In honor of International Tuba Day, I thought I’d share some of my favorite marching band stories from college—because obviously I can’t pick just one!
First, we should probably start with how I ended up playing sousaphone in the first place. I was a college freshman, it was my first day of band camp (I know, I know), and I was standing in the woodwind sectional with my new friend Joy, a fellow piccolo player. Yeah, piccolo. This teeny thing:
Anyway, we’re standing there, and along comes the sousaphone section leader, Jeff. He told us again—he had told us the same thing in orientation a few hours previously—that the sousaphone section was four players short, and asked if anyone would be interested in giving it a try. Joy nudged me and said she would try if I would. So I shrugged and the two of us joined two saxophone players to follow Jeff around the corner to give the sousaphone a try. The other three girls, quite a bit more adventurous than I, agreed almost immediately to switch to the sousaphone section. I needed a little bit more persuading, but finally Joy said, “Look. It seems like we’re gonna be friends, so you should do this with me.” So I did, and it was awesome.
I knew I had found a great group of friends when they surprised me with a birthday cake after practice. I turned 18 in November of my freshman year, the day before we left for an away game at Maryland. It was the first birthday I had ever celebrated away from home, but my sousa friends didn’t let it pass by unrecognized: they bought me a cake and sang to me in the dining hall, and then presented me with gifts: lottery tickets, cigars, and a Playboy, all of which were legal for me to possess now that I was 18. (I actually ended up winning $15 on the lottery tickets, but gave the cigars and the Playboy to the guys.)
We had to report to the band room at 4am the next morning to leave for Maryland, so I stayed up all night to do laundry and pack. By the time 4am rolled around and I had dragged myself to the band room, I was delirious with exhaustion, but we still had to pack up our instruments and load them on the buses. For those of you who don’t know, a silver-plated sousaphone, on its own, weighs about 40 pounds. In a case, it weighs closer to 60. Complicating the situation was the fact that most of the cases were utterly trashed; some had to be held together with packing tape. So there we were, the four freshman sousa girls, struggling to get these monstrous instruments from the band room to the buses. I should mention that this trip involved two flights of stairs.
Panting with exertion but giggling uncontrollably, we made it down the first flight of stairs out of the band room and paused to rest outside before tacking the next set of steps. Our low brass instructor, Dave, arrived around that time. He took one look at us, shook his head, and said, “Okay, which one of you am I helping first?” We scoffed, insisted we could do it ourselves, and continued to hobble to our destination. And you know what—we all made it without any help.
This was also the week that we got our new band sweats. We looked so cool.
Then there was the time that we played on stage with the Dropkick Murphys at their St. Patrick’s Day concert at the House of Blues in Boston. This is possibly the coolest thing I’ve ever done. We had a small ensemble of about 40 people, and we played along with Shipping Up To Boston. And THEN, they had the sousas—just the four of us!—come back out for their encore, “Skinhead on the MTA” (which is a metal parody of Kingston Trio’s “Charlie on the MTA”). My ears rang for about two days afterward, but it was SO worth it.
Senior year, I stayed late after rehearsal for some reason and got to talking with a couple friends about the impending Senior Day game. It was going to be our last field show with the BCMB, and we were feeling nostalgic. We ended up staying in the Bands Office until about 11:30 that night, writing an ode to the seniors titled ’Twas the Night Before Game Day. As we gathered in the band room before the last game, the four of us stood at the front of the room and recited the poem for our fellow seniors. There were definitely a few tears that day.
Twas the night before Gameday and all through the dorm,
Not a bando was drinking, yet they were still warm.
The streamers were hung by the Sousas with care,
By Sticky and Nicky, that dastardly pair.
Spencer and Johnny were snug in their beds,
While visions of Dave Healey pranced through their heads;
And Jenn in her jammies with Casille and the Guard,
Settled down on the floor even though it was hard,
When out of the window (they didn’t know why),
They happened to see Ed and Sarah run by,
And as they were running, they saw just by chance,
Caitlin, Steph, and Alyssa in Dance Team sweatpants.
The girls finished their practice, and when they went home
They almost ran into these three mellophones:
Nathan, Jess, and Suzannah—who were on their way
To get some valve oil for the next day.
Later that night, Kristin, Steve, and Siobhan
Met up with Michelle and Christine (and so on—
That’s Theresa and Anthony) and they all got some food
At Lower, to end the night in a good mood.
Nick, Jake and Allison had some saxy time,
…And for this one, we couldn’t think of a rhyme.
Jocelyn and Sean were shining their trumpets,
While Dan and Will chatted and had tea and crumpets.
Dani, who decided to go to bed early,
Had straightened her hair so it wouldn’t be curly.
Benjy and Bridget and Erin and Kelly
Kept laughing until it was hurting their bellies…
Since it was we four who wrote you this poem!
And now it is time for us all to go home.
So now we will say, as we turn out the light,
Happy Gameday to all, and to all a good night!
There are so many more stories, but maybe I’ll save them for next year’s International Tuba Day. In the meantime, thank you to all my fellow sousaphone/tuba players for being awesome and making my marching band experience utterly unforgettable. I love you guys :’)by