The Tuba – The Gentleman Of Instruments.

While I was friends with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band many years ago, I purchased Vivian Stanshall’s Tuba from him as he wanted to buy a Sousaphone as he felt it had more character than his Tuba, and I was tired of playing a trumpet.  I still have it with me – it has followed me from country to country as I have moved around the world, and whilst I no longer play it in any sort of a band, I do enjoy the occasional “Hurumph” through it.

I disagreed with him strongly about the Sousaphone having more character than a tuba, whatever that might mean, as I consider the tuba to be one of the Grand Old Men of musical instruments – the other being the double bass of course.

So with this in mind, as I was wandering the dark and dusty corridors of Youtube the other day, hunting for weird and wonderful instruments, I obviously came across a lot of tuba players, both serious and funny – all of which I duly noted down, with a view to sharing some of them with you here in due course.

And I feel that perhaps that moment might well have arrived, so without any more ado, here are some splendid examples of people taming the tuba for your amusement and pleasure.

When one thinks of the tuba, one’s mind goes straight to that wonderful English eccentric, Gerard Hoffnung, who made the tuba his own in a number of ways, both by playing them, and by his cartoons of them.   So to start us off, here he is.

This is a quartet of tubas giving us their version of a piece by Chopin…. Such delicacy of touch and emotion…

This wonderful performance shows clearly what a subtle and gentle instrument the tuba really is.  A sort of loving Grandfather of an instrument.  Capable of being both smooth, gentle or abrupt and growly at need..

And here we have a real oddity, a large group of tubas being sort of serious….

I am not sure what the purpose of modifying the tuba in this fashion might be, I imagine it is to make it easier to march with, but that was largely the reason the Sousaphone was invented. Looks awkward and uncomfortable to me, but each to his own I suppose.

Anyhow, all that aside, the noise they make is fun, and suitably aggressively American. Obviously a band that is intended to play at football matches and marching hither and thither with soldiers, but it is an unusual use of the tuba I reckon.

Next we have a solo, moderately serious in intent, which demonstrates very well how well the tuba can be used for music that has meaning, verve and energy.. Not only for slow and ponderous pieces.   There are a few bits of this rendition where the tuba player rather loses it – unfortunately – but mostly it is a great showcase for the versatility of the tuba.  Ranging happily over calm and reflective  passages, happy upbeat and energetic passages and mellow, fierce ones and so on, pretty well covers the range really.

Obviously any post about the tuba would have to include at least one piece by that amazing bunch of Austrian brass players Mnozil Brass.  Here their superb tuba player indulges in a silly bit of macho preening.

Whilst it is funny, he actually covers the entire range of possibilities of the tuba…  He is one hell of a fine musician, as are all of that group of brass players.   Listen to how flexible his playing is, the smooth passages are like syrup, the staccato ones jump along splendidly, and so on…   He makes that huge instrument totally his own, and manages to be funny at the same time.   Actually it is well worth while really checking Mnozil out, they are fantastic musicians, and very funny too.

Actually I could watch and listen to them all day long if possible….   Who ever said that the German people have no sense of humour?

Next I have another group of strange people for you.

Not strictly speaking a tuba ensemble, but worth hearing nonetheless….

Nice to see both a woman playing the trumpet in such a role.. and also, unusually, a French Horn being given a leading role… which given the very real difficulty of playing that unreliable instrument, is something…..  Anyhow, they have great fun with this tune….  So I hope you do as well.

Of course, no look at the tuba would be complete without the best known and most loved tuba piece, the riveting and happy story of Tubby the Tuba, as told so memorably by Danny Kaye all those years ago.

So here it is, with a not unpleasant animation to go with it.

Fun eh?    I always loved this, Danny Kaye had such a good way of telling these stories.

And finally, we have a serious and “proper” composition for the tuba, in this case, the bass tuba written by Ralph Vaughan Williams in 1954, and played here by a master tuba player (Tubaist??) called James Gourlay.

I have always enjoyed this piece, well at least, I have always enjoyed it since I first heard it when I was about 14 (1956), so I hope that you also will enjoy it.. It only lasts about 13 minutes, so not too long for you I trust.

So settle back and listen to the mellifluous tones of his Concerto For Bass Tuba.

Do you see what I mean?   Isn’t that a pleasing way to pass about 13 minutes of your life?  A smooth and thoughtful musical poem about the English landscape, as most of the music written by a whole slew of composers was for about 100 years….


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