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Exhibits

Currently at Sousa

American Bandmasters Association’s Little Light — Austin Harding’s Legacy during the Great Depression, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, March 14, 2022 – March 17, 2023.

On July 5, 1929, the American Bandmasters Association held its auspicious inaugural meeting at New York City’s Pennsylvania Hotel.  The purpose of their first meeting was to establish a code of international instrumentation for all wind bands across the world.  Following this meeting, the ABA’s leaders began planning their first formal convention for Middletown, Ohio in 1930.

About this same time, America’s spiral into the Great Depression began, and its roaring economy transitioned into recession in August 1929.  On October 24 and 29, the country’s investors began selling their overpriced shares en masse, which led to the crash of America’s Stock Market.  Consumer confidence quickly vanished, and panicked bank withdrawals began a crisis for America’s banks.

Against this growing national financial disaster, the ABA’s 1930 convention took place between March 13 and 16.  It was a great success according to the meeting’s final report.  In 1931 Austin Harding’s Treasurer’s report following the convention stated that the ABA’s finances remained stable even though over 2,000 banks across the country had already failed.  However, the closure of the Champaign First National Bank on January 19, 1932 where the ABA’s bank accounts were held, created many unexpected challenges for the organization.  Harding, who was the University’s first band director and ABA’s first treasurer, managed all of the organization’s financial assets held by the Champaign bank.

For the next two years, Harding and Edwin Franko Goldman, as its president, worked tirelessly to enable the ABA to continue operating through the Great Depression.  This exhibit of personal correspondence, photographs, financial reports, newspaper clippings and historical music instruments document the early years of the ABA and Austin Harding’s steadfast guidance to Goldman and the other founding members of the American Bandmasters Association.  In addition this video presentation highlights the early years of the ABA and John Philip Sousa’s influence on its early leadership and ABA’s effort to modernize wind ensemble performance in America.

The Imperfect Saxophone: Not Just a Clown’s Instrument, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, December 13, 2021 – May 15, 2022.

The Sousa Archives’ new exhibit, “The Imperfect Saxophone: Not Just a Clown’s Instrument,” examines America’s complex social and cultural relationship with the saxophone during a period known as the “saxophone craze.”  Adolphe Sax’s most recognized instrument, the saxophone — invented and first produced between 1844 and 1845 — has had a very complex musical and social life.  Originally developed to blend the distinct tonal qualities of the woodwind and brass instruments commonly used by Europe’s military bands, the saxophone’s startlingly unique sound made it difficult for professional musicians and composers of that time to embrace the instrument.

Despite Sax’s initial hopes that both symphonic orchestras and wind bands throughout Europe would eventually utilize the saxophone, the horn initially became an exotic novelty and was treated more like a musical clown than a fine-art instrument.  America’s minstrel and vaudeville circuits were much less hesitant to accept Sax’s novel instrument in their performance routines.  By the 1910s, the Five Musical Spillers, a vaudeville act, began incorporating saxophones into their performances with great success. They often used comedic humor and popular ragtime melodies to keep their audiences engaged with their performances.

The breakout saxophone ensemble during the 1910s was the Brown Brothers led by Tom Brown.  Performing first as a trio on the minstrel circuit and later as a quintet and sextet on the vaudeville circuit, they were the first major saxophone ensemble to profit from making commercial audio recordings.  By the early 1920s they were among the most popular and highest paid ensembles, earning nearly $1,000 per week.   Up to 1914, the Brown Brothers wore military band uniforms.  Once they began performing in the Broadway production Chin Chin, they instead began dressing as clowns.  During this period, ensembles like the Brown Brothers helped popularize the instrument while embracing a musical clown mystique by performing popular ragtime works dressed as clowns.  Despite appearing as a musical clowns, the repertoire that the Brown Brothers played required serious technical and musical skill.

Music instrument manufacturers of the time designed their saxophones around the needs of these top performers, but also capitalized on the growing popularity of the instrument among amateur musicians.  These manufacturers also took the opportunity to improve Sax’s imperfect instrument, adding new keys and improving their methods of construction. As these innovative improvements were made to the horn’s original design and performers refined their ability to play this new family of music instruments, audiences quickly embraced the saxophone’s many unique musical qualities.  This exhibit highlights the saxophone’s imperfect musical beginnings and musicians like the Brown Brothers’ performances that made it a truly unique instrument.

James Beauchamp and the Harmonic Tone Generator, Sousa Archives and Center for American Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, September 22, 2015 – January 31, 2023.

James W. Beauchamp earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Michigan in 1960 and 1961, and in 1965 he graduated from the University of Illinois with a PhD in electrical engineering. While a student at Illinois he worked closely with his mentor and composition professor Lejaren Hiller, and created one of America’s first voltage-controlled electronic music synthesizers called the Harmonic Tone Generator (HTG). The HTG was used in several different electronic music projects produced at the University of Illinois during the 1960s and 70s including Salvatore Martirano’s Underworld.  After graduating from Illinois he joined their electrical engineering faculty, and by 1969 had earned a joint appointment in the electrical engineering and music departments.  Between 1969 and 1973 Beauchamp served as director of the School of Music’s Experimental Music Studios (EMS), and as director of the Computer Music Project (CMP) between 1984 and 1993.  In the fall of 1993 Beauchamp and Sever Tipei became co-managers of CMP.  This exhibit documents through photographs, stories, scientific reports, and audio recordings the early development of the HTG at the University of Illinois.