Many of you reading this will certainly no doubt go to a 4th of July parade following week. You’ll set up your lawn chairs alongside streets that space shimmering indigenous the heat they’ve been taking in all morning. The closeness of the crowd may make your T-shirt cling come you a little much more damply, and also you’ll look roughly for the nearest sno-cone vendor. Oh, type parade watcher, execute not take because that granted the spectacle that is around to march past, for however hot girlfriend are, i guarantee the every one of the sousaphone players bringing up the behind of the high institution marching band is a hundred time hotter. I have actually photo evidence:

Me (on right) marching a sousaphone in 1998.

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If you’ve been analysis previous installments of this column, you know by now that sousaphones are the circular-shaped, marching-band variation of the upright tuba. However to finish the an interpretation there is to miss out on out on a whole subculture within the tuba world. Yes something around a wearable tuba the brings out the—goofy? show-off? animalistic? flamboyant? side of the tubist, and also when you take into consideration that one must already have a screw loosened to choose to beat the tuba, you begin to realize the the sousaphone is really its very own beast.

And that is a beast—at the very least for me it was. The first time I ever went to put one on in the summer prior to my freshman year the high school, my little 14 year-old arms couldn’t lift it high enough to obtain it over my head. The squad leader, together the principal player is called in the civilization of marching band, had to lift it for me and collection it on my shoulder, which, despite embarrassing, was it s okay by me since he happened to be my best high institution crush, and putting the sousaphone on intended he had actually to obtain so close come me I could see myself in the enjoy of his sunglasses.

But the load on my left shoulder was a crude oil awakening from Mr. Dreamboat. That an initial band camp week i was leopard-spotted through bruises roughly my torso where the sousaphone would rest. And as because that my left shoulder wherein the bulk of the sousaphone sat, by the time sophomore year rolling around and also the marching tape was preparing because that a nationwide contest, I checked out the doctor for a horribly pains muscle spasm in mine left neck/shoulder area. As I was describing the pain, he started to squint in bewilderment in ~ my shoulder. The was among those expressions you never ever want to watch on her doctor’s face. Ns explained around my sousaphone playing, and he concluded that my body had actually actually built a bump of protective organization at the basic of mine neck. Indeed, it was visible in the mirror.

The bump went away gradually after marching band season, together the physician predicted that would, and I never provided it the opportunity to come back: ns quit marching band after the sophomore season and have seldom touched a sousaphone since. Because that the record, though, early in my marching band time, I got the muscle to placed one on, and eventually I could join in v the tuba guys in lifting our sousaphones high in the air, choose an overhead press, whenever our team score a touchdown.

Average brass sousaphones weigh around 30-35 pounds, while fiberglass sousaphones—the white plastic-y ones—are far less, more like 15 pounds. The problem for me was that our director was so serious around doing well at nationals, he insisted we use just the brass sousaphones, also in practices, so the we would be accustomed to the weight when we shifted directions in marching the show. Whatever. I intend it might have been far worse: the two major makers that sousaphones, Conn and King, used to develop “jumbo” sousaphones—that’s the actual term for them—6/4-sized horns that weigh much more along the currently of 50 pounds.

Jumbo sousaphones haven’t been produced since before human being War II, but energetic collectors room out there, one of whom, Ian Church, also wrote a thesis ~ above them. The prefaces his thesis through explaining just how most details on sousaphones, and especially on jumbos, originates from word-of-mouth and also from the pages the old brass tool catalogues. They haven’t precisely been the emphasis of academic studies.

But yes sir something an extremely true to sousaphone culture about this simultaneously under-the-radar and in-your-face status. The sousaphone regularly plays an integral part in college marching tape identity, such as right right here in my very own backyard in Columbus, Ohio: it’s a proud heritage that a senior sousaphone player period the “i” in the Ohio State manuscript Ohio. And also he doesn’t just march out there. No. He join the drum significant in a man high-kicking step, prefer a crazed Russian dancer, all the method out come the “i” whereby he bring away his location with big, growing bows, exaggeration by the huge bell the the sousaphone. Based on what i have seen around town, it also seems to be component of the legacy that a year or so later when nostalgia set in, he purchases a vanity patent plate with a message such together “I dotter” or “I period I” or part variation thereof which tells the whole human being of his minute of glory.

Other universities have traditions wherein the sousaphone line separates indigenous the band, one of two people to play a particular song or, in ~ Florida State, to “flush” the ar by to run in a circle around the drum significant after a victory. And also then there are marching bands that show off merely with size. Purdue, for example, owns an authentic jumbo sousaphone—a King model 1265, if you desire to get technical about it—referred to as “Big Bertha” the they carry out just on distinct occasions (not to be puzzled with the college of Texas Austin’s giant bass drum likewise known as huge Bertha).

