Monday, June 27, 2011

Sousaphone designs that didn't make it - U.S. Patents

above: a design for a reinforced Sousaphone bell.

There was once a point in history in the United States when there were many wind instrument manufacturers and a great deal of competition. To stay on the cutting edge of design, companies had to patent ideas to prevent their competition from being able to use them. Some ideas made it but many didn't. Many designs were patented and never used. It is easy to understand why once you see the drawings. I will link to the FULL patent information at the end of this blog post.

I - Sousaphone bell reinforcement.  

Date - September 18, 1928
Company - C.G. Conn
Applicant - E.J. Gulick
The basic idea here is to dampen the "after ring" that follows certain notes by applying reinforcing strips on the bell flare that are permanently fixed. My opinion as to why this was never implemented is because it was probably impractical and costly. The other factor why I think it wasn't used is because once the bell truly became damaged it would be nearly impossible to repair with those rings in place. The true reason it was never fully implemented is because it was intended for Jumbo Sousaphone bells and Conn discontinued those models. Below is an image from the patent application:

II - Sousaphone / Helicon shoulder rest 
Date - February 15, 1929
Company - C.G. Conn
Applicant - E.J. Gulick

Next is a shoulder rest. It isn't a bad idea, but it could present a problem once the horn receives some damage. It is a good idea to displace the weight over the strap a bit. I would actually like to try this one to see how it actually feels. In college marching band we did "horn moves" with our Sousaphones. If we used Sousas with this design I would have been scared that I would have jabbed my shoulder with the ends of the strap brackets. Why didn't they use this? It's my opinion that it was cheaper and easier to use the Conn metal shoulder piece. Below is an image from the patent.
III - Light weight composite Sousaphone 

Date applied for - May 6, 1930
Company - C.G. Conn
Applicant - E.J. Gulick
The idea of a lighter Sousaphone is something that Conn had attempted to tackle for years. In the early years of Sousaphone production, Conn could substitute the 32K for the 38K. Later, you could substitute the 10K "artist" model for the 14K. Neither instrument in either case was close enough to be an actual substitute, but that is an article to come in the future.

This is an idea that finally came to fruition later after Conn invented the fiber glass Sousaphone. This particular patent though is for a whole Sousaphone made out of an "aluminum composite." The entire instrument would be held together with threaded brace couplings and tensioned joints. Yet again we have another horn that I wish was sitting in a closet somewhere that made it beyond the design stages. I would love to try something like this, although I would be very skeptical about the sound quality. Below is an image from the patent.

Special thanks to for providing the inspiration for this article!


Friday, June 17, 2011

Record review: Matthew K. Brown - "How Beautiful: The Music of Barbara York."

This is Matthew K. Brown's latest release How Beautiful: The Music of Barbara York. Barbara York's work is a great mixture of classical structure with contemporary style. The bottom line is that this is a fantastic recording by an excellent Tubist. 

Matthew K. Brown - Tuba
Maria Thompson Corley- Piano
Jason Ham - Euphonium

Track list:

Concerto for Tuba and Orchestra: "Wars and Rumors of War"
1. I - Allegro Marcato
2. II - Tranquillo
3. III - Allegro Furioso

4. Arioso Gloria

Sonata for Tuba and Piano: "Shamantic Journey"
5. I - The Guide Calls
6. II - Tumultuous Journey
7. III - The Other Shore

8. How Beautiful - Written in Memory of Eli Reuben Brown

Suite for Euphonium, Tuba and Piano: "Dancing With Myself"
(Featuring Jason Ham on Euphonium)
9. I - Bohemian Evening
10. II - Tango
11. III - The Night Goes On
12. IV - Polka
13. V - Past Midnight

My absolute favorite work on the album is the opening piece Wars and Rumors of War. Barbara York says this about her work in the liner notes, "...this is not intended to be a political statement about war, but is rather intended to be a philosophical and even rather intimate examination of the personal effect that a war has on those who are in it." It is my opinion that Barbara has done an excellent job of communicating this through song. In the first movement, there is a definite call back to "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" that can be felt and heard in the opening of the first movement. 
The second movement is fluid and lyrical. Matthew K. Brown does an excellent job of pulling emotion out of every musical line with the perfect amount of vibrato for each passage, making the listener truly feel the longing with each phrase.
The third movement, "Allegro Furioso" is tense and erratic in a very good way. Barbara York says this about the third movement,  "In the third movement, we are thrust into the actuality of war. The “alarm bells” are going off and there is a sense of urgency and danger, where nothing is safe and every nerve ending must stay alert to the driving force of the situation around us." This is executed marvelously using both rhythm and dissonance to make the listener feel on edge. 
The best part about the third movement comes at 1:30. There is a distinctive jazz feel to this section. Barbara York says of this section "There is a pause in the battle, where our protagonist has the opportunity to look around and see the carnage and the waste around him. This is not the glory that he envisioned, not what he thought it would be like, nor what he was told. It is real, and it creates a sick and empty feeling in the pit of his stomach. Before he has time to deal with this or to resolve it, the alarm bells are going off again and he is back in the battle, fighting for his own survival. " 
Again, Matthew does an excellent job shifting gears musically and showing great versatility. 

