It’s been a dream of mine for a number of years to play tuba in a band. You rarely see a tuba other than in a polka or dixieland band, but I’ve always believed in the potential for a tuba to add something unique and pleasing.
So one night, I happened to run into a guy I know from high school who plays bass in an alternative country band. I mentioned that I play tuba in an orchestra and he turns to me and says, “I’ve been wanting to have a tuba in the band! I just think it would be really awesome.” His eyes lit up, and so did mine.
Yes! Someone feels the same way about tuba! But you know how people are. Great ideas, but no follow through. So, I wasn’t going to count on making the cut. I came out to see them play at the Blue Bonnet, a smokey, beer bar in downtown Norman, and meet the band. I would describe them as a blend of Americana, Country, Polka, Psychedelic, and a touch of Johnny Cash. No cowboy hats or boots….that’s not really the Norman way. They sing songs about drinking and huffing and Oklahoma.
I say polka because I once played in a polka band in college and the bass lines were just like the bass lines needed for a few of their songs…oom pah pah kind of stuff. I told the lead singer that I thought that a few of their songs could use tuba and he handed me a cd to practice with. He started to charge me ten bucks and changed his mind, perhaps remembering that I was the tuba guy his bass player had mentioned. Later, the bass player invited me to sit in on a practice. This was really happening.
Practices involve cheap whiskey, 3.2 beer, pizza, and very loud music in a very small space in the bass player’s house. I’m concerned about hearing damage which could affect my ability to sing in tune and teach voice and choir. I’m considering finding a discreet form of ear protection, but I don’t want to be the guy who’s too sensitive to play in a band without protection. My right ear is ringing and a little tender from last night’s practice. Screw it…I’m definitely gonna wear something. I think that it’s actually really common now.
Everyone agreed that it was a fit. The tuba worked. After finding out that I play piano, they set me up with a keyboard and gave me the chords for a few more songs.
My first gig is in the most popular venue in town: The Deli, on OU’s Campus Corner. It’s a very loud, smokey bar that features rock and ,apparently, country bands. I’ve never been there. They party late and hard, and I rarely do that.
Here’s the thing, I’m a recovering classical musician. I say recovering, because the classical technique is a very limiting approach to music it. Playing classical music requires tremendous discipline and precision. You play or sing every note precisely as it is written (except in Baroque music which requires improvised ornamentation). The rest of the world of music doesn’t work like this at all. You have a basic framework to work with and you fill it out. You have to roll with the changes. This is what I have been teaching myself to do for the last few years. And now I’ll be doing it on stage for the first time.
I say city tuba because in Oklahoman terms, I’m a city slicker. I’m a middle class, educated, liberal, cerebral, cultured kind of guy. I’ve had to learn how not to be awkward in bars like this. I have to loosen up to fit in. Booze helps.
I don’t know exactly what to expect. I don’t know how people will respond to a tuba in a bar. I’d like to think that people will love it…something unexpected on a Friday night.