Friday, November 23, 2012

Hats off to the Sousaphone!

In Sousa's autobiography, Marching Along, the famous bandmaster recounts this story from 1904 when his band was playing at the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD:

Photo showing the band there in 1907; courtesy of the Sousa Archives
A company of vaudeville artists were there and entertained the public a couple of times a day in the same hall where we gave our concerts. One of the actors had a comedy scene in which, among his properties, were about two hundred hats that were kept in a net; at a certain cue these were freed and came tumbling onto the stage.

We were holding the stage and, in response to an insistent demand, the band struck up the "Manhattan Beach" march. Just how it happened, I don't know; but in the middle of the number someone cut the rope that held the hats in the net, and we were the most surprised lot of men you ever saw when a shower of hats descended upon us.

In the bells of the Sousaphones they were piled nearly three feet deep. The laughter that overwhelmed the audience was so tremendous that you couldn't hear the band at all, although they valiantly continued to play!

Sousa does refer here to "Sousaphones," plural, which is almost certainly incorrect, as there is no evidence of more than one Sousaphone in his band until 1915. However, at the time Sousa wrote these words (1927-28), he had five or six Sousaphones in his band, so the slip is understandable. Plus, along with the one Sousaphone in 1904, there were three or four tubas, which would have caught a lot of hats as well!

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