Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Solving the big problem of pain

The Sousaphone, of course, is quite a pain to carry for very long - there is simply no way around it. Whether in marching band or concert band, you are guaranteed to have at least 25 pounds of brass pressing down on your shoulder for the duration of the event. Ouch!

This reality led Edward J. Gulick, who worked for the C. G. Conn Co.,  to file the following patent on February 15, 1929 (I'm surprised it took so long before someone thought of this):

Patent application and drawing below can be found online here
Here's the illustration that accompanied the patent application, showing the device on a Helicon bass, but it would have been the same for a Sousaphone:

I've not come across any photos of this device actually being used, but perhaps it was. What I have seen are various attempts to put padding of some kind on the branch part of the horn, where the weight rests on the player's shoulder (even some of the big and tall guys who played for Sousa's Band did this).

Another option, for a concert setting at least, was to do what the gal to the left did back in the 1930s, although that doesn't quite look right, does it? (Might as well just play a tuba with a recording bell.) But in 1948 a band director from the midwest named Harry Wenger came up with a great solution. Here's what the advertisement looked like in the May-June issue of The Instrumentalist of that year (vol. 11, no. 5, p. 46):

The ad goes on to list the price at $29.95, and states that the chair is "a must item for the young beginner or the girl sousaphonist" (how's that for a sexist remark!) and that it "serves as a rack when [the] instrument is not in use." Here's the notice for the new invention in that same journal, but back on page 35:

When I first started playing the Sousaphone, way back in when I was in 4th grade (1970), that chair was the only reason I was able to fulfill my desire to be a tuba player at that young age. I distinctly remember crawling into the chair, with it's forest green seat pad, and playing my heart out with not a single ounce of weight on my shoulder (marching band, of course, was a different story, but I was bigger and stronger by that time, and the horn was made of plastic - more on that shortly).

I suppose it has never been easy to get comfortable sitting while playing a Sousaphone - at least until that chair came along. Even the men in Sousa's band, as you can see below in this photo from 1930, seemed to have their coping mechanisms:

Photo courtesy of Paul Bierley, The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa, p. 54

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