Why did I choose to play the tuba?
This is a question that I get asked on a regular basis… more often than not, followed by a tuba players least favourite question – ‘Don’t you wish you played a piccolo?’ The answer to that, is no.
I haven’t always been a brass player, and this is possibly quite a brave statement for me to say, but I started my musical career on the violin. After seeing both my older brothers play the violin, both to a very high standard from a young age, I decided that I would play that as well. I got on well with the violin, and music in general, but it wasn't the right instrument for me – I just hadn’t realised it yet. After a few years of progressing on a stringed instrument, it was time for the jump. Rather a large jump as well, as quite often, a tuba player will start on a cornet/trumpet or baritone horn/euphonium. I bypassed these, and went straight for the tuba (albeit, a smaller sized tuba - yes, such things do exist!).
Moving to brass wasn’t a complete leap of faith. My eldest brother was a trombone player, and a very good one at that, so I had messed around on the mouthpiece from time to time without him knowing, and I knew that I could make a noise.
I started playing roughly around my 10th birthday… (an age where the sound of a tuba was absolutely hilarious). I had seen tuba players before, mainly in brass sections that my brother had been a part of, and from the first moment, I knew that I wanted to play that instrument. The sound of the bass instrument from the back of the orchestra/band was almighty, and the feeling when the low brass played in unison, or even had their chance to take the spotlight was intoxicating.
From my first lesson, I was hooked. Even the ‘boring’ long note practice or scales were fun, because it was all happening on this brute of a horn. I was of course swamped by the instrument, although being an incredibly tall child, the tuba still made me look like I had been shrunk. I’m pretty tall now, but I’d like to think that I’ve grown into the instrument.
A fair few years have passed now, and after a few difficulties, and many frustrated practice sessions, I still get the same feeling when performing. My goals and aspirations on the instrument have changed dramatically, even in the space of a short few years, but I still have one remaining objective, and that is to enjoy performing.
A classically trained musician turned jazz fanatic and funk tuba/sousaphone player. I have never lost my passion for orchestral music, especially later works in the Romantic genre, but I have found my calling as a tuba player trying to push the boundaries of the instrument. Assumptions would lead people to think that I play an ‘Oom-Pah’ bassline, and that is all. This is not the case.
I have taken inspiration from not only tuba/sousaphone/bass players, but other instrumentalists as well, to try and push myself in a way that changes the publics' interpretation of the tuba.
Currently, Daniel Herskedal, a Norwegian tubist and composer is at the top of my pick, who’s newest album, The Roc, shows a beautiful and haunting display of how the tuba can sound, as well as inspiring me to extend myself in terms of instruments. His bass trumpet playing seems effortless – I’m now on the hunt for one myself.
Other musicians include, tuba player Oystein Baadsvik, for his graceful and natural musicianship, as well as technical prowess that would match any trumpeter or first violinist. Nat McIntosh, tuba and sousaphone player for Youngblood Brass Band, who amazes me every time I listen to him play. His riffs and agility on the sousaphone genuinely give me a slight buzz, and I will hopefully (unlikely) one day be able to play like he does. John Sass, Oren Marshall, Roland Szentpali and many others would be in my recommendations for listening, if you want to hear what the tuba is really capable of.
Do I wish I played the piccolo? Although when played well, it is a beautiful instrument, but with that in mind, I wish I could play most instruments. The answer to the original question, is no. I am a tuba player, I am a sousaphone player, but more importantly, I am a musician.