Friday, December 7, 2012

Sousa stays with raincatchers

Sousa, as you can imagine, was a big fan of the Sousaphone. After all, the new horn, with its big upright bell, was his idea, as he explained in his autobiography, Marching Along (published in 1928):

Way back when I was with the Marines [1892] they used a Helicon tuba wound around the body. I disliked it for concert work because the tone would shoot ahead and be too violent. I suggested to a manufacturer that we have an upright bell of large size so that the sound would diffuse over the entire band like the frosting on a cake! He designed a horn after that description and it has been in use ever since, by many bands, under the name of the Sousaphone (p. 334).
When the bell-front design was introduced by Conn in 1908, Sousa was not interested. He stayed with the original Sousaphone model, popularly known as a "raincatcher," for his entire career as a bandleader - ending with his death in 1932. At times, Sousa used as many as six of these "Monsters" in his band, as can be seen in this photo from 1925:

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress online
Sousa simply loved the sound of those big old bell-up horns. As he was quoted in The Christian Science Monitor of August 30, 1922: "It is my belief, when properly played, that the Sousaphone tone mingles with better effect with the tones of other instruments, string and brass, than is the case with the ordinary bass instruments [meaning string basses, tubas, helicons, and perhaps even bell-forward Sousaphones]" (from the article, "Sousaphone Seen as Possible Substitute for Upright Tuba," p. 8).

Curiously, there is one photo of the Sousa Band from December 1921 showing a bell-front horn in the midst of four bell-up Sousaphones:

Photo courtesy of Paul Bierley, The Incredible Band of John Philip Sousa, p. 34.
However, as Paul Bierley explains, "Sousa temporarily permitted the 'bell-front' sousaphone in the back row while a 'bell-up' model, like the other four, was being manufacturered." Clearly, he didn't want to do any long-term damage to his beloved "frosting on the cake"!

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