Friday, October 19, 2012

Conn's Monsters invade Europe

When the announcement of Conn's new instrument, "The Sousaphone," appeared in the January 22, 1898 edition of The Music Trade Review, it explained that "It will be a feature of Sousa's band during the forthcoming European tour."

That tour didn't launch until April 30, 1900, but before they set sail, Conn, who expected to wow Europe with his instruments (which he generously donated to the band for that very purpose!), explained that "The bass section is magnificent, comprising the great Conn Sousaphone, played by Mr. Herman Conrad, the monster American Model and Wonder Double Bb Basses, played by Messrs. Helleberg, Seavey and Del Negro" (C. G. Conn's Truth, April 1900, vol. 4, no. 8, p.17).

Here is the band at the Paris Exposition, either in May or July of that year. The Sousaphone and tubas can be seen in the upper right:

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress
And here is the band in late May or early June, in Hamburg, Germany:

Photo courtesy of Paul Bierley, John Philip Sousa: American Phenomenon, p. 11

Getting a closer look at the Sousaphone in that photo, we can see that it appears to be the same "upgraded" version shown a few posts below. The valve section matches, and there is even the hint of the "Sousa" engraving on the bell:

Upon returning from this tour in September, many of the prominent members of Sousa's Band sent a letter to Conn declaring the superiority of his instruments. Conn, of course, loved it, and posted the letter in his December 1900 Truth magazine (vol. 4, no. 10), adding that his "Wonder Instruments shone in magnificent splendor to the surprise and admiration of the musicians of the old world."

I have yet to come across any of that "surprise and admiration" in my research - at least from that tour. But a year later, from October 4 through December 13, 1901, Sousa and his Band toured England and Scotland, and the trip caught the attention of London's Illustrated Mail. Here's their article, dated October 12, 1901:

Image courtesy of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University
At one point, they state that "The instruments used in the band include several never seen in an English musical combination. For instance, there is the 'sousaphone,' an immense wind instrument weighing 33lb. It is a modification of the helicon bass, and was invented by Mr. Sousa. It requires a strong man to play it, and Mr. Sousa found him in Mr. Herman Conrad, an ex-German soldier, who stands 6ft. 4in."

Conrad is then featured in a photo, emphasizing his height. But notice that the horn, once again, matches the modified version that Conn built in 1898:

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