Friday, November 20, 2015

Sousa sought sound, not spectacle

For the past few weeks there has been a youtube video making the rounds on social media that features a guy with the world's largest tuba spitting out the rapid-fire crowd-pleaser "The Flight of the Bumblebee." It is the epitome of the word "spectacle"!

Is that what Sousa was shooting for in coming up with the idea for the Sousaphone? Most certainly not. Here's how I put it at the end of my first ITEA article:
What is most important to remember, however, is what prompted the creation of this unique member of the tuba family that is almost never seen today in its original form. It certainly wasn't for marching purposes, nor was it to serve as a spectacle (although it must have been a sight to see!). Rather, it was to generate a bass sound that would help make the Sousa Band what it ended up becoming - the envy of the world! Sousa put it rather pointedly in 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." Perhaps we should point the bells up again and let our Sousaphones return to the back rows of our concert bands and orchestras!
When the Sousaphone joined the band for the first time, on it's cross-country tour in early 1896, the press didn't mention anything about the new horn, but it sure made a big deal about the sound of the band. For example, in the February 9, 1896 edition of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, we read the following:
Sousa will have about him only the most expert performers, whether they play leading or subordinate instruments. He is especially exacting in the quality of tone they produce. He will have no clarionet screamers, or brass slang-wangers, in his band, whatever be their other musicianly accomplishments . . . the purity and nobility of the tone of his brasses is a distinguishing feature of his band. . . . It is spectacular music that the band makes, and that is one reason why crowds go to the concert.
"Spectacular music." That's what prompted the creation of the Sousaphone.

No comments:

Post a Comment