with

Mike Bellah

things I've found in my tuba: gloves, socks, underwear, baseball caps, marbles, coke cups and one ham and cheese sandwich

 

 

 

 

Hint for band directors: If you can't find the twirlers' batons, chances are the tuba players are hiding them. If you can't locate the twirlers themselves, check with those crazy drummers.

 

 

 

 

I still get a surge of adrenaline listening to the Eagle Fight Song. Music is a powerful motivator.

Confessions of an Old Tuba Player

From 1964 to 1967 I was a tuba player for the pride of Canyon (Texas) High School, the Fighting Eagle Marching Band, an experience that taught me a lot--about people, organizations and music.

Actually, I played a sousaphone, the kind of tuba invented by Lieutenant Commander John Philip Sousa in 1892 especially for his Marine marching band. A sousaphone is that large tubular brass instrument (now they have lighter fiberglass ones) that circles around the player's body, resting on the shoulder and culminating in a huge bell-shaped opening on top. When Sousa first used the instrument, the bell turned straight up, and was aptly nicknamed "the raincatcher." Ours turned forward, which means we didn't collect rainwater but instead a variety of projectiles thrown by opposing fans at football games and impertinent little boys during homecoming parades (things I've found in my tuba: gloves, socks, underwear, baseball caps, marbles, coke cups and one ham and cheese sandwich).

I mentioned that I learned about people as a tuba player. What I learned is that you can determine a person's personality by the instrument he or she plays in a band. Really. Tuba players, for instance, are fun loving, rowdy, nonconformist types with huge egos (if you don't want to be noticed at halftime, you play a piccolo or clarinet).

Just how rowdy are tuba players? My experience taught me that rowdiness increases geometrically with one, the size of one's instrument and, two, the distance one sits away from the director's podium in the band hall. Thus, tuba players are a good deal rowdier than trumpet players, somewhat rowdier than trombone and baritone players, but not as out of control as those crazy drummers.

(Hint for band directors: If you can't find the twirlers' batons, chances are the tuba players are hiding them. If you can't locate the twirlers themselves, check with those crazy drummers.)

I also learned something about organizations during my tuba playing days. In marching bands real harmony and success can only be realized in concert with others. A gifted running back may look good even on a mediocre football team, but a gifted trumpet player needs the cooperation of every band member (even tuba players) for the halftime show to succeed. This means that the glory in a marching band, as in life itself, is mostly shared. We succeed on an individual level only to the degree that we can make the whole group look good.

Finally, my stint as a high school tuba player reinforced in me an appreciation for the power of music itself. Ask any football coach; there is a reason for bands at games other than entertainment. Music can revive the most dispirited of players, even changing the momentum of a game. I still get a surge of adrenaline listening to the Eagle Fight Song. Music is a powerful motivator.

And though I haven't held a tuba in over 30 years, I still love marching bands and I still tend to judge them by the size and proficiency of their tuba sections. We marched six tubas in 1967, which wasn't bad for a band of 90. Recently, I saw a major university field nearly two dozen tuba players, each carrying a shiny, white, fiberglass instrument, and all of them in unison executing impressive 360 degree spins every 10 yards are so.

My friend Walter Miller and I tried the same maneuver with our tubas at Amarillo's Tri-State Fair Parade back in 1966. Don't ask.

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