Monday, December 21, 2015

Conn or Pepper? The debate in '94

John Beery and Lloyd Farrar at the AMIS annual meeting of 1994
In the course of my research, I came across a rather unique event that occurred almost exactly a century after the first Sousaphone was created. It was at the 23rd annual meeting of the American Musical Instrument Society, which was organized that year - 1994 - by Dr. Margaret Downie Banks. Here's what she shared about that event a few years ago, upon receiving The Curt Sachs Award for 2014:
Certainly one of my most memorable collaborations with AMIS was the annual meeting that I organized in Elkhart, Indiana in 1994, to coincide with an exhibition I curated about the C. G. Conn company, called “Elkhart’s Brass Roots.” Conference attendees toured many of the town’s historic musical instrument factories, enjoyed a turn-of-the-century band concert on Island Park, and witnessed an animated talk about the history of drums presented by the legendary William F. Ludwig II. I even enticed C. G. Conn III to travel to Elkhart from California for only the second time in his life to receive the keys to the City from the Mayor. Behind the scenes, however, I found myself having to explain the good-natured debate about the origins of the Sousaphone that was simultaneously being stirred up by Pepper loyalist and AMIS member, Lloyd Farrar. Was the first Sousaphone designed in Elkhart by Conn’s grandfather or was it made in Philadelphia by J. W. Pepper? That debate, incidentally, has never been conclusively resolved—at least not to my satisfaction.
Now, of course, that "good-natured debate about the origins of the Sousaphone" has been "conclusively resolved" (I've even enjoyed a few email exchanges with Dr. Banks, who encouraged me to call her Peggy). But back in '94, no one was able to make a solid case. The Pepper horn had been returned to the J. W. Pepper company only a few years earlier, and Lloyd Farrar, who Peggy mentioned, was hard at work on behalf of Pepper, learning all he could about that historic Sousaphone (I have had numerous phone conversations with Lloyd this past year).

In digging through the archives at J. W. Pepper last year (with their permission, of course), I came across some of the correspondence between Lloyd and Peggy from the early 90s. They had begun sharing information and documents that shed light on the early history of the Sousaphone, but in a letter dated November 7, 1992, Peggy declared to Lloyd, "I am still not convinced, from the photos and information which I have received, at least, that the Pepper instrument is incontrovertibly the first sousaphone. Nor am I convinced of the early dating. Please--convince me otherwise."

At some point over the next 12 months Lloyd proposed an on-site comparison of the Pepper horn and the so-called "Original Sousaphone" built by Conn that was in the Leland B. Greenleaf Collection of Musical Instruments up at the Interlochen Center for the Arts. Peggy agreed, and encouraged Lloyd to make the arrangements with John Beery, the curator of the collection (John and I met back in 2012, and have exchanged a few emails since then).

The so-called "Original Sousaphone" in the Greenleaf Collection when I paid it a visit in July 2012.
In the meantime, Peggy did a little research on the Interlochen horn, and here's what she learned (from her letter to Lloyd, dated October 5, 1993):
I tracked down the display label from a 1939 exhibit at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry in which the Interlochen Conn sousaphone was displayed. The label contained some interesting information and reads as follows:
Original Sousa Sousaphone. The sousaphone was built by Conn especially for Sousa's band in 1898. This is one of the original 4 built and when Sousa's band was discontinued after Sousa's death in 1931, this horn was purchased from the Sousa estate, having been in continuous use for 33 years.
The serial number of the Interlochen sousaphone, compared to the standard derived serial number list, suggests that this instrument was produced about 1904 [rather than 1898] . . .
So now there were significant doubts about the Interlochen Sousaphone being the first. And Lloyd agreed. In his response of October 17, 1993, he shared with Peggy his belief that the "sousaphones used throughout the history of the mature Sousa band were not the very first instruments of the type to be manufactured--rather they were a second series produced after several years of experimentation."

But the plans for bringing the two old Sousaphones together continued, and Lloyd convinced John to join him for the AMIS meeting in May of the following year. John shared with me back in July 2012 the details of that historic encounter:
Lloyd Farrar, J. W. Pepper's official historian, invited me to bring the "original Sousaphone" to the conference. He brought the "original Pepper" instrument and we roomed together. We spent quite a bit of time with the two instruments side by side (on our hotel room beds) and really examined them.
He's not kidding - check this out!

That's Lloyd on the left bed, and John on the right!
John continues:
Lloyd was sure he had discovered something definitive about the tuning slide, but when we got right down to cases, he was still not sure he could make his case. We left the conference fast friends, and with the debate still not completely settled. However, I do believe he had a strong case for the Pepper instrument as the "first" instrument of its kind to have been built.
He then adds one more delightful bit of trivia about this Sousaphone encounter which relates to the photo at the top of this post:
We also performed "Bombasto" on the two instruments as a duet during Lloyd's presentation to the society. He played the tuba part and I played the melody parts. It was great fun and I suppose somewhat entertaining to the audience, if a bit esoteric for most listeners.
This occurred on  Saturday, May 21; here's the listing in the program:

Later that day a related presentation occurred:

I've reached out to Lloyd to see if I can get a transcript of this "Dramatic Reenactment." Stay tuned!

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