Passion: Tubas

Click to Listen to the Show (24 MB MP3)

[Recording at 5pm EST so Mike Roylance can make it to his BSO concert tonight!]

Three cheers for tubas. Tubas and their wet-lipped, nimble-fingered, strong-shouldered compatriots.

The tuba player is normally a stocky, bearded guy whose hobby is plumbing. The only member of the orchestra who bowls over 250 and gets his deer every year and changes his own oil. In his locker downstairs, he keeps a pair of lederhosen for free-lance jobs. Anyway, there’s only one tuba in the bunch and he’s it.

Garrison Keillor, A Young Lutheran’s Guide to the Orchestra, Prairie Home Companion, October 30, 1993.
tuba_head

[spcbrass / Flickr]

Much celebrated, much maligned, those who throw in their lot with the tuba section can usually expect a life of supporting roles. Playing tuba isn’t too different than playing bass guitar in a rock bands, except that you’re lugging around 15-30 pounds of shiny brass. But recently, tubas have started to come into their own. Tuba maestros like Roger Bobo and Oystein Baadsvik take the noble grace of the french horn and add backbone, and they’re blasting their way into major solo parts.

On Tuesday, we’ll talk tubas with Chris’s old friend Eli Newberger and Boston Symphony principal Mike Roylance. Until then, we’ll be recording as many of your stories as we can.

We know you have tuba stories. The back aches. The grumpy downstairs neighbors. The things that have gotten stuck inside.

You started playing because you didn’t want to fight for first chair, or because your band director begged you to, or because she told you it was a saxophone. Growing up, you had to hang it from ropes thrown over ceiling beams to play it. Once you wanted the world to notice you. Now you’re on a mission to prove that you’re more than just “oompahpah”s.

Today in orchestra, we played the finale from Sibelius’s Second Symphony. I enjoyed every minute of it. For those of you who have not played it before, there is a part near the end where the tuba comes in, going from high to low D, and then from G to D. When we got to that part, the director shouted ‘Go, Big Dog!’ and I went, giving as much as I had to give. That feeling I had was incredible.

Dave Seip, Cool musical experiences, TubeNet, May 17, 1999.

Why do you play the tuba? If you don’t play the tuba, can you relate to the impulse? Why do we love to be the biggest and the loudest (or to have the biggest and the loudest)? And why do euphonium players use so much dang vibrato? Tell us your tuba stories.

Mike Roylance

Tubist, Boston Symphony Orchestra

Tuba Soloist, Boston Classical Orchestra

Eli Newberger

Tuba Soloist, Boston Classical Orchestra

Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School

Author, The Medicine of the Tuba.

Extra Credit Reading

Eli Newberger, The Medicine of the Tuba, Doctors Afield, Yale University Press, 1999: “As I play, I do not focus on what I am doing with the tuba to produce the sounds; it all happens spontaneously, and quickly. (If you stopped me and asked me at any moment, though, I could tell you exactly what I was doing and exactly what note each member of the band was playing.) In the middle of making music, I’m thinking colors, textures, and feelings, not notes and chords.”

pianolance, Best Tuba Player on the Planet, TubeNet, March 3, 2007: “what is your choice… for the greatest all around tuba player ever, alive or dead? Arnold Jacobs? Bill Bell? Roger Bobo? Rex Conner? Tommy Johnson? Cast your vote.”

iiipopes, Famous Quotes About Tubas, TubeNet, February 15, 2006: “In high school, prepping for a marching contest my freshman year, we had before school field practices. It was so cold one morning the four of us souzy players all had our valves freeze. Wait – there’s a catch – mine froze open. The next guy’s froze with 1 down. The next guy…you get the picture. So we all just shrugged our shoulders at each other, paid careful attention and played the notes we could, which, as it turned out, was just about everything.”

22:05

David Kirk of the Houston Symphony has said that it’s easier to become a United States Senator than a tuba player in a serious orchestra.

