double B-flat bass tuba of circular form known as a “Helicon.” It was all right enough for street-parade work, but its tone was apt to shoot ahead too prominently and explosively to suit me for concert performances, so I spoke to Mr. Pepper relative to constructing a bass instrument in which the bell would turn upwards and be adjustable for concert purposes. He built one, and grateful to me for the suggestion, called it a Sousaphone. It was immediately taken up by other instrument makers, and is today manufactured in its greatest degree of perfection by the C. G. Conn Company, of Elkhart, Ind.
Here we learn that:
  •  Sousa himself came up with the idea for this new horn.
  • This was while he was still with the Marine Band (1892)
  • It was made by the J. W. Pepper Company (not Conn, as many have claimed over the years - although Sousa clearly preferred Conn Sousaphones, as noted in his quote).
  • It had an upright bell, like a tuba (although larger), but with a Helicon-type body, meaning that it rested on the left shoulder.
  • It was created for concert purposes, not marching. This is a big surprise to most people.
  • Mr. Pepper honored Sousa by calling it a "Sousaphone."

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