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Sousaphone

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Sousaphone

The sousaphone is a musical instrument that is a substitute for the tuba when used in a marching band. It is named after John Philip Sousa, the famous march composer and conductor.

The sousaphone was developed in the 1890s by Conn at the request of Sousa, who was unhappy with the tubas used at that time by the Marine band. At that time they used helicons, tubas that resemble sousaphones somewhat, but have a bell that points in a direction somewhere between up and forward. The original sousaphones had upright bells, and today are nicknamed "raincatchers." Sousa wanted a tuba that would send sound upward and over the band with a full warm tone, rather than the directional helicons. Contrary to popular belief, it was not initially developed as a marching instrument; the bellfront version did not debut until the mid-1920s. (The professional band Sousa started after leaving the Marines marched only once in its existence.)

Today, the sousaphone is a valved brass instrument with the same tube length as a tuba, but shaped differently so that the bell is above the head, the valves are situated directly in front of the musician a few inches above the waist, and most of the weight rests on one shoulder. Thus, the sousaphone can be carried far more easily than a traditional concert tuba, while still retaining the tuba sound.

Most sousaphones are tuned to BB♭ and have parts written in the bass clef; some sousaphones are tuned to E♭. Sousaphones generally come with a three valve configuration, rather than the four valves common on most modern concert tubas.

In recent years, sousaphones have been available made of fiberglass instead of brass. While there are some debates about the quality of sound, the tradeoff in cost and weight is generally considered acceptable in scholastic settings.

The sousaphone's large, flared bell can be also made from fiberglass or brass. In large marching bands, the bell is often covered with a tight fitting cloth which enables the sousaphone section to spell out the school's name, initials, or mascot.

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