Brass Lining

Gabe LaBounty

Middle school – that horrible time that horrible place and those horrible classes. In fifth grade we had to pick band, choir or orchestra to get our music credit. I missed the orchestra tryout and singing was not my thing, so the only choice left was band tryouts.

At the crack of dawn on a Saturday, I walked into the band hall where there were stools beside every instrument in the band. I wish I could say I was good at all of those instruments, or at least say I didn’t sound like a dying duck, but I couldn’t make a sound on any of them.

I was feeling disappointed when I walked up to the tuba station. I had already attempted the euphonium, a baby tuba, with no success. Because of this, I was expecting the judge at the station to give me some sympathetic, “Sorry, try another instrument,” response.

To my dismay, she didn’t. She said under her breath, “You found a good one.” She wrote my name down and underlined it saying I was the best she had seen all day.

My mom, who was with me, was more shocked than I was. After failing to produce a sound on the other instruments, I grudgingly went to the table to accept my tuba.

I figured I was branded tuba player for life. I would be stuck in band until I died. I thought the only thing I would have on my tombstone was “tuba player.”

I signed up and our band director triumphantly declared “We found our last tuba player!” I really was the best all day. Uh oh.

In fifth grade I weighed 60 pounds and was only four feet ten inches tall. It took considerable effort to pick up the instrument. I had to sit on two phonebooks just to play.

My tuba was so rusty that it could have been from the Nixon Administration. The entire case and instrument reeked of must, dirt and dried spit. The spit valve opened on its own at random times while I was playing the tuba. It became a common, embarrassing experience to walk around with all those stains on my pants.

That woman who had judged my talent had lied. I wasn’t that good. I was never first or second chair. I was third chair out of five for a grand total of one week.

The band director was very committed to his job, and was a very strict teacher. He always seemed to have his eye on my and tried to upgrade me from my small rustic tuba to a shiny but much larger tuba. This was late in the year and I was lagging behind. Now the phone books I had been using were starting to say and it felt I was shrinking while playing the smaller tuba. If this was the smallest tuba I could use, then I would be in for a world of stretching to reach the mouthpiece for any other tuba. I had started to decide I was not welcome in this side of the school.

Band wasn’t the only extracurricular activity I joined that year. On a whim I joined theatre and it turned out I wasn’t half bad. I signed up for the speech and debate team, where I could only enter in one event— musical pantomime. I decided nothing was finnier than me trying to play the tuba. So I mimed my routine of opening my tuba case, getting my $ 70 mouthpiece and playing the tuba set to the music of John Philip Sousa. Surprisingly, I won third place at the first tournament and finished fourth overall in city.

At the end of the year, it took me all of two seconds to decide I should never go into the band hall again. I chose theatre as my seventh period, finally finding a place where I belonged. I never had to look at that tuba again but the trophy that it helped me win still sits on my shelf.