The Austin Chronicle

Snapshot: HONK!TX

Celebrating the sousaphone

By David Brendan Hall, April 13, 2018, Arts

In most brass bands, the sousaphone is a focal point. Raised high above other players, often emblazoned with a custom banner or design, the bell-shaped member of the tuba family functions as a group's mascot. Over the weekend at the eighth annual HONK!TX, a festival of community street bands, "Snapshot" discovered how the instrument's role is much more essential than symbolic.

"One thing that I enjoy and hate at the same time is the sousaphones never get a break – we are literally playing every single beat in every single song that we write," says John Hinote (yes, that's his real name), sousa player in local undead-themed outfit Dead Music Capital Band. "But If you have a song without bass, it just feels hollow ... it's that backbone, that bottom deep, throaty sound you hear that really gets things going."

Another fact that came to light: Buying a brand-new sousa ain't cheap (almost like buying a car), so most that you see are used – anywhere from 30 to 100-something years old. Few of the musicians who spoke with "Snapshot" knew his or her instrument's specific history, but everyone eagerly offered insights illuminating why sousaphone culture has depth that goes far beyond their capacity to emit booming bass.

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