A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


My reasons for joining the junior high band can be summarized in one word: Ringo.

Ringo Starr, the Beatles drummer, was cool.  He looked cool.  He talked cool.  He played the drums cool.  And since few things in the world are cooler to a 7th grader than being cool, signing up to play the drums in the school band seemed like a pretty easy call.

Until I actually had to play the drums.

Looking back, I should have realized I was going to have problems with an instrument that required hand-eye coordination.  I hadn’t had a hit in three years of Little League baseball.  My 7-year-old nephew regularly beat me in Tiddley Winks.  My Scoutmaster had to have stitches after trying to teach me how to whittle.  And at age 12 I already held the all-time record for consecutive losses at Pong – and the computer game hadn’t even been invented yet.

So it really wasn’t a big surprise when, after only a couple of practice sessions, Ron (or was it Don?) could lay down a perfectly crisp and clean ratta-tatta-tatta-tat on the snare drum, while I could only muster a muffled fumbley-fumble-fuddah-fum.

Somewhere in Liverpool Ringo cringed.

In my view, the problem was my band director, Mr. Gibson.  I tried to explain to him that I was sensational at home drumming along to Beatles songs with Mom’s big wooden spoons (I also played a mean electric guitar on Mom’s broom, but I didn’t mention that).  But Mr. Gibson insisted that I use the official Ludwig drumsticks and the new snare drum that the school had purchased.  He wouldn’t even let me demonstrate my proficiency with the spoons.

Instead he moved me to the bass drum, where the stick was bigger and the drum strokes less demanding.  Then we tried the cymbals.  Then the tambourine.  Then the tympani.  Then there was a frightening experiment with the glockenspiel that we’d all like to forget.

It was getting ugly.  And definitely uncool.

Then one day Mr. Gibson asked me to stay after band class.

“Joe,” he said, “I’ve got a problem.”

“Yeah,” I said.  “I know.  But I’m trying. If you’d just let me bring those spoons...”

“Wait a second,” he said, holding up his hands.  “You’re not the problem.  But I think you just might be the solution.”

“Me?” I asked.  “The solution?  To what?”

“Have you been listening to our band?” he asked.  “Can you tell me what’s missing?”

I thought for a second.  “Uh . . . talent?” I guessed.

“No,” he said, chuckling.  “We’ve got lots of talent.  But we’re missing an important part of the sound – the bass part.  That’s the foundation of any band, and we don’t have it.  We’ve got trombones and a bassoon and a bass clarinet, and they’re doing the best they can.  But we need that low, brassy bass sound that only a tuba can make.  And we need you to make it.”

“I don’t have a tuba,” I said, fumbling for excuses.  I mean, tubas aren’t cool, are they?

“I do,” he said.  “And I’ll be happy to teach you how to play it.  You’ll love it.  Playing the tuba is cool!  And you’ll really help the band.”

How could I say “no” to that?  Especially the “cool” part.

And you know what?  It turned out that playing the tuba WAS pretty cool.  In fact, two years later I was marching down Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland with a terrific high school band, having the time of my young life because a good teacher refused to give up on me and kept trying to find a way for me to be successful.

And how cool is that?

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— © Joseph Walker

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