Christopher Lydon

22:15

I would completely agree with that. There’s only one tuba per orchestra, and my predecessor, Chester Schmitz was here for thirty-four years. So you either have to wait for them to retire or get hit by a bus.

Mike Roylance

25:50

It’s more than bonhomie, Chris. There’s a tremendous mutual support network among tuba players.

Eli Newberger

36:50

Hell, we could play some of it right now. Let’s just pick up our horns and play something. I’ll just play you a little blues line, Mike, in the key of C, and we’ll honk something for you.

Eli Newberger

46:40

The most modern instrument in a modern symphony orchestra is the tuba. It was the last instrument to be added to what’s considered the standard complement of an orchestra.

Mike Roylance

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  • Hey, I played euphonium in both symphony and marching band in Abilene, Tx. (A euphonium is not a tube, by the way.) I was going to mention the under-noted euphonium when I saw you were doing a piece on tubas, but then you mentioned them! I’ve never seen anyone mention a euphonium. Yay!

    I used to strap my euphonium to my fathers 3-wheeled golf bag caddy and pull it to and from school every day. I think that thing was heavier than me when I first started playing it in 6th grade. I was definitely assigned this instrument, but fell in love with it. Was all-city and all-state and played quartets with two other euphoniums and a trombone in the state competition. Those were intense. It’s hard to believe not what I put myself through. I did it because I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it was also a lot o stress.

  • tubatooter1940

    How can anyone not love a tuba? First honk I took on one rattled the windows behind me. It was love at first blatt. It made me feel like I got da powah.

  • I love tubas. I don’t play but I grew up with the record Tubby the Tuba. A childhood favorite!

  • When I was a sophmore in collage I had to go before my dorm’s standards committee for yelling “Hey Mama are you a Tuba?” out the window. When asked me to explain myself, I couldn’t. Tuba is just a real fun word. My collage roomate still has a weaving on her wall from those days with the word TUBA woven into it.

  • Allison, You must have been DARLING! do you have a photo you can post?

  • No, peggysue, unfortunately not. None of me dragging the thing around. None of me in the symphony settings. None of me in my marching band uniform.I can’t believe it, I actually loved that darn thing. I have very happy memories of my days in band. I remember a lot of laughing alongside the grueling competition for chairs. I think it was a rare time that I felt a part of something bigger than myself. Beyond the pure satisfaction of producing music.

    Maybe I should ask my dad if he has any that I’m not aware of…

  • I always felt that the euphonium sound had the roundness of a tuba, the range of the trombone and the timbre of a french horn. I haven’t played since I left Texas in 1977. This thread is making me want to buy one and start it up again…

  • As a bass player, I have to dispute your assertion that being a tuba player is like being a bass player in a rock band. If Paul McCartney was a tuba player and not a bass player the work would be a very different place.

    The bass is the lynch-pin in a rock band. It bridges the divide between the rhythmic drums and the melodic guitar, by possessing both qualities. And the sonic area it covers is its own. In an orchestra that area is also covered by the basses, the tuba is not the lone low instrument, like in a rock band. If the bass player stops playing in a rock band heads turn, something has “gone wrong,” if tuba player stops playing in an orchestra the audience sighs with relief and we can finally hear the French horns.

    I’m not really that down on the tuba, I just had to defend bass players.

    How about a show about the bass player? McCartney, Mingus, Jamerson, Danko, Sting, the list goes one. Men who changed the music they played from the underside up and occasionally changed the world.

  • I don’t play the tuba, but I do love the tuba. One tuba in particular.

    In front of Safeco field, on the 1st Avenue Side (third base side) there is a tuba player. He always reminds me of why Seattle, and Puget Sound, is a tuba kind of place. Joyful, yet relaxed. Or, rather this tuba player is joyful and relaxed.

    Nothing makes me happier than to walk into a Mariners game with Take Me Out played by Tuba.

