Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Original Sousaphone? Well...

When I started this blog back in July, I mentioned that I would be seeking to find answers to all of the questions raised by the info sheet above, which has accompanied the modified "Monster" Sousaphone residing up at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. I'm now in a good position to do this, so let's go through it line-by-line:

The Original Sousaphone 1898
       Definately not the original, as the Interlochen horn was made by Conn no earlier than 1903. J. W. Pepper made the first Sousaphone sometime between 1894-96 by my estimate, after John Philip Sousa had given him the idea back in 1892.

This double Bb instrument was built especially for John Philip Sousa's band in 1898
       Yes and no - yes, it may very well have been built for use in Sousa's band (we simply can't say for sure), but no, not in 1898. Again, the style of horn places it no earlier than 1903.

It was a variety of Helicon, with the bell opening upward
       True. The original Sousaphone, and all Sousaphones up until 1908, had an upward pointing bell with what was essentially a Helicon body.

To honor Sousa, the name "Sousaphone" was suggested by Herman Conrad
       This is not impossible, but in 1922 Sousa recounted that it was J. W. Pepper who honored Sousa with the name. But perhaps Conrad suggested the name to Pepper - we just don't know.

a six-foot eight-inch giant who was the first man to play the Sousaphone professionally
       Conrad was indeed the first Sousaphonist, playing the Pepper horn briefly, and then the first horn to come out of the Conn factory in 1898. But the tallest my sources place his height at is six-feet six-inches.

using it on a world tour
       Not exactly. Conrad did play an earlier Conn Sousaphone - the one actually built in 1898 - while Sousa's band went to France and Germany in 1900, and England and Scotland in 1901. But the only "world tour" that Sousa went on (which was really just a selective trip around the globe) was in 1911, although Conrad was long gone from the band by then. The Interlochen horn, however, may very well have been the Sousaphone on that tour. It's certainly the same model.

Conrad's immense stature, together with the fact that this was the largest band instrument ever manufactured, caused the "Monster Sousaphone," as it was called, to become a sensation.
       Seems to be the case - especially when it  first appeared in Europe (1900-01). But again, we're talking about a Sousaphone earlier than the Interlochen horn.

This instrument has been around the world many times and had been played before every king and queen and head of state of every country by 1931 when it was returned to Conn.
       A free and clear exaggeration. As mentioned above, Sousa did go around the world once - but just once. And he certainly didn't make it to every country, whether on that trip, or on all of his trips combined. The horn surely logged a lot of miles from 1903-31 (if it was indeed built in 1903), but those would have been mainly in the US, and certain parts of Europe.

It sold for $250 in 1898.
       Perhaps - although, again, remember that we're talking about a horn earlier than the one at Interlochen. The only evidence I came across was the approximate sale price of Conn's second Sousaphone in 1899, which was "in the neighborhood of $250."

Ten years later, in 1908, Conn built the first bell front Sousaphone which is the most popular type in the American band of today.
       Yep - no argument there.

One last bit of information - and this surprised me - is that in the photo on the info sheet (enlarged below), Conrad is wearing a hat that says "Pryor" rather than "Sousa." But I have not come across any other evidence that Conrad played with Pryor's band. However, both Pryor and Conrad served in Sousa's band from 1892, when it started, until 1903, when Pryor decided to form his own band. Conrad, it seems, played with Pryor at least long enough to have his photo snapped in a Pryor Band uniform!

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