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Beyond umpah

Lon Buker's boy Thaddeus was a considerable personality. He couldn't read a note and never took a lesson, but he could play any tune on any instrument, and two-three nights a week would get $5 a night playing at dances and parties, and on Sundays he handled the pipe organ for the services at the Skunk's Misery Church of the Combined Faith at no charge. In those days $5 was a substantial remuneration for four or five hours of easy work with a banjo, piano, fiddle, and so on. As far as I know he is the only musician who ever offered a full concert on the tuba. This came about in an interesting way.

The warrant for our annual town meeting one year had an article: ''To see if the town will raise and appropriate the sum of $500 to purchase tubas for the high school band.''

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This was back in the days when public education was veering in favor of anything which had no academic merit, and our town was enamored of the band. Pupils who were not musically inclined learned to twirl batons, and those who couldn't twirl turned sheet music at rehearsals. Everything cultural stemmed from and flowed toward the band. I was moderator of the town meeting, and presumed that the $500 would be provided without a murmur. I was about to whang down the gavel in a cut-and-dried and foregone conclusion when a voice came from the rear of the hall.

''Mr. Moderator!''

I recognized the gentleman, who said, ''I don't see why we taxpayers should buy tubas. Why don't the kids who play the tuba go buy their own tubas, same's my kids buy their clarinets and fifes? Either that, or why don't we buy instruments for all the kids, no matter what they play? I'd like an answer to that!''

Our town treasurer in those times was a dear old soul who had special talent for smoothing over town meeting squabbles, and I looked in his direction to see if he cared to respond. He nodded, and I ''gave him the floor.'' He rose, paused briefly in reflection, and spoke:

''The gentleman has asked a very good question, and I can tell him that I, too, had misgivings about this article. But the answer is also good, and I think the gentleman will agree with my explanation. It's just that the tuba is not a solo instrument, and a child is not likely to want to play one except in a band. Most instruments can be played and enjoyed alone or in small groups, and with the clarinet and the fife, the musician will want to own his own. I'm afraid if we make the tuba player buy his own tuba, we'd have few tuba players in our band. And what would a band sound like without the tubas?''

The gentleman at the back of the hall expressed his thanks for these remarks, admitted he hadn't understood too well, and said he withdrew his objections to the article. I whanged the gavel, and the school committee had $500 for tubas.

It was maybe three days after town meeting that this musical genius, Thaddeus Buker, came into the town house and approached the treasurer. He said he hadn't been to town meeting himself, but he'd heard from some who had that the treasurer had insinuated aspersions against the tuba, namely - that the tuba is not a solo instrument. Quite the contrary, and he proposed to demonstrate that in the hands of a competent artist the tuba is a most enjoyable instrument. He had selected several pieces of music in several categories and would like to start with Mendelssohn's ''Spring Song.'' Most everybody in the town offices stayed for his renditions, although the town manager excused himself to go to the post office for the mail, and the chairman of the water board stepped across the street for a haircut.

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''Turkey in the Straw,'' the march from Aida, ''We Three Kings,'' and ''I've Got a Lovely Bunch o' Coconuts'' followed, and there was general agreement among the town employees that the tuba is, indeed, a fine solo instrument if you care for that sort of thing.

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