  • herbert browne

    Ahhh… tubby the Tuba- playing a Melody! Shades of Señor Pizzicato! I loved that one, too…

    Seattle has a tuba trio that plays street fairs, that I have never been able to walk away from, until they’re finished (or take a break). It’s a magnificent sound. I’m a big fan of early jazz (& proto-jass, eg jugbands, etc)- and the tuba & banjo are a fab rhythm section, that can be played while walking (or sometimes, probably, running to get away…) I spent some time with the trombone (and some with the jug), but would have loved a shot at the tuba.

    Re the bass- I’m with Marc MacElroy- let’s have a show on the Low end (Slam Stewart, Jaco Pastorius- THEY both changed the world of Music!) TOO-BAH= the big brass whoopie-cushion!

    ^..^

  • Marc McElroy said: “If Paul McCartney was a tuba player and not a bass player the work would be a very different place.”

    Among Paul McCartney’s earliest musical influences were the brass bands popular in Britain after WWII. Paul’s Grandfather Joe McCartney was a tuba player. Paul was encouraged in music by his father, Jim McCartney who had a small jazz band. Paul’s first instruments were the piano and trumpet. He traded his trumpet for a guitar and the rest is history… but who knows? He may never have pursued music at all if Grandpa Joe hadn’t been a tuba player. The Beatles break-through album Sgt Pepper owes a big debt to McCartney’s early brass band influence. Both Sgt Pepper and the Beatles White Album feature the tuba.

  • From wikipedia’s “Paul is Dead” clues from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

    A clue supposedly indicating Paul’s death on the album cover…

    “Paul’s “true” instrument would have been the tuba, which is sitting unused at feet of the wax figure of Ringo.”

    (Granted the theories regarding Paul’s death seem to have been greatly exaggerated)

  • OliverCranglesParrot
  • nother

    Allison, I’d love to hear you play the euphonium at the next ROS party!

    Where y’at – I fell in love with the big brass galoot when I was living in New Orleans a few years ago.

    The heart of N’awlins is the Second Line procession, the heart of the Second Line is the brass band, and the heart of the brass band – is the Tuba.

    What you see here is a spiritual tradition, you are drawn down the street by spirit and that big Tuba stands out and becomes the pulpit for everyone to focus on.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARRjqjAS2pc

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FME5-kc5BMA

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=le7_j_U3M-0

    One of the highlights for me, was seeing The Rebirth Brass Band play at the Maple Leaf on Tuesdays nights starting at 10:30 (Their still there!) Comprised of young guys in t-shirts blowing in a Hip Hop style, you can somehow feel the ghosts of Buddy Bolden and Louie and Sidney Bechet.

    This is the best I could find of them, it’s good but it doesn’t do them justice.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ggJpVGcb1o

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RahGqtoBbw

  • Thistlethwaite

    Good to see a show about the tuba! Mention must be made of Marcus Rojas, a New York based tuba player (catch him on Dave Douglas’ gorgeous Mountain Passages, and currently with Michael Blake’s Hellbent). Also, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra trombone/tuba player Wycliff Gordon (check him out on Ted Nash’s Sidewalk Meeting). Likewise, Kirk Joseph with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band — I still can hear most of his lines from their album Open Up, one of my first jazz albums. I’ve been enjoying seeing smaller jazz outfits choosing to use the tuba for the bottom line. It has quite a different texture than the bass and is more expressive than many give it credit for. Looking forward to Tuesday! Andrew

  • tubatooter1940

    I play tuba in a rock band. Tubas are enjoying a surge in popularity since the societal prejudice against them for sounding like passing gas (insert your favorite term here) seems to be dissapating (pun intended). MarcMcElroy was dead on about the dominance of string basses in rock music but a tuba has certain advantages:

    1. One can march with it. You can march with a bass guitar but not with the amp.

    2. It is a horn and capable of lovely horn solos with long tones, vibrato-the whole schtick.

    3. One cannot play tuba and sing over a microphone at the same time but Oystien Baadsvik can play and sing thrugh his tuba. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0qIL2ie-VE

