Those of you who know me fairly well might know I have something of a musical inclination. I was in school band from Year 3 until Year 12. While at University, I played in a local brass band that would occasionally march around churches and play at ANZAC Days. It was a great way to hang out with a group of many sweet old men and maybe 2 very lovely women, and they were some good days.
This week I have been working in an outback Riverina town called Deniliquin. Deniliquin boasts many friendly locals, and a lot of sweet senior citizens. One of these was a poet called David, who I met at the Deniliquin Writer’s Group on Monday.
David thought I played the ukulele due to some deceptive publicity in the local paper, and I corrected him. I actually play the euphonium.
“The euphonium?” bellowed David. “Our euphonium player just died! Heart attack walking down the street! Just like that! Come and play the euphonium at our band practice tonight!”
I don’t know if any of you have seen the many-laughs-and-feels Jim Carrey vehicle Yes Man, but basically, this was an invitation I would be crazy to reject. So, at 7pm last night I set off to the Deniliquin Municipal Band practice.
(This band used to be a brass band, but due to dwindling numbers, has opened up to allow in saxophone, clarinet, flute and drums. It makes a big difference to the marches, and the couple of woodwind players add essential melodies to the Mozart medley in their practice folder. )
I walked in and met the conductor and my band neighbour, John. John is a sweet man who has patented his own tuba seat for band – it has a clever base on it to hold the tuba in place so it’s not too heavy on your legs. I won’t give you any more details in case you try to steal John’s idea. I would not be cool with that.
John is a bloke who loves music. He told me that he found it really easy to play the band’s version of “Climb Every Mountain” until the wife eventually sat him down to watch The Sound of Music. Now, he can’t play the song without choking up a little.
This became a glorious joke between John and I for the rest of practice. Any time he made an idle comment along the lines of “this is a beautiful song,” I’d turn to him sternly and say “keep it together, John!”
Oh it was great.
I also met my other neighbour Les, who had some useful wordplay to remember his name: “call me Hope-Less! Heh heh heh!”
I sat down awaiting the arrival of my Dead Man’s Eupho and received a rude shock. They didn’t have his eupho. Wherever it went, it wasn’t in the practice hall.
The only spare brass instrument available was the biggest effing tuba I’ve ever seen in my life.
Important facts: I’ve never played the tuba. It requires an entirely different use of mouth muscles, and perhaps a lesson or two. And I read bass clef, while all the band’s music was treble clef.
You know what, though? It was ok. The conductor gave me an excellent strategy to “ADD THREE FLATS! FLATTEN THE ACCIDENTALS! YOU’LL BE RIGHT!”
He was an great conductor. He was okay with the saxophonist’s kids running around in their onesies and with the fact I spent most of rehearsal playing the wrong key signature.
At one stage of the rehearsal, he said something a little bit profound: “There’s a lot of different rhythms and sounds going on, but you know what? You’re all thinking the same thing.”
At the end of rehearsal, I spent a few minutes checking out historic photos of the band. It has been around since at least 1907. A trombonist named Ron (“SOLDIER ON!”) showed me a photo from 1957 and pointed himself out in the front row. He was 23.
Thank you, Deniliquin Municipal Band for a night I will treasure. If anyone’s interested, we have a gig in a fortnight.