To Be, or Not to Be, Tuba

The merchants of dear old Freeport, down here in Maine, sponsored an outdoor concert in the village square which, I hasten to add, I was fortunate enough to miss. It was by an organized bunch of tuba players and the musicians consisted of tuba players playing their tubas. Christmas had little to do with it, except that "Silent Night" at Christmas time is likely to draw a bigger crowd than "Swanee River" on the Fourth of July. This, I read, is one of hundreds of similar cultural offerings by the Tuba Coalition nationwide to popularize you-know-what, an instrument not yet in top public approval.

Instead of making me wonder what "Jingle Bells" sounds like in the all-tuba ensemble, the news put me in mind of Sol Littlehale, who lived in the next town where he could blow his tuba and we folks on our side couldn't hear him. Distance, I'm told, enhances the tuba.

It was in the 1940s, I wist, that our town went band-happy, and all at once our entire public-school system devoted its total energies to fielding the biggest school band in the state. The new school building, for instance, had a stage in its auditorium, but not for theatrical purposes. The stage was designed to oblige a full military band. Latin was to be offered, but classes would meet in the broom closet at a time when declensions would not disturb the drummers. Thus we took a giant step into the future.

At the next town meeting the school board had an article in the warrant asking the voters to appropriate $800 for the purpose of buying a tuba for the high school band. This was all right, and with the town devoted to the big-band theology it was assumed the $800 would be readily provided.

But when that article took its turn and came before the voters to be unanimously ratified, there was an unexpected objection. Leslie Florington, a farmer from the Rock Ledge end of town, beyond the hardscrabble, rose to say, "Mr. Moderator!" When recognized, Mr. Florington spoke as follows, to wit:

"Mr. Moderator! I ain't got no great bump o' knowledge, and I admits to lackin' in some of the finer points of manners, and the last thing I know nothin' about is this-here moozick we got goin' for us. My boy comes home from school and says he's got to get a tooter so he can be in the band, and I sell a shoat, two ewes, and a barl o' butternuts to buy the boy a tooter, and nobody told me, and now I find the town is buying this thing for some kid except mine. I ask you, and do you think this is fair?"

In our town we had Mr. Arthur C. Yeaton, who was elected treasurer every year on the total-confidence ticket. Mr. Yeaton was fast at figures, completely respected, excessively cultured, and knew something about everything. We counted on him, as a town officer, to answer all questions from the floor. Mr. Yeaton asked to be recognized. "The chair recognizes Mr. Yeaton! Please give your attention!"

Mr. Yeaton spoke. "Mr. Moderator, I think Mr. Florington has given us a point we should consider carefully. He is right to feel that public monies should not be spent in a preferential manner, and that if we do it for one we should do it for all, or not do it for anybody. However, a tuba is a special instrument that costs a good deal, and is not meant to be a solo instrument that a person would care to own for private, personal, or family purposes. It is meant to round out the total effect of a band, and since it will not likely be heard by itself, but always in concert with the aggregation, I feel it is not unreasonable to ask the town to make this purchase as a school expense. I hope I have not offended Mr. Florington in this, as I feel he has raised an important point. Thank you."

Offense was not taken by Mr. Florington. Instead, Mr. Sol Littlehale, aforesaid, who lived over the line in the next town and so wasn't even at our meeting, took it. Hearing about this, he came the next day to our town offices and burst through the front door with his tuba and proclaimed loudly that he had come to clear up a few things about yestiddy's town meeting and the scurrilous remarks made there about the tuba, which he bore in his arms and at which the officers and clerks of our community could gaze in wonder.

He had come, he announced, to prove that the tuba is, au contraire, a superb solo instrument, and in the hands of a competent musician is capable of laughter, tears, beauty, charm, grace and all other emotions and moods. Besides, it sounds good and is different. Whereupon Sol assumed the appropriate posture and began to play.

TOWN business ceased. Intent on reducing yesterday's results to the permanent records, the clerk and assistants folded hands, and then unfolded them to snuggle their ears. The selectmen forewent their finagling, and the road superintendent laid down his pencil. Sol started with the overture from William Tell. It was all right, but overwhelming in its persuasion. Sol played on. He did the Grand March from "Aida," "Matapedia" from the chorus of Bojangles Harvest Moon Minstrels. He did "Stars and Stripes Forever." He did "Keemo Kymo Daro-war." He did "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." The state auditor left, and Sol played on.

The town did buy the tuba. When the English teacher wanted to stage a play, they wouldn't let her drive scenery nails into the hardwood floor, but the band didn't drive nails and used the new stage all the time. All things are relative, aren't they? "Silent Night" by 76 tubas is certainly worth a trip to Freeport. While there, you can pick up some fishing tackle.

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