Sunday, October 28, 2012

Marching with a Sousaphone

It is a surprise to most people that the Sousaphone was created, at John Philip Sousa's request in 1892, not for use as a marching instrument, but for use in Sousa's concert band. But it wasn't too long before we hear of Sousaphones on the march.

In fact, a few posts below, we learned that one of the earliest Conn Sousaphones, built in 1899 for the A. O. U. W. Military Band in Cedar Falls, Iowa, was used in in the Grand Army parade at Philadelphia on September 5th of that year. This may very well be the earliest reference to someone marching with a Sousaphone.

While I have not been able to find a photo of that horn in the parade, here is what the festivities looked like that day in Philly:

Photo courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia
A little over three weeks later, we find the Sousa Band marching in a parade in New York, celebrating Admiral Dewey's victory in the Spanish-American War. The first Conn Sousaphone, built in 1898 and dubbed the "Monster," can be seen in the front row, on the far left:

Photo courtesy of the Sousas Archives
Sousa's Band rarely marched, but here they are again - this time in 1916 in New York - with the Sousaphone right up front, on the left, once more:

Photo courtesy of the Sousa Archives
Today, the only context in which most of us ever see a Sousaphone is a marching band - whether in a parade, or, more likely, on a football field. For example, here is "The Spirit of Troy," the USC Trojan Marching Band, marching in the 1980 Rose Parade (and I am one of those 16 Sousaphonists; later that day, our team beat the Buckeyes 17-16):
When it comes to marching at a football game, it appears that the Notre Dame Band may have been the first to do so, although the University of Illinois Band, to which Sousa himself had ties, is also claimed to be the first - as well as the first college band to use Sousaphones.

The Marching Illini Band is also said to be the first "to spell words and perform intricate maneuvers while playing," doing do in 1910. But three years earlier, the Purdue Band began forming the letter "P" on the field, as shown - something they continue to do today.

Here's a closer look at the bass section, consisting of three Sousaphones (all "raincatchers," as this was 1907) and five Helicons:

But when it comes to Sousaphones in college marching bands, there is no tradition more well-known than dotting the "i" in the script Ohio. However, the truth is, it was the University of Michigan marching band who first performed the script Ohio in 1932 (gasp!), while the Ohio State Band didn't adopt the formation until 1936. And - get this - it wasn't a Sousaphone at first that dotted the "i" at Ohio State, but rather a trumpet player (look closely - that's clearly not a Sousaphone):

A Sousaphone was used four games later, and then, in 1938, the Sousaphone player began to perform his characteristic turn and bow. But, hey - what do I care?! The only letters I want to see a marching band form on the football field are these:

Photo taken by my little brother in 2007 - that would be me poking my head in

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