Friday, September 1, 2017

Who's Your Oom-Pah-Pah?

Dear Friends,

This month's song, "Floval," was performed by the whole Hard Taco Family. All of the singing, drums, and flute on this song were provided by my kids and my sister's kids. This is a significant milestone for us... the last time I recorded a song without any adult vocalists was in 1993 when I was the non-adult.

I am not the first London to long for a family band. My dad was a decent slide trombone player back in the day. As a young man, his version of the American Dream was marrying a trumpet player and having two kids who could play the French horn and the tuba. We would tour the state together as a campy family brass quartet.

Then he met my mom, and dream evolved accordingly. The new plan was that he would marry someone with excellent band-managerial skills, have the two musical protege children, and tour the state as a campy family brass trio.

Then my sister was born, and he started considering the merits of a campy family brass duet. Perhaps my mom and my sister could split time as band manager. He wasn't sure exactly how that would work, but I did my best to keep hope alive. When I was 4 years old, I announced that I wanted tuba lessons. The tuba was shiny, like my three other favorite things:  pennies, doorknobs and zippers. These were all wonderful objects to stare at, but the tuba was alone atop the shiny-things pyramid because it was the size of a toilet. A penny-encrusted toilet.

My dad couldn't believe his luck. He set up a meeting with the local high school band teacher to discuss how best to proceed.

This band teacher had read the 1980 Farmer's Almanac, so he knew that the average weight of a 4-year-old in September was exactly the same as the average weight of a tuba. Perhaps a recorder would be a safer instrument for me to start with, he suggested, because I would be less likely to fall into a recorder and get stuck.

I pouted stubbornly. I didn't want a stupid plastic doodad. I wanted tuba lessons!

The band teacher proposed a compromise. I should wait a few more years, and then start with trumpet lessons. Once I developed my embouchure, and was I was strong enough to hold a tuba on my lap, I could switch.

This guy was clearly just an obstructionist. I knew I would never be satisfied with trumpet embouchure. I wanted tuba embouchure. This was the first time that I had ever requested lessons in anything. If they were going to shoot me down, I was done.

The rest of my childhood was a series of doomed coaching experiments. I became a serial quitter. One after the next, I dropped out of violin, ice skating, swimming, skiing, baseball, piano, basketball, wrestling, trumpet (which was the worst), Hebrew, golf, guitar, tennis, and SCUBA diving, without ever achieving basic proficiency in any of them. I spurned anything that could be construed as a lesson, undermining every opportunity presented to me. I was an ambusher without an embouchure.

The only skills I developed were those I taught myself, which is why I have so few.

But I'm not a kid anymore, and the best dreams never die. Maybe this year I get my fat fingers on the fattest of valves. Maybe this Oktoberfest season, I lay down the baddest oompah in the beer garden. Maybe this time I show the world that I like big brass and I cannot lie.

Maybe this time: tuba lessons.

I have a vision of my first tuba, and I can't get it out of my mind. I crack open the velvet-lined hard case. Soft yellow light pours out, bathing my face in warmth. I reach in with both hands at once, slowly delivering the golden instrument like I'm King Midas, and an obstetrician. I see a distorted version of my mesmerized face reflected in the giant flared bell. I cradle it in my folded arms like the head of a baby that has an enormous flared head. Shush, baby tuba. It's not time to talk yet.

I reach back into the case with both hands and draw out the lustrous mouthpiece. I notice for the first time that it is the exact size and shape of the Holy Grail. I complete the tuba-ssembly and stand the instrument up in my waiting lap. I purse my lips and press them against the mouthpiece.  With eyes closed, I inhale deeply through my nose, drinking in the scents of valve oil and dried spit. I puff out my cheeks as much as I can, and...

...wait for a MTNA-certified music teacher to review the basics of music theory with me. I'm not going to screw this one up by teaching myself. We'll get to Hot Cross Buns eventually, but I've sabotaged too many lessons in my life. I want to do this right.

And if I give this tuba lesson its proper respect, it will be no time at all until my dad and I are touring Wisconsin as an unforgettable family brass duet. We'll play oompah versions of Hot Cross Buns and so much more.

If you want to book us for your event, just call our two band managers.

With warmest regards,