  • rahbuhbuh

    thankfully tuba-friendly marching bands are coming into their own as something to be admired for their miliatary precision pomp and skill (movies like ‘Drumline’) or just acknowledging how fun they can be. i woke up one morning to the loud sustained booming noises of Honk! http://www.honkfest.org/bands.htm in Davis Square. The tubas were magnificent, and it felt more like a stage-less punk rock show than a gathering of marching bands. It made me remember how loud unamplifyed music can get. My life will be a bit more complete if I ever get to see the bawdy musical march/burlesque experience of Extra Action Marching Band http://www.extra-action.com/pics/?id=10

    also, i was very disappointed when i found out Drums & Tuba was not just drums and a tuba.

    http://drumsandtuba.com/index.html

  • tubaben

    I have to agree with Tooter1940 – Rock is dominated by the bass, but I’ve played in rock, jazz, blues, and country bands, and people have always remarked very positively about the sound. General comments are “I wouldn’t have know there was a tuba if I hadn’t seen it”, and “I can hear that it is a tuba, but it sounds great”…

    I don’t think there is any threat of the bass loosing its dominance 🙂

  • tubaben

    I started out playing the baritone in the 5th grade, and loved the fact that I could “bury” the rest of the band. In highschool, our marching band tuba section quit, and the band director threw a horn in my lap as a last ditch effort. I loved it, and the next year I was teaching a friend of mine to join me in the section. It can become a real obsession. 15 years later, I am playing in a band with 2 tapdancers and an amazing guitarist / vocalist. Its truely unique and engaging.

    http://www.bornagainfloozies.com

    http://www.myspace.com/bornagainfloozieband

  • knuxie35

    I’m actually a euphonium player. However, one time I got a strange gig as a tubist in a small marching combo at a funeral in Las Cruces, New Mexico. The deceased was a 19 year old kid who wrote rock music. One of his songs got arranged for our combo to play and march from the church to the interrment. Now normally I’d be marching a sousaphone, as I did in the college marching band. None was available that day, so I saddled up an upright concert Miraphone (I was 5’5 and 170 dripping wet) and marched in 108 degree heat with that band in front of the hearse for about a quarter mile, until the procession finaly stopped. That was about the beginning and end to my passion for tuba. I was glad to get back to my euphonium.

  • Doc

    Hey Marc,

    I am a tuba player, but I double on electric bass and upright bass. I hear what your saying. The tuba has many advantages, as does bass, but there can certainly be a crossing over of the two. Check out http://www.tubajoe.com to see. I think you would agree that Jaco Pastorius didn’t stay within the boundaries of his time, and all bass players have benefitted. Tuba is the same way.

    (Hey toots, how are you?)

    As far as getting started on tuba, I would like to think it had something to do with natural talent 😉 , and maybe it did, but I firmly believe I was a victim, if only partially, of stereotyping. I started on trombone in fifth grade (the other choice in brass was cornet), and I turned out to be a fair player. In sixth grade, some people got to switch to other instruments, including the tuba. I heard a classmate after he switched, and I fell in love with the sound. I asked the band director if I could try it. He didn’t want me to switch, but he agreed to me investigating the mysteries of tubadom. I played for a few minutes, and I was hooked. Another friend said, “You sound good on that thing, and you LOOK like a tuba player.” The resulting commentary from the rest of the class regarding my fine physique apparently helped seal my fate. The band director had been a tuba player. While he had smiled approvingly when I tested out the tuba, he laughed loudly, nodding his head knowingly, at friend’s comment and it’s aftermath. I was moved to tuba, and the rest is history. I have enjoyed a 23 year professional career, sometimes part-time, sometimes full-time, as a tuba player. I’ve had more joy from making music with the tuba than words can tell. I feel truly blessed to be a tuba player. I may not be Pat Sheridan or Gene Pokorny, but I hope I am able to spread my joy to others when I play.

    Sure, stereotypes exist, and usually to the detriment of many. I, however, am glad stereotypes were in full working order on that day many years ago when an eleven year old kid changed his entire future and the future of many others with a few honks on a commode-o-phone. I wouldn’t change a thing.

    Happy Tuba-ing!

