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.