Cornetting – Updates

October 2, 2013

Back in 2012, I posted about my struggles preparing for a weekend leading a jam set at a local jazz society while playing mainly cornet. Since that time, I have continued to practice – albeit somewhat infrequently – and in December of 2012 I was invited to join the Mission Gold Jazz band as the second cornet. This came as a rather large shock, since I am not what anyone would call a good cornetist. However, I tentatively said yes and commenced to work on my cornet chops.

Ten months later, I am still not sure I will ever be able to build the stamina necessary to play a three-hour gig on cornet. But my tone, my range, and my stamina have all definitely improved, and I am no longer afraid of embarrassing myself on the instrument. I am finding the band a challenge due to the instrument, but it is a challenge I am enjoying, and it seems I have been doing acceptably, so I will probably try to continue with the band if at all possible.

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All About Sousaphones

October 2, 2013

As a huge fan of all things helicon (I own a 1909 Conn E-flat helicon, and would dearly love to get my hands on a B-flat version), I have long been interested in how the sousaphone came to replace the helicon in the United States. The last US-built helicon was made circa 1930, although they are made to this day in B-flat, E-flat, and F- versions in Europe.

But how did sousaphones replace helicons in the US? And when did the famous bell-front design come into existence?

The classic story is that they were the brainchild of John Philip Sousa. As it turns out, that part of the story is quite true, but there are several aspects of the classic story that are not true. To wit:

  1. They were not intended as marching instruments
  2. They were originally not bell-front – in fact one of Sousa’s main reasons for wanting something other than the helicon was to find an instrument that did NOT project in a specific direction.
  3. The very first sousaphone was actually made by the J.W. Pepper Company circa 1895, although the C.G. Conn company was probably the most famous publicist and purveyer of these instruments.
  4. The first bell-front sousaphone was built in 1908 by Conn, but Sousa himself did not use it – he preferred the original upright bell design and continued to use that one until his death in 1931.

For a lot more detail on sousaphone history, please visit Dave Detwiler’s fantastic blog Strictly Oompah, wherein he delves deeply into the history of the sousaphone.