Good news, everybody: We are the proud new owners of a baritone horn, a band instrument that’s big and brassy, and apparently not a tuba.
We’ve been renting it for my son’s band class for the past three school years, making monthly payments that — fun story — it turns out were actually lease-to-own payments that have ended with my family’s ownership of our first enormous brass object with a spit valve. I am happy about this, in the way that you’re happy about suddenly owning a huge, pricey object you weren’t planning to buy, and which will probably live in your basement, crawl space or attic for the next 40 years.
It’s a happy accident, and one that cements band as something that, in three years, went from a school-day hobby to a regular, if mysterious, part of my son’s identity. This entire escapade started on an odd afternoon, when my then-fifth-grader announced he wanted to 1) join the band and 2) do so playing the second-largest instrument available to him, despite his 60-pound frame.
Not many people outside of the Roots (or aspiring back-pain sufferers) decide at the age of 11 that they want a baritone. And to be honest, before that conversation I had no idea the 11-year-old could pick a baritone out of a lineup consisting of one baritone and six football players, let alone announce that he wanted one with the kind of authoritative certainty he usually reserves for luxuriously priced Legos or slow-rolling his eyes when I tell him to brush his teeth for real, not just chew on the bristles for 20 seconds.
This is the short version of how 11-year-olds operate, how flitting, volatile images and ideas are constantly competing for space in their boiling brains, like atoms banging around some complex and yet-fully-formed molecule. Many of these ideas fly off into space, never to be addressed again, like the time he tried baseball (boring) or his interest in school-project mealworms (short-lived, which was fine, as mealworms turn into beetles and I have a pretty strict limit on the number of beetles I purposefully invite into the house).
[It’s got a good beat, and you can fall asleep to it]
So I searched for horn help on the Internet, which, it turns out, is full of baritone-related information. I ignored all of it, though, en route to locating the final price tag, which was around $2,000. That’s three zeros, or, in relative terms, the price of about 400 recorders or 8,000 kazoos, all of which I’d be equally enthusiastic about hearing practiced daily in the living room.
Now, here are some things that you may not know about baritones, which, if you are like me, will settle in among All the Other Things You Do Not Know About Baritones, which include such facts as …
1. Seriously, they’re not tubas?
2. They really sound like tubas.
3. They are not easy to carry in parades.
4. They might also be called euphoniums; I really have no idea, because this is not something I thought I would contribute to for three years.
(Googling this stuff, incidentally, has also provided news about a doom-metal tuba band and a group called Uke Skywalker and Tuba Fett, which bills itself as “Pittsburgh’s Finest Ukulele/Tuba Duo,” and I, for one, am not going to challenge them.)
So one day, we woke up and had a baritone player. This is how parenting goes — one day you have an actress, or a gymnast, or a drummer, or a French scholar, or a skater, and you suppose you had some part in it, but it seems to have more or less happened in some distant country you’re allowed to peek in on only occasionally.
So we’ve adjusted. Our plan, which initially involved sending my child to college to study engineering or science or “literally anything that doesn’t involve print media” has been scuttled, replaced by a magnificent new strategy to maximize the potential of our shiny new baritone, which is actually not that shiny, because it’s been in the employ of our family for three years, and we bang stuff up. The baritone, once just 1/7 of my son’s school day, is now a full-fledged hobby that I’m viewing as a possible means to obtain a scholarship or join a polka band.
Things seem to change when you’re not looking. I thought we were grooming a future MythBuster; turns out we might be raising the next college-band baritone star.
Watch your back, Tuba Fett.
You can find Jeff Vrabel, a writer, @jeffvrabel and on jeffvrabel.com.
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