A Tuba Named Boots: The Audition

bootsBefore my grandfather died, he bought me a new tuba.  I was in a period in my life where I was stepping out beyond my comfort zone to to ask for what I wanted.  My wife had often said to me, “It never hurts to ask.”  But I had long since believed, and still believe, that it can hurt to ask.  It hurts a relationship what you put someone in the awkward position to have to say no.  I was also worried what the rest of my generation of family would think.  It was an extravagant request.  But I decided to take a chance.

Daddy Boots had moved to Norman to be close to my family.  I’m sure my parents had talked him into it.  He was living in a ghost house in a ghost town where he had built a family long ago.  His wife, my Granny, had died many years before.  He was living by himself in an old house that was gathering more and more dust.

I wrote him an email.  I told him that I had never owned my own tuba and I would never expect another Christmas present again.  To my surprise, he consented.  We worked out a budget and when it came time to get the horn out in Weatherford, we made a road trip out of it in his old Cadillac.  It will always be a special memory.  When he got through all of his old conversations that I had heard a dozen times, we actually got down to a real conversation about the present.  He wanted to know if I knew any Muslims.  What were they really like.  Were they really all that bad?  I assured him that my experience was that they were not bad at all.  My Muslim friends were just regular people.  I got the sense that he was in some way relieved to hear it.  I suppose it had been a concern for him since 9/11.  It was a memorable trip.  He died soon after.  I held his hand and spoke words of peace and release as he breathed his last breath.  Perhaps I’ll tell the story sometime.

I was thrilled because it had been ages since I’d played and I really missed it.  My aspiration was to play in an orchestra.  I’d been longing to do this again since high school.  I had no illusions about my playing.  I was not even close to being a professional.  I was setting my sights lower.  I just wanted to be a part of a community orchestra of some sort.

Enter the OU Civic Orchestra.  It’s an orchestra for both students and community members.  I thought Surely I can get into this orchestra if I practice hard enough.  I contacted the director and he said that he would need a tuba player in the spring.  The audition would be in January.  Good, I have a few months to prepare.  I looked at their website for the audition requirements:  Two two-octave scales to be played slurred on the ascending scale and articulated on the descending.  Plus one two-octave chromatic scale.  And finally, two short etudes or orchestral excerpts.

Surely, I thought, I can pull this off.  I’d practiced a fair share of scales and arpeggios in high school.  Heck, I even made 1st alternate in the all-state band.  I HAD THIS.  But when I sat down for the first time, I realized that I had NEVER in fact played a 2-octave scale, much less slurred.  This may give you some idea of my skill level.  It was far more difficult than I imagined.  I couldn’t bridge the gaps between low, middle, and high registers.  I’d been dancing around it all this time.

So what does one do when one has such a problem?  I proceeded immediately to YouTube.  What I learned is that I needed to adjust my emboucher (the way the lips meet the mouthpiece).  I needed to make a change.  After 20 years, I needed to make a change.  It was difficult at first.  I struggled for two months, trying to make the necessary adjustments.  But finally, I mastered it.  Wow, I actually grew as a tuba player! I was ready for this audition.

I was very nervous the day of the audition.  My daughter wanted to come with me and I was grateful for the company.  I was supposed to meet the director at the university near the music admin offices.  So while I was sitting  in the waiting area this kid walked by and kind of stared at me.  It was the director.  And I thought, how old am I when a grad student looks like a kid?  He left  me in a cramped office for a warmup.  The office was tiny, but they still managed to squeeze a baby grand piano in.   There was just enough room in the center of the room for me to lay down my tuba case and pull out my instrument.   I ran my scales.  My daughter sang along and made tuba player faces. She had heard my audition a hundred times.  My fingers were  fumbling and my palms were sweaty.  He stepped in.  We chatted for a moment.

Then he said, “Ok, so what to you have for me?”  And I was thinking 3 scales, 1 easy etude and another that I sometimes flub.  And I’d really rather not attempt the scales at all. 

“Just play whatever you want.  No big deal.”

So I picked the easy etude and played.  I played fairly well.

“Ok.  That’s just fine.  So our registration is tomorrow.  You’re the first tuba player who’s shown any interest who actually owns a tuba, so….”

So that was that.  All of the energy I had put into it.  All of my anxiety.  All that it took me to prepare this audition, and I could’ve played Mary Had a Lamb.  The results would have been the same: “Ok, that’s just fine.  So our registration is…”

You never really know how these things are going to turn out.  I was excited, though.  We were going to play Rimsky-Korsokov;  one of my favorite orchestral composers.  And I would play on my tuba, which I had named “Boots” after my grandfather.  Although he never got to hear me play it, I think of him when I sit the instrument in my lap, and once in awhile, I sense that he is nearby.

One thought on “A Tuba Named Boots: The Audition

  1. Pingback: Green Screen Dream | mywifesaysimcomplicated

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