A Drum and Mellophone Duo
24 May 2010
Posted by Mike Brubaker
One of the forgotten instruments of the American band movement is the mellophone. It looks something like a French horn with the bell twisting to the player's side but it is a very different instrument. Most notably the valves are played with the right hand while the left hand stays out of the bell and holds onto the center section. It also uses a cup-shaped mouthpiece that is similar to a cornet, instead of the funnel-shaped one used by the horn.
Judging by photographs, the mellophone was a very popular standard for American bands from the 1880's until the 1950's, acting as the alto voice in the ensemble as compared to the cornet's soprano, the trombone's tenor, and the tuba's bass. Musical instrument companies sold them as part of the sets marketed to community brass and wind bands. In Europe it was fairly uncommon, where alto and tenor horns with upright bells were the equivalent voice. It was never used as an orchestral instrument, but it does feature sometimes in the early theater and jazz bands of the 1920's. By the 1960's it was re-designed so that the bell pointed forward and offered a more comfortable playing position, and now it is found only in marching bands. Horn players are often forced in high school to use the bell-front mellophone when marching. I've never known anyone who did not hate it.
The snare drum is actually positioned as a drummer would use it during this period - turned onto its side against a chair back.
The names of these two young men and their hometown are unknown. Perhaps they had their photo taken after a concert and sent the postcard in an envelope. There's no writing on the back as mother would recognize them. Are they brothers?
The AZO style stampbox with upward triangles in the corners dates the photo between 1904-1918. But notice the US lapel pin. It suggests a patriotic day. Perhaps celebrating statehood? Oklahoma became a state on November 16, 1907; New Mexico and Arizona in January and February of 1912. Another mystery.