I’ve said it before. I go to the Tuba Christmas to visit my childhood.
It doesn’t matter that horns were not a part of my growing-up. “What instrument would you like to learn to play?” my father said, and I told him trumpet, and there was a little pause before he asked me if I meant cello.
We were a few minutes late for the Tuba Christmas concert on the square downtown. They were already into a deep, majestic rendition of Hark The Herald Angels Sing when we walked up, accompanied by a passing fire truck that cut loose with a baritone blat that only enhanced the performance. Here’s the thing about tubas. You hear them through your ears, and you hear them through your feet, and they set up a seismic rumble in your viscera, in the most vital and fundamental part of you, and that’s important. Because that’s where the small person you once were lives. The small person has never gone away, but she is buried in layers of flesh and time, and she’s harder to hear, until the tubas tremble her up again.
The audience is beginning to sing this time, most of us tentative, but the cover of brass makes us braver. A Christmas carol funneled low and slow through a tuba bell is accommodating to a person who no longer sings. I sang in all of Miss Nina’s choirs. Miss Nina assembled them all herself, even sewed all the robes, and I started in her baby blue choir. My tryout was family legend. Evidently I got hold of a corner of Jesus Loves Me and let ‘er rip. “You broke the sound barrier,” the grownups said. That was a new thing at the time. They were just then making aircraft that would break the sound barrier, so people were taking liberties with the phrase. It’s doubtful that I had hit speeds of 800 mph, but I was clearly not lacking for enthusiasm.
But the tubas allow even a person who used to be a reliable soprano to push out a few notes in her remaining lower register. My rusty new tenor soared with the herald angels. But with angelic hosts proclaim was one note higher than I now have. My vocal range had compressed and settled into a thin felt, like years of dust on a trunk. My note broke in two, one part bleat and one part sob. It wasn’t just the challenge of the note. It was that the note was tied to a string and the small person deep inside was tugging on the other end.
Look! the small person said. Mommy had one hand and Daddy had the other. She was in her little boots and stamping in the snow. Downtown, somewhere, where all the windows had displays. It was snowing inside the windows too, and frost sparkled the corners. Mechanical Santas turned this way and that. Reindeer arced up high. A train chugged by, right at eye level. There was a horse, with jingle bells. A real horse? Maybe. Peace on earth, and mercy mild. Was it possible to be happier? Happier than this? She tugged on the string again. Look!
It wasn’t. It isn’t. I’ve had years to make sure.
I love the tuba concerts as well and I'm always surprised by how many tubas there are. I always wonder where in the world do they come from? Is there a whole conspiracy of Tubanians out there who hide them in their closets until that one time of year when, lo and behold, they emerge like seven-year locusts? When I was a kid I wanted a banjo and got a trumpet!
Hope your holidays are filled with love and peace Murr.
I heard we had four hundred tubas at this event. Hey, maybe if I'd asked for a banjo…!
I heard a tuba concert on TV the other day. Nothing like it, Murr. I hope you and Dave have a super great holiday! You sure do light up my life, just being around. 🙂
Oh, I'm so glad! If there's one thing I'm good at, it's just being around.
Sometimes when I read, I come across a word, phrase, or sentence that takes my breath away. Your ". . .like years of dust on a trunk" leaves me in awe and with more than a little envy of your writing ability.
Thank you! I'll be over to visit your site soon.
Merry Christmas, little girl!
Tubby would be proud.
Tubby the tuba. I forgot.
And "Bah! Humbug!" to you, too.
Blessings and Bear hugs as well. Hope your 2014 is at least passable, if not extraordinary!
Every dang one of 'em has been extraordinary so far. Except maybe 1965.
Awww. And somehow I doubt (strongly) that your inner child is ever very far from the surface. Which is a great deal of your charm.
I've been accused of that before. With good reason. Merry Christmas!
"…my note broke in two…"
I am not alone! Happy Christmas, Murr
We are not alone. We are only alone-ish.
Thanks for the memories, Murr. You are so right. When I visit the Miniature RR here in Pgh, I always want to get down on my knees and look at its beautiful tableaux from that special viewpoint. The excitement of the impending special day was almost unbearable. I remember not being able to sleep on Christmas Eve but being afraid not to. Christmas would happen no matter my parents fighting over the tree or anything else; my mom couldn't ground Christmas for some trivial infraction. Sometimes we were lucky enough to have both grandmas on hand. Amazing cookies would be baked by our dear aunt and we could help. We had no control over it but it would happen! Truth is that when you grow up and think you are in control, despite the best of intentions and desires,……well, it's the good memories that remind of Christmas miracles. Merry Christmas and all the best for 2014.
