In 1967, Robert T. DeNormandie Jr. performed as a guest musician with the Robin Hood Marching Band of Hollywood for that year’s iteration of the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena that featured Thai Minister of Foreign Affairs Thanat Khoman as the grand marshal. The game pitted hometown USC Trojans against the Purdue Boilermakers, who won the Rose Bowl 14-13 courtesy of two rushing touchdowns from fullback Perry Williams.
The Peotone Vedette out of Illinois reported that DeNormandie, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, was a junior at local Evergreen Park High School and had already received a number of musical honors and awards to that point in his life.
“Bob spent the past four years at the Illinois Youth Summer Music Camp at Urbana, and three years with the National Stage Bands at Bloomington, Ind.,” the article reads. “He has won superior ratings in state solo contests and is a first chair baritone player with the Southwest Suburban Festival Concert.”
Fifty-four years and 1,800 miles later, California resident DeNormandie arrived in Mason City, betting that all of that musical knowledge and experience would pay off.
But it hasn’t. Not yet.
Earlier this month, DeNormandie blew into town in his 1995 Ford Explorer with 139,000 miles on it from Yuba City, California, telling the story of that Rose Bowl experience as well as the origins of a double bell euphonium his father gave him in 1964 that he considers one of his most prized possessions.
“For the last three or four decades I’ve been researching from where the instrument was created, from the manufacturer, and trying to find the backstory of what was conveyed to me as a child that there were six of these horns made for Meredith Willson’s movie “The Music Man.” Inscribed on the bell, you’ll read that. It says so,” he said.
DeNormandie said given the time period it was first acquired, he doesn’t have any paperwork on the item. His father is no longer alive. So his only certification is the story he has and the euphonium itself, which features the inscription “Made by RMC for the filming of Meredith Willson’s ‘The Music Man’ by Warner Bros.” and is imprinted with the serial number 61064.
The former marching band player said what brought him to town was that after a period of reaching out to people online to try and find a home for the potentially historic film instrument, he got a Google alert for The Music Man Square in Mason City. So DeNormandie said that he talked with an official representing The Music Man Square and offered the euphonium for $11,000, the price he previously had on it on the internet. (On Oct. 18, 2020, DeNormandie posted the euphonium as being for sale on a public Facebook group page called “Double-Bell Euphoniums.” DeNormandie’s post said, “Music man movie only 6. Contact Seller. Music man movie only 6 custom made 1962 original owner since 1962.”)
Per DeNormandie, an agent for The Music Man Square, told him they had the ways and means to raise the funds to cover that cost.
“And I said, ‘That’s great.’ So I’m really feeling anxious and excited and thinking: Wow, what a great idea. This could be exhibiting in a museum. My baby is going to come home where it belongs. I’m getting psyched up for myself,” DeNormandie said.
From there, he said that a private investor in The Music Man Square got involved. That person would work in conjunction with the board of directors to help pay for the euphonium and then donate it on exhibit, which the investor later confirmed with the Globe Gazette.
“That was the intent from day one,” the investor said.
At a certain point, the serial number on the euphonium became a sticking point.
DeNormandie insists that the proper way to read the serial number on a Reynolds piece such as his, 61064, is that the first two digits represent the year. The following digits then indicate the production number. That matters, because if the 61 does indicate the year 1961 then the timeline of the instrument could fit with when the movie “The Music Man” was released, in 1962.
He said that folks from The Music Man Square saw the issue of the serial number differently. Nick Whitehurst, from the organization, confirmed that.
“The information we had been able to find, with comparing the serial number provided and the maker, the horn itself would’ve been dated after the movie was produced,” Whitehurst said.
According to him, the numbering issue raised a flag, as did the lack of documentation for the instrument and the ultimate inability to verify whether or not the euphonium was in fact a screen-used piece from “The Music Man.”
“Without having proper documentation, we weren’t able to confirm it. And with the information we were able to find the manufacturers didn’t line up,” Whitehurst said.
Someone who does such verification weighed in on the matter, but Whitehurst chose not to disclose who the person was or what their specific credentials were. When asked why, Whitehurst said: “(I) would not want to cause more of a stir than there already is.”
With that information, Whitehurst said that The Music Man Square decided to not go through with any deal. The private investor also dropped out.
DeNormandie said he felt “blindsided” by that decision.
“I feel damaged. I feel my integrity has been questioned. And I feel like I’ve been called a liar. And that, I feel, needs to be soothed over. I need to talk with this individual so he can personally see the horn, he can personally see the serial number.”
“A lot of companies did their serial numbers sequentially. The 61 and 64 don’t mean anything as far as date. It doesn’t reflect anything with date,” said Deborah Reeves, a curator of education at the National Music Museum in Vermillion, South Dakota. According to her, the best approach is to try to confirm a number from a serial number list.
