In Which We Get Low Down


AT last, my secret shame must be told; I was a teenage tubist.

It’s true, as a child, I played tuba. 7 years in junior high and high school. I started out on the French horn but was so bad they transferred me to the lowest basses, which are sort of the slow kid of the orchestra. “How bad can he be?” was the logic. Turns out, pretty bad.

I never learned how to read music. I know what the individual notes represent and what the sundry symbols and notations mean and what the time of the piece is and all that other esoterica, I just never figured out how to put it all together to be a song. Instead, I was able to teach myself how to play by ear. That might sound impressive, but in the world of school bands, it’s simply means you’re very much the short bus kid. It was rather like copying all your answers.

I didn’t mind, I enjoyed playing and my lack was not really apparent once I got one of the other guys to play the piece for me so I could imitate it. The few occasions when everyone else would be sight reading something, I would hold the horn up and move the valves like I was playing and just not blow any air through. I was lip syncing tuba.

The nadir of the experience each year was when we would audition for what chair we would hold. It would get to be my turn and I would cheerfully make some random noises and they would roll their eyes and put me in last chair, which pretty much had my name on it by the time I graduated.

This was sort of the first indication I had of how happy I would be leading a wastrel’s life. Lack of ambition and talent? Oh that would be mrpeenee over there at the end of the row. I would always have the rhythm of the song down pat and would never be out of tune so just listening to our section, you’d never really be able to tell I didn’t have the faintest idea of what was going on. Also, let me point out I scored an A in the class every year.

The only drawback to this happy state of affairs was the band director, Mr. Forque. What a Nazi that dick was. He demanded absolute dedication above any of your other schoolwork, and he got it, turning the band into a cult. He just ignored me, but he had a vile temper and would turn bright red when he screamed at everyone. The year after I graduated, his wife dumped him for screwing a student named Kathy, a sweet girl who was the first chair trumpet and a year younger than me. The school quietly shuffled him out and I believe they married.

A few years ago, Albert, who had been first chair tuba and the diametric opposite to me the entire time we were in school together, looked me up while he was in San Francisco and we went out to lunch. I was getting ready to launch into a assault on Mr Forque and what a blight he was, but Albert, sensing where the conversation was headed, cut me off to effuse over what a mentor the man had been to him, the father he had never had. Sort of cut my chat gambit right off. And no matter how discreetly I tried to dig up details about the Forque/Kathy scandal, he would not bite. Can you imagine how disappointed I was? Crushed sweetie, absolutely crushed.

Amazingly, Albert wound up returning to our high school after he graduated college as the new band director and apparently made a career of it there. Our 50th high school reunion is looming next summer and I’m planning to attend. Plenty of the kids I went to school with stayed in that miserable, nasty little town and I’m sure they have plenty of dirt about that Forque fucker and I plan on tracking down every grain that’s available.

guys whose horn I’d like to blow:

It’s too hot to write captions.

Besides, pictures like this pretty much write their own caption.

About mrpeenee

A former bon vivant and terror of a number of New Orleans bars in the mad, gay 1980s, I'm now quietly retired and widowed in San Francisco. I have a crooked nose due to an unfortunate Frisbee accident.

18 responses »

  1. I can’t say this revelation shocks me in the slightest. I figured you blew and played some form of horn. No doubt kept it spit shined beautifully too.


  2. Every morning we were subjected to a recording of the Star-Spangled Banner played off key by the high school band. Imagine that torture first thing in the morning everyday. I can still hear it.


  3. My high school’s band loved to drop wacky TV theme music into whatever they were supposed to be playing. They would have loved having you do the final note of the Monty Python theme.


  4. I’ve a 50th reunion the end of this month to which I will NOT be attending.

    I’ve gone to two. The first was the year we turned 50, which I found kind of amazing. The second was 10 years ago & it was all downhill. The photos of this fete (emphasis on the “feh” part of the word) were posted on Fartbook. As I perused the pictures, I realized I had absolutely nothing to say to just about all of them. I wish them all well, but I have no energy to make small talk with them.

    As for the tuba, did we ever think you didn’t enjoy the largest horns?


  5. I’ve never been able to read music. Don’t get me wrong—I love music—it’s just that the nomenclature for recording it on paper might as well be an alien language from a civilization light years distant.


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