Playing the tuba never was a boyhood dream. For that matter, does ANY boy or girl entering the sixth grade really have a yearning to play the biggest and heaviest horn in the band? Maybe, but I never met one.
FOR MOST of my band-playing years I played a white fiberglass sousaphone, the big tuba-sounding, wrap-around horn that usually plays the lowest oom-pah notes in the band. John Philip Sousa, the great composer of military march music, helped create the wrap-around tuba, which later became known as the sousaphone.
MY FIRST instrument was the trumpet, but later I was moved to the baritone, and later still I landed under the sousaphone, which I played in middle and high school, two semesters of college, and then for a couple of seasons in a community band.
ON FRIDAY nights, when the Mary Persons Bulldogs play at home, I gladly pay $10 to get in to see not only the game, which I enjoy, but especially the Bulldog Brigade and its four players who have the honor of blowing into their beautiful, brass sousaphones. This past Friday night was a special treat because not only did the Brigade entertain us, but the big West Laurens band – which had at least twice as many sousaphones – performed as well.
WATCHING AND hearing those performances took me back to my high school years, when our band had the Iowa record for consecutive Superior One ratings at marching band contest – 49 straight years. We were a proud crowd at a small high school, which had about 280 students in grades 9-12, about 65 of whom were in the band.
WE WERE disciplined and well coached. I recall the “spinning right flanks,” which not many bands used. When we were supposed to turn 90 degrees to the right, instead of pivoting on our left foot and turning right, we pivoted on the ball of our right foot and spun 270 degrees around to the left, leaving us headed to the right. Trombones and trumpets had to raise their horns high to avoid hitting their neighbors. It was pretty flashy.
BUT WE had nothing on the Bulldog Brigade. What makes a marching band is really the sound – that big, brass sound. I always felt sorry for the woodwind players – clarinets, saxophones, flutes, etc. – because they rarely played the melody and rarely could be heard over the sound of the brass. The more brass in the band, the bigger the sound. The Bulldog Brigade has that sound, and they perform their music very well.
THE “LIGHT Up the Night” show Friday night was excellent. The last song, called “Firework,” a pop song by Katy Perry, was performed with great enthusiasm. And to top it off, while the band was playing, to the right of the end zone someone set off a nice display of fireworks. It was dramatic and unexpected.
I WILL stand or sit for any marching band – especially ones that play Sousa marches -- and I do not go to the food stand or the restroom during halftime of any football game, high school or college. The band is a big deal, and I appreciate the students who put in the time to practice and then entertain us. I congratulate them for their dedication and effort, and I will watch them and listen to all the instruments, but especially the sousaphones and their players who blow oom-pah-pahs all night long.
Bill Weaver lives in northern Monroe County. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.