The website contemporacorner.com contains a host of serial numbers and engraving information on instruments such as the trumpet, the flugelhorn and the euphonium. On a page for Reynolds Serial Numbers, there is a list that runs from 1936 through July 1979, when production ceased. In the entry for 1961, it’s noted that “Most instruments between SN 60000-79000 bear the RMC shield, corresponding to the 1961-1963 period that Richards Music owned Reynolds.”
“As a division of Richards Music, Reynolds became part of the “Roundtable of Musical Craftsmen” (RMC) along with the Martin Band Instrument Co., E.K. Blessing and Flat/Jacks Drums (all owned by Richards Music Corporation). Instruments produced by these companies during the Richards era all bear a RMC shield logo,” the Contempora Corner post on Reynolds history stated.
In 1962, Contempora Corner notes that “Richards Music also sponsored ‘The Music Man Contest’ for individual musicians between ages 8-18, with national, regional and local award winners. ‘Music Man’-branded Emperor trumpets, cornets and trombones were produced in conjunction with the contest.”
While there isn’t a “shield” in the literal sense on DeNormandie’s instrument, there is a signature for Reynolds and an “RMC.” And the serial number on his instrument is 61064.
Merlin Grady, who has done instrument repair work in Waterloo for decades, wrote in an email that “The Euph looks legit esp with the engraving.” Over the phone, when asked about the engraving on DeNormandie’s instrument not being a carbon copy of other engravings for Reynolds instruments, Grady said that it wasn’t uncommon for instrument manufacturers to do engravings by free hand.
“Conn had an in-house engraver and I’m presuming that’s the way with all the old ones,” Grady said.
The author of the “Reynolds Serial Numbers” page on the Contempora website does take care to note, “I am not aware of any surviving official serial number records for Reynolds brass instruments.”
Reeves also pointed out that serial number lists are “terribly inaccurate” and that serial numbers are “a guarded secret as far a company is concerned.”
Margaret Banks, Reeves’ colleague and associate director/senior curator of musical instruments at the National Music Museum, was more direct in her assessment of DeNormandie’s euphonium after seeing photos of it.
“In my opinion, this double-bell euphonium was most likely one of the instruments used in the filming of ‘The Music Man,'” she wrote in an email. Her reasoning: The National Music Museum has a flute (NMM 10104) from the film engraved with: “Made by RMC for the filming of Meredith Willson’s ‘The Music Man’ by Warner Bros.”
Banks said that when museum officials conducted research on the flute, they found that found that 211 instruments were provided by RMC’s subsidiaries for use in the movie, which was produced in 1961 and released in 1962. “The manufacture(r) of our flute (likely made in 1960) is attributed to the Martin Band Instrument Company, a subsidiary of RMC, and subcontractor for The Pedler Company, Elkhart, Indiana,” she wrote.
“According to some of my euphonium friends, 6 double-bell euphoniums were made for the filming of the Music Man- I suppose this could be one of them,” he replied in an email.
Time and money
Beyond the matter of the serial number for DeNormandie’s euphonium, the asking price and when he wanted the deal done became complicating factors as well.
“We had asked why or how the $11,000 price tag was arrived at and the gentleman had told us that that was confidential,” Whitehurst said.
The private investor spoke to the pacing. “Some of what raised red flags for Music Man Square investors was the need for expediency,” they said.
Outside the realm of music, a search for “Robert DeNormandie Jr.” on Google turns up a fraud case where a “Robert T. DeNormandie,” then age 66, received five years probation in 2016 for forgery of a $356,000 check. Per the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, which covers the counties of Sutter and Yuba near Sacramento, DeNormandie entered a U.S. Bank and deposited the check into the account of his business, DeNormandie Consulting Ltd. Multiple posts on DeNormandie’s Facebook reference Yuba City as recently as 2021.
The Appeal-Democrat article includes an explanation from DeNormandie about why things unfolded the way they did. “DeNormandie, according to the probation report, claimed he needed money to pay a ransom for his girlfriend who had been kidnapped in the Philippines,” reporter Harold Kruger wrote.
Through Friday afternoon, DeNormandie had not responded to follow-up requests via email, Facebook Messenger and phone call to chat about the case. Though there are continued posts to his Facebook page with aphorisms such as “Here today looking forward.” There’s no indication as of yet whether DeNormandie remains in the Midwest or whether he’s made it to Florida, where he said he wanted to relocate to after he gets a deal done on the euphonium, which travels with him in the Ford Explorer, along with a number of other personal effects. So, for now, it seems he hasn’t made it to his intended home. Neither has the instrument.