    Doc

  • jazzman

    Howard Johnson: http://hojozone.com/

  • Aaron Hynds

    Tubas are, for many people, that goofy-looking instrument with the even goofier-looking player. But the truth is that tubists are musicians who play a very important role in any wind ensemble, orchestra, or German polka band. Without the bass sound provided by the tuba, the group would not sound cohesive. Sure, the trumpets can play as loud and as high as they want to, but it just doesn’t sound right without the tuba providing a foundation for the rest of the instruments. Tubists are very selfless when it comes to playing for others, so some people may see them as pushovers, or even worse, slackers. At the end of the day, however, it is the tubists who get to enjoy a job well done. And, knowing many tuba players, that enjoyment will take the form of a nice cold beer!

  • jeopardymaster

    That McElroy clown is no musician. If he were he would know better. From what he has written I’d say he is nothing but a tineared thumper, a mere wannabe. Yes, I play tuba. I also play euphonium and trombone, and keyboards, and sing and direct music in lots of venues. And my brother, God rest his soul, was one of the finest bassists on this planet, accomplished on both double bass and electric bass. He knew, I know, and most bassists and tubists know, the bass voice in instrumental music should propel the harmonic rhythm of the group as well as provide a solid foundation for pitch integrity. Without a true musician in place down there the result is going to be inconsistent at best, and at worst, well, McElroy. A double bassist in the solo role can also sing magnificently, but for my money an accomplished tubist is capable of a rare lyricism. There is a recording of Greensleeves, cut by the Philip Jones Brass many years ago, in a rather unorthodox arrangement. Try to find it — Google should help you immensely — and listen for the work of the inestimable John Fletcher on the descant, second verse. That’s lyricism. That is what a tuba can do.

  • jamesmerring

    The best thing that I can tell you about playing the tuba is that you never have to quit! After playing for MANY years (and underused), I am now happily playing for three concert bands. It’s a joy for me to tell people I play tuba and then get invited to play for another group. It seems there are never enough tubas to go around. Oh, did I mention that I went 100% deaf, about 12 years ago?

  • nother

    Deaf! Man, how do you do that jamesmerring? Do you feel the beat? Where do you play?

  • One of my sisters is partially deaf. She’s very petite but played a big ol’ stand up bass in the school orchestra. She could “feel” the sound. I’m guessing the tuba would have a similar deep vibrational quality.

  • OliverCranglesParrot
  • OliverCranglesParrot

    Evelyn Glennie. Touch of Sound includes the chronically effervescent wonder Fred Frith

  • rahbuhbuh

    Lisa Bielawa, composer in residence at Boston Modern Orchestra Project, is writing a series of 2 minute pieces for solo members of the orchestra. Sadly, I missed the “Synopsis #4: I’m Not that Kind of Laywer” for solo bass last month, though they tell me she will attempt a solo tuba piece eventually. she blogs here:

    http://blog.myspace.com/lisabmop

    BMOP here: http://www.bmop.org/

  • davidwburns

    I started as a baritone/euphonium player, but my band director was particularly talented at spotting suckers. Not having a tuba player in his band, he consipired with my future high school director to purchase a new Meinl Weston 25 (the bait!). After rehearsal one day, both of the sneaks called me into the band office to make an important proposition. “David, we both feel that you are a very talented musician. You’ve really helped us out here with your excellent baritone playing.” My director nods conspiratorially to his collegue and continues. “We have something for you.” He opens the new tuba case. It gleams like treasure in a pirate’s chest. “Consider it a reward for your hard work. You see, we don’t have a tuba player coming up to the high school next year and we both feel very strongly that you’re the only one that could handle it. Just give it some thought.” HOOK, LINE, and SINKER! Although I dream of playing melodies and love to play a solo in church from time to time, I still love it 20 years later! Tuba is the muscle and the foundation. It may not play the flashy part, but it makes the flashy parts sound flashier!

