Now, of course, tuba is the name of a whole family of wide-bore valved brass instruments, including the Sousaphone. I'll let John Philip Sousa explain (from his article, "The Strange Instruments of the Military Band," The San Francisco Call, October 12, 1902, p. 13):
Did you catch that? The "Sousaphone" is essentially a modified helicon, "adapted to concert purposes" (a surprise to most people - it was not designed for marching!). But what do we know about the helicon bass? I've touched on it briefly here and here in this blog, but let's dive in a little deeper.
Long before Herman Conrad was playing the Sousaphone in Sousa's band, he was playing the helicon in Gilmore's band, in which he performed from 1888-1892. Here he is with his massive "helicon tuba" back in 1889:
|(NOTE: Henry Gimckel is probably Henry Gunckel)|
|Bb helicon by Stowasser, 1850 (from The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, vol. 11, p. 339).|
Quite curiously, around the same time that Stowasser first produced the helicon (again, 1845), Belgian instrument-maker Adolphe Sax came up with his own version of a valved bass that was inspired by the cornu. Referred to now as the Saxtuba, it never really caught on like the helicon did. But here is one of only two surviving examples from early on:
|Bass saxtuba in Eb, 1855 - Metropolitan Museum of Art|
And speaking of Sousa, let's fast-forward to his band shortly before the arrival of the Sousaphone. When Gilmore suddenly passed away in 1892, Conrad was one of many top-notch musicians from Gilmore's band that signed on with the newly formed band led by Sousa. And he brought with him his massive helicon, as we can see from this photo of Conrad with the Sousa Band at the St. Louis Exposition in October 1893:
|Courtesy of the U. S. Marine Band Library|
I have yet to find any photograph showing this horn in action with Sousa's band, but I did come across a classified ad in Pepper's Musical Times and Band Journal, vol. 16, no. 183, which was published in 1899, listing this giant helicon for sale (the ad remained through edition no. 191):
More importantly, we know that shortly before Sousa formed his new band, he pitched the idea for a modified helicon to Pepper. He simply didn't like the way a standard helicon sounded in a concert setting. As he put it years later, the horn
was all right enough for street-parade work, but its tone was apt to shoot ahead too prominently and explosively to suit me for concert performances, so I spoke to Mr. Pepper relative to constructing a bass instrument in which the bell would turn upwards and be adjustable for concert purposes. He built one, and grateful to me for the suggestion, called it a Sousaphone.The initial conversation about creating this new horn occurred in 1892, and for three years, it seems, Sousa tolerated one or possibly two helicons in his band. But finally, in late 1895 or early 1896, Pepper delivered the replacement:
The body may very well have been patterned after the helicon that Barbour used - we can't say for sure, without getting a closer look at both instruments (and I'm not aware that the first horn still exists). But from this point on, the modified helicon dubbed the "Sousaphone" began to grow in popularity, ultimately becoming the most commonly used shoulder-borne bass horn in America. And today, sadly, the standard helicon has gone the way of the cornu, becoming little more than a footnote to the history of the Sousaphone.