As some of you already know, I play the tuba. I started in 1993 with a baritone (I was just a wee lad, then) and switched to a rather small tuba within a few years.
I got into it because…well, to be blunt I was sort of forced.
It was either that or sports, probably because my parents wanted me to interact with local people so I get more friends. When I stopped wanting to go to the track and field stuff that I had been doing and that division kind of fell apart anyway, I got put into music.
My dad had been in the local orchestra since he was young as well, and he always had been in the comittee that ran the show. Since I had no actual preference or special talents, they gave me a baritone and said “tuba later”. My dad plays the tuba. Yes, I’ve been through the usual phases where I didn’t really like it, was frustrated with the kind of music we play1 but overall I enjoyed and still enjoy it. No small thanks to the projects and orchestras I was and still am a part off beside the vintner’s orchestra2 that is the core of our local music association3.
The one thing that probably kept me from wanting to ditch the whole thing during teenage years was my school orchestra. Our “Big Band”. An orchestra consisting of about 40 students aged 12 to 19 lead by one of the school’s music teachers.4
I joined the band in 1996 and it was probably the best decision I have made in my whole time as a student. I made friends, and while musically it might have been dubious5 but it was one hell of a fun time. Our new headmaster had connections to various European projects so we went to Poland in 1997, to Sweden in ’98, Bulgaria ’99, then Poland again in 2000 and 2001. The last trip I joined started the day after I graduated from school and it was our year’s farewell tour. Quite a number of friends from my school year were in the band at that time.
Charles, our band leader turned 60 in 2013 and retired. One of the girls that I think is graduating this year had an awesome idea. She started a year before to contact former students who played in the Big Band that Charles had been leading for more than 25 years. And she made it. His family (two daughters who had also been playing with us) kept it secret and we organized a surprise party and concert in the school gym.
We met up early in the morning, got our old sheet music and rehearsed for a couple of hours. Of course we had a few breaks to catch up with people we hadn’t seen in years, socialise with people who’d played in the band long before we even started. Or after we’d left in my case. We made a wall with old photographs, wrote memories and quotes on it6 and took long trips down memory lane.
It was an awesome group of 60 musicians, about 30 current and 30 former members of the band. When Charles was announced to arrive in a few minutes we all hid in the next room and tried to stay quite. It wasn’t easy, we were quite giddy with excitement. His family led him into the gym and he let out an all too familiar groan. This orchestra sat there. A few teachers, friends, the headmaster, his family. When he sat down, the orchestra started playing one of our “classics”. Tequila, by the champs. We had agreed on repeating one part over and over and have the former members entering the gym, ordered by age, youngest first. I was somewhere in the middle, having left about 12 years ago.
It was brilliant, we walked in with our instruments, waved, sat down and joined in playing Tequila, finishing the song after all the orchestra was complete. The girl leading the conspiracy said a few words and then handed us over to his lead again. She gave him the cues as to what we’d play next and it was just like old times for about an hour. His current 8th grade class sang a song for him and the current headmaster said a few words about how awesome it was that he made such an impact on people throughout the years to make us gather on a saturday afternoon and play for him. Charles said a few words as well, and it was hard not to start bawling for a lot of us, when we saw his slightly wet eyes.
He was blown away. I think it was one of the most beautiful things I have been a part of, and I still get a lump in my throat thinking about it. Which accounts for my slightly incoherent style today. Please forgive me.
He also impressed us by calling each of us out by name, no matter if we’d finished school one, five, ten or 20 years ago.
And I still get somehow giddy with excitement and a little sad with nostalgia, when I close with the words that he addressed us with so often, when we were about to play the encore, usually “Barbara Ann”.
And now everybody as fast and as loud as they can!
Oh, and here’s the new picture for www.52photosproject.com
I didn’t put one up last week because I couldn’t find anything minty or limey to save my life, so here goes. For the blog post obviously something related to music or the orchestra would have been good, but I found something else while looking through pictures of meeting people7Footnotes
- I still sometimes get that [↩]
- I live in a region that is very focused on growing wine [↩]
- est. 1925 [↩]
- let’s call him Charles, because reasons [↩]
- playing loud and fast often took priority over precision and intonation [↩]
- “the black things are the music” was an alltime favorite, along with “listen up!”, “ok, from the beginning, for the eleventh-last time” and “don’t drink more than you can force into you” [↩]
- online friends, for reference see http://www.ollicrusoe.net/2013/12/here-be-dragons-friends-from-the-internet/ [↩]