  • dwaskew

    I think this show is a wonderful thing! As current president of the International Tuba Euphonium Association, (yes, it’s a real organization–30+ years old–and Eli is a life member!) I’m always on the lookout for ways to make sure the tuba and euphonium are put in a positive light in the public view. Thanks for doing this show! I know that Eli and Mike will be terrific spokesmen for our instruments!

    Dennis AsKew

  • Looking forward to the show. Both guys you have scheduled to play and speak are real talents. I have not heard Mr. Roylance play but know of his accomplishments. I have heard Dr. Newberger’s playing and enjoy it much.

    The diversity in how people are using the tuba in the last 10-15 years is astonishing. What started off as Bill Bell half a century ago recording catchy tunes on LP has turned into people like Dr. Newberger, Pat Sheridan, Jon Sass, Howard Johnson, joe exley, and many more. Tubists are no longer just imitating others. Many among us are explorers themselves blazing new and amazing sonic trails.

    Through these individuals the tuba no longer necessitates a comedic backdrop in order to gain an appreciative ear.

  • j-alex

    I’ve been enjoying some of the great brass bands out of eastern europe-many are sportin’ plenty good tuba playing. A favorite is “Magic” by the Bulgarian ensemble, the Boban Markovic Orkestar, check it out.

  • Potter

    Are you taking requests??? How about Melody in A Major? ( “It’s All in the Game”) the name of the composer does not come to me at the moment. Written for trombone- it would be a fabulous tuba piece I think.

  • Potter

    Oh darn- it’s pre-recorded.

  • jamesmerring

    In answer to a prior question; I do feel the vibrations, but only from my own horn and that of the tympani/bass drum (if I am near enough). Other then that, I rely solely on the conductor’s beat patterns and cues. If I do loose my place in a performance, I just watch the patterns and other instrumentalists around me (usually, there is at least one other tuba). It’s a little trying, but the personal joy I get in still playing is worth any difficulties I must go through. Of course, the band(s) must make some allowances for me as to rehearsals; making certain I know at what rehearsal mark we are starting.

    And, ITS A BLAST TO HAVE THE BIGGEST HORN! (Sorry about theat)

  • nother

    Thanks jamesmerring, you are the man!

  • JBraider

    A lovely discussion. Keyword for tuba-playing from a non-tubist? “Heartfelt.” I saw no mention of sousaphones or bass saxhorns here, I could be wrong. Trifocal eyesight and all that. So much of the discussion geared toward band, but does anyone else around here remember Howard Johnson’s group Gravity — four tubas, as I remember, serving as frontmen?

    And, nothing personal, but online threads remind me of those “House” episodes where the patient is lying there with half the skull removed, and one of House’s minions probing the patient’s brain with an accupuncture needle, asking “And what does this remind you of?” This tuba discussion has been touching many deep sectors of the brain in a most loving sort of way…

  • TubaStephen

    Amateur tubist for almost 50 yrs. Enjoyed listening to the show as I drove home from my Tuesday band rehearsal where I am one of 2 tubists. Playing in a community band (I am in 2) can provide an outlet to continue playing your horn. In the Tuesday band the other tubist is in his 80’s. We used to have a high schooler in our section, but he went off to college. How could I ever give up the tuba, not only do I like the sound, but my wife does too! We married guys have to continue those things our spouses like.

  • Ok.. jeopardymaster wants to get personal. I am a real musician, as well as a real man, I don’t say rude things to people I don’t know. I AM a professional musician (piano, guitar, bass, drums, and mandolin), record producer, recording engineer (of at least one Grammy nominated album), and I’m a Buddy-f-ing-Rich when some Alex Trebeck wannabe wants to talk smack. First of all I said nothing was wrong with the Tuba, I just said comparing it to an electric bass in a rock band is not right. The tuba is cool, and at least with a tuba to your lips people can’t hear the hateful filth that comes out of your mouth. Of course I realize that the internet is a good way for people to insult people they’ve never met to act tough and talk smack without getting the kind of smack back that they deserve but I have some trivia for your JeopardyMaster: tell me the name of ONE famous tuba player! A bit of musical advice, from an amateur such as myself, your tuba playing will improve when you learn to blow out your mouth instead of out of your….