You got to have two grandmas? SOOO lucky. I had a wonderful plump smiling one who smelled like potatoes and her face was as soft as when you dip your hand in flour.
That is the most beautiful description of a grandma, Murr. Nothing like a grandma at Christmas, in my happy childhood, at least. Merry Christmas, Murr, and best wishes for another great year!
I never saw my grandma at Christmas. No one drove me to North Dakota in the wintertime. But as seldom as I saw her, my memories are vivid. I think all the other grandparents were dead.
Once again, well done Murr! I think there are all kinds of hearts with strings hanging out of them now!
We've all got 'em. They just need a little tugging now and then, is all.
When you're no longer a child, it's best to find a way to locate the one inside, esp. at Christmas. Thanks and Merry Christmas to you, Dave, black cat and Pootie.
Pootie appreciates the shout-out. And best to you and Willow.
Remaining lower register. Yep. Good one!
In my six-note range, though, I can totally kill.
That tuba player has Elf feet!!! I love that!
I've not been able to sing properly since I was about 20, at that time hubby and I were singing Amazing Grace with friends and they all stopped to listen to us two. Now I only sing inside my head.
Shoot, I don't even sing in the shower anymore. I used to belt out All Of Me or Someone To Watch Over Me. For some reason. Something about being naked I guess.
Childhood memories are wonderful and as we age, they seem even bigger and brighter.
And, sometimes, both fainter and stronger.
So beautifully written! I loved every well-crafted phrase!
Thank you, Jennifer.
Right now I am giving my inner child the Christmasses she never really got. Without all the family stress and fights. I am making my best memories now. Love my foamily, but we were never good at holidays.
We didn't have any of that, but I kind of get how holidays can kind of concentrate the poisons. Some folks are easier to love from a distance.
I had about a year and a half of violin lessons in 3rd/4th grade – I kept waiting for someone from the Boston Symphony to single me out as a child prodigy – thought I was that good. When I hear violins in person, that little kid inside me knows she should be playing with them! I also loved your description of your grandmother – it reminds me of my Irish Grandma – she looked like Mrs. Santa Claus and smelled of tea, cookies and Cashmere Bouquet. Love reading your blog – you are so creative and have a great view of the world!
I thought I was a child prodigy too, with no actual evidence. I felt it inside. I was a small person with an even smaller tiny prodigy inside. That's pathetic. Any chance you can take up the violin again now?
It's called, "Adult onset violinists." If it truly takes you, it is incurable, expensive, and indecently satisfying.
Did you contract it?
Those cracking notes – very familiar with those. I've become a weepy sentimental thing around music, the past few years.
This is a really sweet and moving post.
Happy Holidays to all of you (two-footed, four-footed, and stuffed), and a huge thank you, Murr, for sharing your writing here.
I think it was Garrison Keillor who said kids don't understand why adults get so emotional, because "they don't have the past for it."
I keep coming back to this and getting more pleasure hours later. Damn, you can write!
From what I understand, pleasuring Roxie isn't that hard. Thanks!
I'm not sure where the dust came from, to get in my eyes like that. All I know is that it spread to my family when I read this to them, Christmas eve.
All the best wishes for the next year, Murr.
Didn't used to be as dusty when we were kids, right?
Probably pretty much the human experience. We reach the apex of happiness somewhere around six or seven years of age. Little kid inside you was pulling my sting, I tell ya.
She's a pain in the butt sometimes.
What a lovely thought. I felt an unexpected tug on Christmas Eve when I heard some church music – not in person but on television. It really took me back, to about age 12 when I began to play the organ and to love all the liturgical music.
When we got a pipe organ installed in our church, my mom offered to pay for pipe organ lessons for me, and for some reason, I declined. Whuh???
I have never heard a group of tuba players together. I shall seek one out for the experience! I did have to blow into one when learning to be a band instructor!
Never had a grandma 🙁
But loved those magic windows at Christmasnd the snow and choirs and bells tolling
Now we should come up with a collective noun for tuba players. A tub?