by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
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When I auditioned for the U.S. Marine Band in July 1947, it was Major Santelmann himself who auditioned me. Had I known that he had played euphonium in the Marine Band for many years, I would have been even more petrified that I already was. However, I was spared that. I did only a fair job on the music I had to sight read, in my opinion. On my solo I feel that I did okay. After all, I had five solos prepared and ready to perform. When Major Santelmann asked me to play a solo, he asked which solo I had prepared. I handed him a slip with five solos which I was ready to perform. He chose the easiest of the bunch, H.L. Clarke's "Carnival of Venice". I could go through that one easily and at a fast pace. He seemed to like it well enough. Apparently, he then decided to accept me for he mentioned that we were all required to play a second instrument for the Marine Band had a symphony orchestra. He thought that the violin would be fine for me. I didn't go for this for a number of reasons. First, I wasn't enthralled with trying to learn a string instrument. Then, I was almost thirty years of age by then (I lacked 1 1/2 months of thirty) and I felt that it was a bit late to learn another instrument. So I was so bold as to nix that idea with the good Major. He reflected upon my resume and noted that I was an electrical engineering graduate of Penn State and the Marine Band was just making arrangements to have a recording lab built right behind his office on the second floor. "You could work with Bush, our electronics expert in the recording lab", Major S.. exclaimed. I accepted that and so it was that I went into the recording lab.
Everyone called the recording lab "The Sound Booth". NO ONE ever called it the recording lab. Not until years later.
The Sound Booth had just been started on the balcony of the band hall when I auditioned in July. By the time I had joined the band early in August 1947, the Sound Booth had recently started operation. It was barely limping along with the barest of necessities and none of the finer things needed for the proper recording of band, orchestra, and solo music.
The equipment we had was all obsolete when we first received it as surplus equipment from the Navy. There was a small console with dials and toggle switches. There were two turntables designed for both 78 RPM and 33 1/3 RPM recording or playback. There was a medium sized speaker. Everything was mono, of course. Stereo didn't come along until later. Everything we recorded was done on acetate discs. The acetate was spread on an base of aluminum. Some years previously the acetate was spread on a glass base. You can imagine how fragile those discs were. Look at them the wrong way and they would break. The aluminum base discs were quite durable. I even had received some Harold Brasch solos on a 12" acetate on aluminum disc which some stupid mailman had folded double (he must have been quite strong!) to get into the mail box once. Dismayed as I was by this, I salvaged that disc by bending it back to a flat platter shape and, lo and behold, it played reasonably well. Amazing. So those discs WERE durable.
Acetate does harden in time. An acetate disc in those days, as I recall, was supposed to be played only once or twice - no more than five times - for best sound quality. The Radio stations used an acetate 16" transcription disc only once. When used once only, the sound quality was as good as the recording process, the microphones, the quality of the equipment used to record, etc. In the days when acetate discs were used for radio transcription broadcasting, the top sounds recorded were around 5000 cycles per second (hertz). Now a days you expect to have sound recorded on tape, CD's, etc. beyond the range of the human ear - probably up to and beyond 20,000 hertz. That was far beyond the capabilities of the old acetate discs and the recording processes of the 1940's.
When we first started recording on acetate discs in the Sound Booth, it was only as an experiment. We had to find out what we could do and how best to do it. First we had to cut a disc inside-out for we had no vacuum to suction the chips out when recording. Eventually, we did get a vacuum machine and attached a long large tube to it and thru a wall into the Sound Booth to the turntable where it picked up the chips nicely. Until it got plugged up with excess chips, as it was constantly doing. What a drag. We would cut something - record some music during a rehearsal - only to find that the suction had got plugged up and wouldn't pull the chips away. Here we were cutting over the chips, thus ruining our work. We finally solved the problem but chips tended to get caught in the tube every so often. We had to keep checking all the time to make sure that all was clear before starting a recording.
Eventually, tape machines started hitting the market and we got a table model Magnacorder machine. The tape tension mechanism of that machine was always causing trouble It would get out of adjustment and when you would use a fast forward or rewind, and then stopped the tape, the tape would break as the reel ground to a slow halt with the tape flying up into the air and falling down to the floor like snow. Several times I came up to the Sound Booth right after a radio broadcast on which I'd performed a solo, played the solo on the tape Dick Bush had made, and stopped the tape only to have the tape break and fly all over. I had to get on my hands and knees, hunt for the small pieces of tape, pick them up, and laboriously scotch tape them together. If you ever play my recordings of these solos, you may notice something strange - the missing of some notes as time is missing, etc. Well, the missing time along with the missing notes are due to the missing pieces of tape which I did not locate when I was on hands and knees hunting for them. The solos I refer to are these:
- "Air Varie" (Pryor)
- "Four Minute Waltz" (Martin)
One item of expensive equipment they had up there for a while was an echo chamber. If you get out my recording of "A Night In June" you will hear the second strain where I go up to very high notes - that is enhanced by the use of the echo chamber. I believe that Ros switched to it for those high notes and it makes a nice effect. However, the use of such a piece of equipment was very limited for such an organization as the Marine Band.
Originally, whatever filing system we had in the Sound Booth was something I whipped up. I catalogued all of the recordings we had - most of them acetate discs - 16" in diameter. I had lists of band pieces, orch. pieces, band solos, orch. solos, etc. I can still remember over forty years later some of the numbers I put on certain discs such as the marvelous Bob Isele trombone solo, "Annie Laurie". number was BS 38 (Band Solo 38). This was merely a test recording for a TV show which was finally performed at the old Wardman Park Hotel. I don't remember much, if anything, about that TV show where Bob Isele performed "Annie Laurie" or how well he played it. I assume that he did a virtually perfect job, as usual. However, I have often heard the recording he made back at the Band Hall for a test recording. Absolutely flawless. No wonder I can still remember the disc number! Incidentally, it was this recording which made the Bob Hoe Bob Isele solo disc.
When I was working in the Sound Booth, the doors were always open or unlocked. Anyone could come in for any reason. There was always a lot of activity there. We kept busy playing music for this one or that one. We made lots of copies, too. Anyone playing a solo on a broadcast found a copy of his solo on his music stand the next morning. Pleased those soloists.
Written by Arthur Lehman for Keith Barton, August 15, 1995
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August 4, 2016