    Thanks to herbert browne who mentioned Slam and Jaco, I literally moments after making my comment regretted not mentioning them.

    PeggySue, as for the McCartney-Tuba link it’s a bit weak. McCartney was inspired primarily by Skiffle, not brass band music. His love of classical music was more along the lines of strings then horns, and the world would have lost an amazing voice if he used his musical talent to blow into a tuba instead of sing his classic songs.

    As for whoever talked about doubling on tuba, right on! Like I said I have nothing against the tuba, it’s a fine instrument, but there’s a reason your double on it, and not devote your life to it.

  • Lumière

    the tuba show was great – beauty from an unsuspected source.

  • jamesmerring

    I did not completely answer “Nother’s” question. I play in Ft Lauderdale with the Flamingo Freedom Band (concert May 25th – Broward Center for the Performing Arts), with the Palm Beach Community College band and with the Royal Palm Beach Community Band.

    That shameless plyg for the concert should include some of the music titles: “Tempered Steel”, “Late in the Evening”, ” The Simpsons”, Fangare for the Common Man…finale is the “1812 Overture”. We are featuring the various ensembles in our band; clarinet choir, flute choir, jazz band and full concert band. If you are in South Floirda, please consider coming to our performance. Thank you.

  • Restless

    I’ve been playing tuba since I was in marching band in high school — that’d be about 16 years total — and currently play with a community group based out of a local college. I was a fairly mediocre trumpet player and was kindasorta encouraged to switch instruments as the band was one tubist short of an entire line of sousaphones in parade formation and gosh, I’d fill things out so nicely. I remember almost fainting the first time I played it; s’phones need a lot more air than trumpets, and I was initially terrified I’d pass out when playing and die when the horn fell on me.

    But I stuck with it. When I got into college I liked the camraderie of the tuba section I joined and it was free of a lot of the primadonna b.s. you run into in certain brass sections. I started to really enjoy the tuba’s sound — warm, dignified, lots of presence — and the parts were interesting. I began to look as it as more of a calling than merely an assignment given to a 3rd chair trumpet. It’s a great instrument, and I’m glad schools are learning to stop using the tuba as the ensemble’s version of right field. My only regret is the horns are so expensive. Soon as I win the lottery (any day now) I’m buying that sexy new Gronitz I saw on the web last week…

  • loyaltubist

    When I was a university student (tuba major), I lived in California and attended a university in the hills of Middle Tennessee. I rode on the train from California to Chicago and then from Chicago to Nashville. At Nashville, I would ride a taxi to the Continental Trailways station. I had my suitcase and my tuba case near my chair. I remember one man, wearing a rhinestone shirt, cowboy boots, and jeweled Stetson hat. He took one look at me and asked, “Boy, haven’t you made it big yet?”

  • sundropaddict

    When I was young my family would go to a Badger football game every year. There, I was constantly awed and excited by the tremendous Wisconsin Marching Band – so good they get their own 5th quarter to take the field (a blessing in those days, since the team was bad enough that the band was the main reason to stay after halftime). Their tuba section would march through the stands with a cadence, and that’s when I knew the instrument I wanted to play. I did go on to play in middle and high school, and into college, loving this huge instrument all the way. When it came time to sell my instrument, I was honored to have the help of John Stevens, a UW composer of really great low brass music. Also out of Madison came YoungbloodBrass Band, a group playing music with infectious energy, and a tubist who stretches the imagination of the tuba itself.

  • I’m the guy from the picture in the article! I actually switched to tuba because my high school marching band was short on tuba players. I went on to college in music education but sadly I didn’t finish my degree. For the last 16 years I have been playing a contra bass bugle in drum corps (it’s a slightly larger version of a tuba pitched in G) I don’t play all that often any more, but I still get out the horn (the one you see in the picture) and blow every once in a while. I definitely had a lot more fun playing tuba then I ever did playing saxophone. The tuba suits my personality better.

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