Friday, October 30, 2015

Why I thought it was never played

The one and only photo of the first Sousaphone,
or so I thought! (Courtesy of J. W. Pepper)
For my first ITEA Journal article, I found overwhelming evidence to settle the question of who made the first Sousaphone - it was J. W. Pepper in 1895. But what I wasn't able to find was any evidence that the horn had actually been played in Sousa's band. Pepper claimed that it was, but I wondered if perhaps he was anticipating something that never ended up happening. After all, . . .
  • Why was I unable to find a single mention of the new instrument at that time outside of a few Pepper publications?
  • Why did The Music Trade Review, over two years later, announce Conn's Sousaphone as if such a horn had never been seen before?
  • Why did Herman Conrad, who we can assume was well-acquainted with Pepper's Sousaphone (that's the two of them above), rave about Conn's horn, calling it "perfect" and "best of all in good tune"? Did Pepper's prototype simply not cut it with the great bass player?
  • Why was Sousa himself so ho-hum about Pepper instruments, giving them only a "satisfactory" rating (see his less-than-ringing endorsement below). Did that first Sousaphone not cut it with him either?
  • Why was I unable to find a single photograph of Conrad and the historic instrument with Sousa's band, whether posing or in concert?
  • Why, when the Pepper Sousaphone was found in 1973 (stay tuned for that amazing story!), was it unfinished, that is, raw brass? Would it have appeared in concert in that condition?
All of this suggested to me that perhaps the horn was never played in Sousa's peerless concert band, and that's what I speculated in my article. But all of that changes now with the historic photograph of the band - and the Pepper Sousaphone - in Salt Lake City on March 7, 1896!
I still have a hard time reconciling much of what I said above, but now we know that Pepper's horn was played with the band for at least part of one tour in early 1896. And perhaps the newspapers didn't ignore the new instrument entirely; perhaps I just haven't found a reference to it yet. It's significant that there is a hole in the Sousa Band Press Books from September 4, 1894 to June 13, 1896, which is where a relevant clipping or two might have been found!

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