March 06, 2007

Not to blow my own horn, but... I can!

Every tuba player's dream is to own their own tuba and, for the price of a good used car, I am now the proud owner of a Yamaha YBB 641!!!

My love affair with the tuba started long, long ago, when I was a wee lad in elementary school. The high school band would travel around to all the elementary schools and play a few pieces. I was always impressed by the way the lower brass made the gym floor rumble. When the conductor introduced the instruments, I would stare in awe and amazement at the tuba and think, "Woaaaaah! That's really big!"

Near then end of the year when I was in grade five, the school board sent a music teacher around to each of the grade five classes to perform music aptitude tests on the students.

I didn't realise what the test was for, at the time. We were given a sheet of paper on which to write our answers as the music teacher played different tones for us. "Which sound is higher? The first one or the second?" and "Which sound is louder? The first one or the second?" were the questions. It was the easiest, and the most fun, test that I ever took in my life.

After that, I'm guessing that all the parents whose children showed even the slightest degree of musical aptitude were sent letters inviting their children to join the Grade 6 School Board Band. My Mum asked me if I'd like to join.

I said "No way."

She then proceeded to give me all the reasons why I should join.

But I didn't want to join the band! That would mean that I would have to practice and practive was too much like work! Didnt' she know that I was a kid? Kids are supposed to play, not work! Having to practice would cut into my very valuable play time. Band wasn't fun. Band was work!

I said, "No."

Then she said, "You're joining the band. Try it for a year and if you don't like it, then you can quit."

Realizing that there was no way out, I sought desperately for a compromise. If I wasn't going to enjoy it, then neither was she. I countered, "OK, but only if I get to choose which instrument I get to play."

She agreed.

Many of the girls wanted to play the flute, but the saxophone was certainly the most popular instrument with everyone in my class. Looking over the list of instrument choices, I selected the only one I wouldn't have to pay a rental fee for. It just so happens that it was the one instrument (other than the flute, thanks to my Uncle) that I figured was guaranteed to drive my mother crazy.

My first tuba was a banged-up School Board-owned Yamaha YBB-201. To say that it had seen better days was an understatement. The tubing on the back was so dented that was pinched in places. The bell had a nice little pinch in it, and the big wooden case was coming apart, the splintering wood and sharp staples posing a safety hazard to anyone who tried to carry it. Compared to the sleek looking rental saxes, my tuba was the underdog. The music teacher tried to apologise for its condition and explained that she would send it off to have some of the dents removed, but it didn't matter to me.

It was love at first sight.

The first time I tried to play that tuba I couldn't. I was twelve years-old and so small that I had to sit on two dictionaries just to reach the mouthpiece. The mouthpiece was so big that it practically covered my mouth and my chin. It was a monster. I could barely carry it.

And, in the case, it barely fit through the door of the school bus. Then, Benefit #1 of playing the tuba arrived. After that first trip, the bus driver refused to allow my tuba onto the bus. I started getting rides into school from my parents.

Benefit #2 made its appearance at about the same time. Aside from the hour a week that we got to miss class because we were getting lessons from the music teacher, we all got whisked away to a high school once a week for a mass practice with all the other Grade 6 students from the other schools in the school board. The non-band kids were envious and we revelled in it.

And the fact that the tuba case was larger than I was didn't pose much of a problem either. After all, the one thing that the very large percussionists had, other than their drumsticks, was their egos.

"Hey! Are you strong enough to carry this inside?" I would ask.

"Of course I am!" they would all say, before making a show of demonstrating how very light the tuba was to them. In spite of their efforts, they couldn't conceal the beads of sweat forming on their foreheads as I loped leisurely alongside carrying their drumsticks, attempting to conceal my silly grin.

Benefit #3 came with the playing. As the woodwinds and upper brass struggled through trills and runs, I got to concentrate on my oom-pahs and long sustained notes. It was easy and it was fun and my section (with me being the only one in my section) never got singled out for playing anything wrong.

By the end of the first year, my Mum told me I could quit. I couldn't let her know that I was really enjoying band, but I was. I took comfort in the fact that her plan to turn me into a little Renaissance man was causing her more trouble (in the form of having drive me to and from school) than it was me.

Benefit #4 came with the school tours. In later years, as the band travelled to different elementary schools in the city, not only did we get out of classes, we got to show off our instruments, just like all those years ago when I first saw the tuba.

The music teacher would introduce an instrument like the flute, the flautist would hold up their instrument to the crowd of kids, and then play a little tune so the kids could hear what the flute sounded like.

I was the last one to demonstrate my instrument. I was always the last one. And it was always worth the wait.

Because I was always located at the back of the band, most of the kids couldn't see me. Heaving my tuba into the air, I would bask in the wide-eyed amazement of the kids who, in unison, would always go, "Woahhhhhhhhhh!", followed by a talkative bunch who would whisper, "That's really big!"

Maybe, like me, some of those kids grew up to become tuba players.

That was my first tuba. Over the years, I've played others, but the first was the most memorable. They say that the first one always is.

There have been many more benefits over the years with all those other tubas, but now I have my very own brass beauty. It's smooth in the playing and blows easily with a beautiful tone and a mellow yet bright resonance that makes my ears very, very happy. And when my ears are happy, the rest of me is too. Yes, I have begun a new relationship with a new tuba and I think its one that's going to last for a very long time.

Much longer than a good, used automobile would.


Anonymous said...

You and the tuba have come so used to sound as though we had a sick moose in the house!

For the record, when you told me you could bring the tuba home that first summer, I said you "didn't have to" because you "didn't want to play a second year". It was definitely tongue in cheek as I knew you'd never quit. Mom's are always right!

You were so lucky with your music teachers.

Peter Tyrrell said...

Nice story! Tuba mirum spargens sonum...

Meandering Michael said...

Peter, trumpets might cast a wondrous sound, but tubas are even better.

Solve lora infernis...

Anonymous said...

Okay,well for those of us who don't speak a dead language... hunh?

Meandering Michael said...

"Tuba mirum spargens sonum" --> A trumpet casts a wondrous sound.

"Solve lora infernis" --> Unleash hell.