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For the Love of Tuba

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I#39;ve always wanted to be just like daddy.

My parents adopted me when they were in their early 40′s. I have only some basic, non-identifying information about my biological parents (the color of their hair, eyes, age range and hobbies). I have no idea if they were musical geniuses or not. Growing up with parents 40 years older has it’s advantages although I didn’t see it that way as a kid. When I was 10, I remember thinking that my parents seemed substantially older than me. It was evident in their sense of style, manners, morals and musical tastes. They didn’t wear flip-flops. They taught me that lying and laziness were wrong and that honesty and working hard were good. As Great Depression Survivors, they taught me not to be wasteful. They placed great importance on “pleases” and “thank-yous”. My parents didn’t listen to the Beatles, Elvis, Billy Joel and Chicago (although I did develop a love for them). They listened to Glenn Miller, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Doris Day and Les Brown (Sentimental Journey, and Deep Purple ended up being two of my favorite songs). The older I get, the more thankful I am for their influences on my life.

As a kid I tried my hand (or rather feet) at ballet. I enjoyed the dancing, but grew bored with it. Next I experimented with gymnastics. I liked it but also lost interest. Both of these classes had two things in common. They played great classical music during class, and they both were held in the music store up the street from my house. I loved looking at all the instruments as I walked to my classroom in the back of the store.

In 7th grade as I entered Jr. High I signed up for Wood Shop as an elective. So did nearly everyone else. I was told that I would be assigned my second choice: Beginning band. I decided to learn to play the flute.

In 8th grade, my band director, Mr. Hansen asked for a volunteer to play the sousaphone. He said that whoever was interested should come see him at lunch. I was the only one to show up. I had no clue what a sousaphone was. Mr. Hansen brought out this huge white thing and I quickly told him “I can’t play that! It’s too big!” He reassured me that I could and that he would teach me. We worked on a few things at lunch; he explained to me what bass clef is and how to figure out the notes on it. He showed me how to buzz my lips and how to change tones, and what a proper embouchure looked like and gave me a fingering chart and told me to take it home and work on it. I told him that there was no way that thing was fitting on the bus. He said he would gladly give me a ride home and to call my mom and make sure it was ok. I don’t remember telling my mom why my band teacher needed to give me a ride home because I’m quite certain she would have flipped. I wish I could have remembered the look on her face when Mr. Hansen pulled my new instrument out of the back of his truck. So I set to work learning this new challenge and trying to rattle the walls, pretty sure that I rattled my Mom’s nerves in the process.

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That#39;s me with the tuba on my shoulder. Oakmont HS Band (Roseville, CA) in Vancouver, BC for the World EXPO, 1986.

When my Dad got home from work, I was still sitting at the Optigan practicing my tuba. (yes I said Optigan. If you weren’t lucky enough to have owned one of these beauties you can read about it’s awesomeness here: a href=”” target=”_blank” href=”” target=”_blank”Optigan/a ) When he came in the house he said “Give me that!” and nearly ripped the sousaphone off my shoulder. It wasn’t until that moment that I found out about my Dad’s heavy metal youth.

It turns out my Dad was in band…. and played the tuba. He started on the alto sax that had belonged to his older brother. (I currently own this horn. A Buescher silver alto saxophone from the 1920′s. It’s beautiful!) Later he switched to tuba.

In elementary school, he would have to ride his bike to band practice at a nearby elementary school while balancing his tuba on the handle bars. (Don’t worry though, it was just an Eb tuba.) In high school, he almost failed band because he was also on the football team and missed performing in the pep band.

After high school, he went into the Navy and was stationed out of Treasure Island on a tug boat during WWII. After he got out of the Military he got dentures and figured that he had lost his chops and couldn’t play any more. When I brought home a tuba from school, he was surprised that he could still play. That day began 27 more years of playing for my Dad.

My Dad is a member of the Shriners and joined their band lead by Buddy Harpman. He used one of their horns until he

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My dad playing Sousaphone with the Ben Ali Shriner Band of Sacramento in Nevada City, CA. Mid-1980#39;s.

bought himself a brand new tuba a few years later. He bought a Yamaha YBB104 convertible tuba from Jack’s House of Music in Sacramento. It was the same model tuba that I was playing in my high school’s marching band. A few years later he decided that he needed a bigger horn and bought a brand new Yamaha YBB641 rotary 4 valve tuba. Also not-so-coincidently, the same model horn I had been playing in my high school’s concert band. He began playing in area community bands in addition to the Shriner band. In 1988 he traveled to Australia to play with the community band at the World’s Fair in Brisbane.

My Dad played tuba the second time around from 1982 to 2008 when he turned 80 and downsized to Euphonium. He recently retired from performing but still attends most of my concerts and remains one of my biggest fans.

I am so thankful to my parents for their encouragement and musical inspiration and to my Dad for steering me towards the tuba, even without knowing it.  Also to Mr. Hansen, my first band director, for believing that a 90 pound, 5 foot 3 inch girl could play the tuba.


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