The marching band that really takes the cake when it concerns instrument size and also subculture, however, is Jacksonville State, whose tuba line is described as the “20Js” after the Conn design 20J upright recording base tubas castle march. Yep, you read that right—these horns aren’t sousaphones at all yet concert tubas of the “monster” range with forward-facing bells. If you visit the 20Js’ website, you’ll conveniently see what I mean by subculture; if the gothic font and also “Legends” page doesn’t offer you the immediate flavor, their text will:

20J…it’s not just an instrument…IT’S A STATE the MIND.

The 20Js’ raison d’etre is the complete bass sound that these concert tubas give to the band, a function akin come why the sousaphone was created in the first place. The famed turn-of-the-20th-century bandmaster man Philip Sousa want a big bass sound that would job over the rest of the band, and also the helicon just wasn’t cut it. Helicons to be the forerunner of sousaphones, however there to be a difference in bore building (tubing shape) and also the bell pointed come the player’s side at a 45-degree angle. The sousaphone available a sound closer to an yes, really tuba’s, though several of the earliest models didn’t instantly solve the issue of sending out sound forward; instead, they had actually bells that faced straight up, exactly like a concert tuba. This models earned the surname “raincatchers.”

Sousa didn’t create the sousaphone; he merely used the new instrument in his band, thus winning a long-term association with the horn. Sousa self wasn’t also a tuba player. The child of a naval Band trombonist, he played a variety of tools other 보다 tuba and also toured v his violin prior to himself conducting the maritime Band and also eventually developing his famous Sousa Band. In enhancement to the countless marches he penned, consisting of all the really famous ones like “The Stars and also Stripes Forever” and “Semper Fideles,” he likewise wrote ten operas and also three novels that no one ever before talks about.

In Sousa’s day, recording-style tubas and sousaphones had one more application: the circus. It’s not what you can think; they weren’t out there among the clowns to chat the crowd. Instead, castle were component of the live band that traveled through the circus—quality ensembles through virtuosic musicians who played at least two, 3-hour mirrors per day. Sousa himself had actually tried to operation away from residence at age 13 to join a circus band, however his dad enlisted that in the naval Band instead. Another famous teenage circus-band musician to be none various other than Harvey Phillips himself, among the most vital 20th-century tuba players, whom you could remember from reading my article about his brainchild, TubaChristmas.

According come Harvey Phillips’s autobiography, the just Sousa composition offered in the circus was “The Stars and also Stripes Forever,” which the band played as a signal to circus personnel the something was wrong. An well known instance that this occurred in Hartford, Connecticut in 1944 once a fire broke out. Merle Evans, the “Toscanini of the large Top,” so nicknamed because he conducted the Ringling Bros. Circus tape for 50 years, struck up “The Stars and Stripes” come signal one evacuation and (as Wikipedia tells it for this reason it need to be true) preserved the band play as lengthy as they could prior to themselves evacuating. One hundreds sixty-eight civilization died the day, however the death toll would have been worse to be it not for the band.

So, see? Tubas have the right to save lives. Even I, in a sheltered, suburban, not-really-dangerous kind of way, proficient the healing strength of a circus band. My senior year of high school, the theater department put on Barnum as the feather musical. I had never play in the pit before since most musicals don’t encompass a tuba in the score. However, in maintaining with the an excellent tradition of circus bands, Barnum calls for a tuba. The 2nd act starts with a tuba solo leading right into the number “Come monitor the Band.” The director had actually the idea to tree me through a sousaphone at the earlier of the auditorium whence i would emerge to play my solo and lead an yes, really parade of cast members through the audience and up onto stage.

This is the spotlight-stealing ingredient sousaphone players live for, my very own variation of an “i-dotting” moment. And I need to admit, the way the audience return from intermission instantly silenced themselves at my first notes and also turned with happiness to check out where the music was coming from, and then the way it feeling to lead the parade, not just by my very own meager self yet with the glint and dazzle that the powerful instrument perched on my shoulder, the impressive spectacle the a wade tuba—well, let’s simply say, it healed countless of those former bruises.

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So once you’re sitting street-side at the fourth of July parade, shading her eyes versus the beating sunlight as you clock the heat of sousaphones put up your horns, fifty percent hiding their faces, simply remember this: it might be heavy, it may be hot, however real men carry their own shade.