Once upon a time.

It should come as no big surprise to anyone reading this blog that I play the tuba, but to this day I still find myself quite surprised to be doing so.

I don’t one hundred percent know why I chose the tuba or why I continue to pursue it. It must be one of those enigmatic “it chose me” situations, because I don’t recall sitting down and plotting it out back in 1985.

Here’s what I did know: 
  • My father was a professional drummer for a while in the ’60s. By the time I came along, it was just a hobby he pursued in our den, playing along to records or just pounding out some solo Samba or Jazz or Rock rhythms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him perform with any kind of group.
  • My older brother (3.5 years my senior) tried learning the clarinet in middle school for a year—and seemed to hate every second of it, though nowadays he says otherwise. I’m certain it was a very harrowing year. It was for my ears, at the very least.
  • My musical interests were mostly rooted in the top forty ’80s tunes played on the radio: The Human League, The Police, Thomas Dolby, and scores of synthy hits like “The Safety Dance” and “Mr. Roboto.”
So the tuba? Really?

None of my history prior to the sixth grade seemed to musically add up the tuba. To me, the only “heavy metal” I was interested in by that point was a new Quiet Riot or Twisted Sister song, and those don’t even really count as heavy metal.

But then one day I found myself in the middle school band director’s office, faced with the most terrifying question: “So, what instrument do you want to play?”

Believe it or not, I hadn’t really thought about it.

Furthermore, I was already two weeks behind. I only transferred into the class because my two best friends were in it. They were already learning notes and sounds on their chosen instruments, playing hardcore tunes like “Hot Cross Buns” and “Mary Had A Little Lamb” from their super professional looking music books. How could I possibly catch up?

I was practically frozen with indecision. Should I choose the sax so I could wail like that guy in Huey Lewis and the News? No, my friend had chosen that one already. What about the drums? But could I ever live up to my dad’s expectations? I’d already lived through my brother’s squeaky attempts at ear torture, so clarinet was out. There were already too many boys with trumpets, flute was too girly, the trombone was too weird looking, the French horn was too French, and were oboes even real instruments?

The music teacher was a large, sweaty, and very bearded Italian man with round glasses, and he was becoming increasingly impatient. The moment had come, it was time to choose.

And then there it was, sitting on the floor just a few feet behind him, a giant horn clad in gleaming silver. I remember thinking, “Well, it is larger than a trumpet.” A quick panicked look to the band floor revealed an ensemble full of every kind of brass, woodwind, and percussion player possible, chomping at the bit to make music—except for one major instrument.

Swallowing hard, I looked back at the band director and stammered out, “The … tuba?”

Seconds later I had a giant hunk of heavy cold metal in my hands and was being ushered out of the office to my place near the back row.

So, was it divine revelation or just the result of a very complex series of subconscious decisions by a ten year old boy just looking to fit in? Sometimes answers come to you in the most unexpected ways, and I guess along the way you’ve just gotta learn to stop questioning them, lest you spoil the magic.


[Pictured: ModernTuba, circa 1987, two years playing by this point]


2 thoughts on “Once upon a time.

  1. Older Brother

    I played the clarinet for the entire school year, and enjoyed it just fine, thank you. I didn’t pursue it longer because all of my classmates were being booted up to Advanced Band the following year, while I was told I was going into Intermediate Band. The humiliation was just too much to bear, so I dropped it. Thanks for dragging up these painful memories, Tuba Boy.I remember going to see you do an outside performance, and less than half of the band had showed up. The director (Mosley?) let the show go on, and a friend of mine who was in the audience, had played the trumpet for YEARS, and had learned from the same band director, grabbed his trumpet out of his car (the sign you really love playing is that you carry your instrument everywhere) and joined in. He told me at the time that he thought you were the best player out there (besides himself) at that perfromance. I’m pretty sure I passed that along to you at the time, but it was 25 years ago and my Swiss-cheese memory isn’t what it used to be.IIRC, you chose the tuba because it made your hair look smaller. Seriously, check out that ‘do, people!

  2. ModernTuba

    I think I was 7 when you picked up the clarinet. I recall it being an awful experience, and I think I asked you about it once?or maybe I asked Frank once??and you somewhat confirmed it. (Maybe it was just an awful experience for me?) *shrug* I was thinking it was only a semester because beginning band generally was just a semester in 6th grade, but now I remember we moved to FL when you were ready for 7th grade.Close! His name was Moscoso, and last I heard his son took over teaching that class when he retired. I don’t remember the incident you’re referencing at all, though, so it must be our collective swiss cheese memory.I do remember the class was ranked by how far you could get in the beginning band book, and I was ranked second right behind a clarinetist who was getting private lessons. Not only did I not receive private lessons, but I mostly taught myself to play because I missed the classes teaching the other kids how to make proper noises.As for my hair, wise guy, that photo shows me two years later in the 8th grade. It was most definitely pre-mullet short boy hair in 6th grade, so nice try! 🙂


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