I recently auditioned for the principal tuba position in the OU Civic orchestra. I got the position by being the only tuba player who actually owned a tuba. Most of the other musicians far outclass me. I’m amazed at the level of skill in this ensemble. It’s made up of mostly students who are not majoring in music, but who are very talented. The students take it for credit. And then there’s a few people, like me, from the community who just do it for fun.
I haven’t been in an orchestra since 1991. Wow, that’s 21 years ago. High school. I’d almost forgotten what it feels like to play in an orchestra. I’d forgotten about what it’s like to count minutes of rest. It takes a lot of concentration to come in at the right time without a cue. It’s thrilling to form the bass end of an orchestra. It feels so good. I get a great buzzy feeling.
There are some things that are different for me as compared to playing in high school. Now, I don’t spend any energy trying to prove my abilities to anyone. I feel like I’m doing a good enough job and I don’t really need recognition for it. I’m just happy to be there. I also hold a lot of respect for the conductor and the musicians. I think, as a teenager, I felt superior to most of the other members. This explains why I wasn’t all that well-liked. Who wants to be around a guy who thinks he’s better than you? Also, I hold no illusions about my skills. I’m good enough to play my part, but I’ll never be a professional. I lack the discipline and training to build a professional technique. I have a good tone, I’m very musical, and I sight read very well. But I can’t play very complex passages requiring agility and extreme range. I also don’t have the lung capacity to play all of the sustained notes. I have to break them up into smaller pieces; at least for now. If I’d taken private lessons and majored in tuba, perhaps I could have played at a professional level, but there was no tuba teacher in town in my high school days.
I think I might have majored in tuba instead of voice if I’d owned my own tuba and there was a tuba professor at OU. Perhaps my life would have been radically different if I’d done that. Who knows? Relatively speaking, there are very few professional tuba gigs in the US. An orchestra only needs one tuba player. In Oklahoma, there are only three professional orchestras (I believe). So that’s three tuba spots.
I own a King 2341 Legend BB-flat full-sized professional model tuba. My grandfather bought if for me a few years ago before he died. It has nice fat, centered tone. It has a big enough sound to carry an orchestra. BB-flat is not an ideal fit for an orchestra. A C tuba is more in tune with an orchestra, but I feel like I tune well enough. This tuba is my most prized possession. I sometimes just take it out to look a it. It’s beautiful.
Another thing I’m excited about is playing an entire symphony. In high school, we generally played single movements, excerpts, and transcriptions. We didn’t always get the original score. We’d get an easier version of the piece. In the Civic, we’re playing Rimsky-Korsakov’s 2nd Sympony “Antar”. It’s the real deal. I love this symphony. The tuba part is not hard. It’s just very loud. It takes a lot of lung power to balance out an entire orchestra playing at forte or fortissimo. I love it.
I feel like I’ve entered a new phase in my life. Not only am I directing choir again, I’m playing tuba as well! I feel like I can call myself a musician once more. I’m really looking forward to the spring concert. I know that I will enjoy every minute of it.