More like, “The What On Earth.”
The Double-Bell Euphonium, sometimes called Dubby-Euphy by absolutely no one, is a peculiar oddity. It’s a hybrid duplex--that is, two instruments of the same pitch but of different tone qualities, connected by a single leadpipe. Unlike the modern Double Horn, which offers two differently pitched instruments (F and Bb) through a single leadpipe, the Double-Bell Euphonium’s two bells are both pitched in Bb.
Double-Bell Euphoniums hit their peak in “Golden Age of Bands,” from 1880 to 1930. They were common reinforcements in Sousa’s famous band, and even weasled their way into the bridge of “Seventy-Six Trombones” from the Music Man:
There were copper bottom tympani in horse platoons
Double-Bell Euphoniums were manufactured in the U.S. until the 60’s. In the previous decade, British compensating euphoniums supplanted the double bell instruments in the United States. Today, it's a rare occurrence to find one in active service.
And the “How Come?” I hear ya.
The Double-Bell Euphonium’s two bells produce two different timbres. The large bell offers a euphonium sound, while the small bell produces a thinner trombone sound. I liken the small bell to a valve trombone, since it still retains some cylindrical qualities. Paul LaValle, a conductor of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus Band, once said “the Euphonium section would often use the small bell for a thinner sound to blend with the trombone section, and the broader sound of the large bell to blend with the tubas.”
On this particular Double Bell Euphonium, the first three valves function in the standard way. The fourth valve, which would typically offer a player various valve combinations, instead redirects air from the large bell to the small bell.
And I know what you’re thinking, but no, both bells cannot play at the same time. Each bell has its own tuning slide loop, such that they can be matched adequately for consistent performance.
is a pretty good classic rock band.
The Who and the Where:
So how does one acquire such an extravagant fossil? Ebay tends to sport a few, fetching between $2K and $3K, depending on the number of valves and condition. No manufacturers currently produce new Double-Bell Euphonium.
My own Double-Bell Euphonium was a gift from my Grandmother’s boyfriend. It’s weird, when I tell folks this, they never ask for more details. Well here it is: My grandmother kindly took my wife and my siblings to the MIM (that’s the Musical Instruments Museum in Phoenix, AZ), where we enjoyed the plethora of worldly and soon-to-be extinct instruments. One in particular caught my eye, and later that evening, as I explained its shape to her boyfriend, Lee, he asked if I would like one. “Yeah, absolutely,” I said, and he led us to his garage, where a dusty Dubby-Euphy hung on the wall.
Just like that, we drove across the desert with a Double-Bell Euphonium in the backseat. You should ask your grandma’s boyfriend for a Double-Bell Euphonium.
Why maintain and work on such a strange instrument? Surely there are no gigs today for the Double-Bell Euphonium!
Oh contraire, my freres, there are several artists in the last century who made something of their name via the double-bell euphonium. Check out some of these cats:
You might also be interested to see my new piece for double-bell euphonium, which utilizes two staves to notate the two bells. I premiered the work at the MidWest Trombone Tuba and Euphonium Conference in November 2017.
Here’s a score.
Here’s a recording.
Here's my cats.