According to the liner notes: "“Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax” (“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace”) was the text used as the inspiration for this piece." This piece works great on this album because it is a beautiful showcase of Matthew K. Brown's lyrical playing ability and also is a nice "palate cleanser" to follow all the excitement of the previous concerto. 

This piece was written for  John Griffiths, who passed away while Barbara York was composing this piece in 2007.  It is a great showcase for the upper register of the Tuba and Matthew K. Brown doesn't disappoint. From the liner notes, "Some may find the last section of the 3rd movement to be placed a little high in the tuba range. To be honest, that is still somewhat of a compromise in its homage to John Griffiths. John would have probably taken the melody in its original key and simply played it an octave higher. However, for the sake of better writing and in deference to the rest of us poor mortals who are not so daring and such workers of miracles, I have at least pushed the envelope within reasonable limits." 

This is another beautiful lyrical piece. The first time I listened to this, I sat down with the liner notes, listened intently to Matthew's phrasing (yes, I do that) and was nearly brought to tears. From the liner notes, "How Beautiful was written at the request of Matt and Kristy Brown in memory of their son, Eli Reuben Brown, who passed away on May 19, 2008. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings of peace; who publishes good tidings of good, and who declares salvation; who says to Zion, Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7)  This was the text used here." Honestly, it wasn't the beauty of Matthew's playing (although it was excellent) but it was a mixture of the origin of this work mixed with the music and my own internal emotions when putting myself in Matthew's shoes and thinking of my own daughter. I don't want to make anyone sad, this is just my own personal experience, and as a result, this piece will always have a special place in my heart.

This is my second favorite work on the album, and in my opinion the most contemporary work on the album. Matthew plays on this recording with the amazing Jason Ham. What truly makes this piece great is the mixture of meters that change from movement to movement. The interplay between the Tuba and Euphonium is fantastic. Jason and Matthew do an excellent job during each of these dances not stepping on each others toes, so to speak. 

This is an excellent album. The music is refreshing and the playing is top notch. 
From left to right: Maria Thompson Corley, Jason Ham, Barbara York and Matthew K. Brown

How Beautiful liner notes
Buy Matthew K. Brown's recordings
Buy Barbara York's music (featured on this album)
Barbara York's Biography 

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ophicleide - a common ancestor to the modern Tuba

above: a recently finished Ophicleide next to a nearly finished Conn 20K bell

The Ophicleide is the predecessor to the modern Tuba. It looks a bit like a metal Bassoon. The difference between an Ophicleide and woodwind instruments is that it uses a cup mouthpiece and the pad cups are all CLOSED (except the top bell key) instead of open like most woodwind instruments. The Ophicleide is a conical instrument, like Tuba or Euphonium, but it sounds more like Trombone or Baritone. In my opinion, Ophicleide lacks a smooth, sweet quality that Euphonium has. I think that has to do with the shape of the instrument overall.

According to wikipedia, "The ophicleide was invented in 1817 and patented in 1821 by French instrument maker Jean Hilaire Asté (also known as Halary or Haleri) as an extension to the keyed bugle or Royal Kent bugle family. " Bass Ophicleides are pitched in either BBb or CC and Alto Ophicleides are pitched in either Eb or F. The Ophicleide pictured above is in BBb. 

The Ophicleide was used in Romantic period orchestral music. The most famous piece to use Ophicleide was Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz which was originally scored for Ophicleide and Serpent.  The Ophicleide was patented in 1821 and the Tuba was patented in 1835. The Tuba eventually just phased out Ophicleide as the dominant bass voice in orchestras. 

 I was originally going to post a video of myself trying out an Ophicleide, but it was HORRIBLE. I had never seen one before this, or played one for that matter. So I found a few videos of Ophicleide in capable hands. Check it out.
Our Ophicleide is for sale. It was a bit of a team effort. I disassembled it and burnished some dents out of the main bugle. Then someone else did more dent work and Michael Riepe finished the restoration. Here is a picture of him with the finished instrument:

Here is a link to our Ophicleide on eBay:

LINKS: (if you would like to learn more about Ophicleide...)