An essay I wrote about playing tuba that was published in Euclid High Schools literary magazine "Eucuyo" - kind of a high cringe level for me now, so read at your own risk...
September 12, 2020
I play the tuba. It's a rather pleasant way I have of passing time. In this world there are few instruments in which the very playing of the said instrument is in itself a physical endeavor. The tuba is one of them. "I am a tuba player," states my philosophy, "therefore I can do anything." I consider the tuba the penultimate instrument. First God created the tuba, then with the material remaining He/She created the other instruments. The ultimate instrument, of course, is the kazoo. But the the tuba is a close second.
I started playing brass in third grade. I started on a baritone, which is like a premature tuba. I look back with fond memories on the days when I could only play two notes, F and G, and those not very well. Then things became "sorta interesting," to quote myself again. Well, actually, not all that interesting. Sigh.
Most of my musical training has been at school or at the Salvation Amy. The Salvation Army is a church, besides being a public service operation. So for three whole years, I happily, badly tooted away. Then, fate stepped in.
A trumpet player in my sixth grade band decided to switch from high pressure, high competition, world of trumpeteering to laid back, no competition land of Baritoneering. This upset me. I've always liked being the only player of an instrument in at least one of the bands I'm in. It's an ego kick to see your name as the only name listed under the heading "baritones." So when this trumpet player switched, a thought popped into my head. 'Right now, no one is playing TUBA! I can switch and voila, I'm a one man section again!'
So the powers-that-be of the Glens Falls Middle School music program (Mr. Antolini) locked me in a practice room with the scales of both instruments and told me to "learn 'em". So I did. My tooting continued, just as bad (if not worse) but in a lower octave.
Then I moved from Glens Falls (as immortalized in 'The Last of the Mohicans' and home of Glens Falls Middle School), New York to Cleveland Heights, Ohio. There I went to Monticello Middle School. Mrs. Beale, the music director there, was a major influence on my Tubaing. She taught me quite a lot about style and technique. I also continued playing in the Salvation Army corps band.
Around Christmas time of my second and last year at Monticello, I was informed about an event called Tuba Christmas by Mrs. Beale. I decided to try it out. 250+ tubas, euphoniums, and baritones gathered together in a large music hall and played, appropriately enough, Christmas carols. It was such a pure, mellow sound. It was enough to drive a man insane, so consider what it did to me!
Euclid, Ohio became my next home. I then joined the NEOSA (North Eastern Ohio Salvation Army) Divisional Youth Band. A trip to Mexico with the Youth Band highlighted my freshman year. Mexico was an experience that completely blew my mind. The people there had nothing like we have in the States, yet their spirit and appreciation was completely overwhelming. I also managed not to get Montezuma's Revenge.
One experience that I have neglected to mention is playing for the Salvation Army Christmas Kettle effort. This involves playing eighteen Christmas carols over and over for hours on end as your lips begin to stick to your metal mouthpiece and you pray that your valves will remain moving throughout the day. I returned to the lighter weight baritone for this chilly thrill. It is not easy to perfect your vibrato as your teeth chatter uncontrollably.
Of course there is always the wonder of Euclid High Marching Band. Marching across the field, playing as loudly as you can against eighty of everything else is not a favorable environment to hear the bass line, trying to remember where to march next, all while carrying a BIG white fiberglass tuba (sousaphone really) is not my idea of a Good Thing. Eventually football season ends, though, and symphonic band begins. Real music at last! Music that you can sit down for! Yippeeee!
Somewhere in this I became a fairly decent Tubaist. I'm not sure where, I'm not sure when, but it happened. So I'll continue making up bass lines (which is fun) and marching in marching band (which is not fun) and Life shall Trudge on.
Some thoughts, 30 years later:
- "and those not very well" construction is a bit of a lift from Douglas Adams' Restaurant at the End of the Universe
- The bit on Mexico is probably a little racist and a lot condescending
- Interesting that I'm so down on marching band... in retrospect I liked the music I played in it much more than the symphonic stuff, though marching band was pretty grueling...