It's 9:00. Do you know where your tuba is?
So, what caught my eye in this morning's New York Times Arts section? First, there was Ben Brantley's review of the Encores! production of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along. The verdict: Book bad, music good. I knew that already. And will be going next weekend, no matter what he says. Then, there was Manohla Dargis's review of Safe House, the new movie in which Denzel Washington, who's one year older than your humble blogger, cavorts about like an action hero. I won't be seeing it, but you go, Denzel! Finally, at the bottom of the screen, was an article you may have overlooked. But it hit me like a low B-flat. Someone, you see, has been stealing tubas from Southern California schools.
Immediately, it all came back -- the pimples, the bad hair, the indignity, and the danger to my dental health caused by schlepping a Sousaphone through the streets of my old home town, Ridgefield, Connecticut, during my middle school years. Yes, I'm an ex-tubist, and darn proud of it. After all, someone's got to anchor the band. And since I wasn't going to get the girls anyway, I figured that like Alberich in Wagner's Ring, I might as well make the best of it. Later, I advanced, if that's the right word, to bass trombone, an instrument with its own glories and indignities. Now you know why I'm unusually sympathetic to the low brass in WFCR's classical music. There's a little Tubby the Tuba in all of us current and former low brassers.
Back then, when practice or performance was done, I could leave my axe any place I wanted in the band room, confident that it would be where I left it the next time. After all, who the hell wanted some old tuba? Well, saints be praised -- tubas are now cool! At least they are among the Mexicans and Mexican-Americans who dig banda, a brassy music in which the tuba plays a lead role. One can now even make a decent living at tubing, if you live in the right neighborhood.
What's banda sound like? First, check out this YouTube (there are ziillons more). Now, that's what the tuba is for! Would you then like to hear the same thing in a classical context? Tune in this afternoon, during Walter Carroll's show, for the wild and wooly "Homenaje a Federico García Lorca" by the colorful Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas, who no doubt knew his banda first hand. And listen for that crazy tuba, not that you could miss it. But please, if you're going to start you own banda, get your own tuba. High school bands need their anchor, and high school tubists need some purpose for living.