“Jeff and the Sousaphone,” Friend, Nov. 1989, 45
“Please, somebody, open the door,” Jeff called.
Mother placed a casserole in the microwave, turned on the timer, then hurried to the back door and opened it. “You’re late,” she said.
Jeff came into the kitchen and set down a big brass horn.
Father turned from rinsing salad greens in the sink. “What,” he asked, “is that?”
“It’s a sousaphone,” Jeff said proudly.
“What’s a sousaphone?” His little brother, Ben, looked up from setting the table. “Wow!” he said, staring at the enormous horn.
“It’s like a tuba, only its bell is turned so that you can carry it in the marching band.” Jeff wriggled into the center of the circular tubing and let the horn with its flaring brass bell rest on his left shoulder. “Like this, see?”
“I see,” his mother said. “But what about your trumpet? I thought that you were going to play trumpet in the school orchestra again this year.”
“What I really want to do is play in the marching band,” Jeff explained. “But they have too many trumpets already. So Mr. Gunderson said that he could teach me to play the sousaphone. He’s been looking for someone to play it.”
“And he found you,” Father said, putting the salad greens to drain. “Isn’t that a lot of horn for a boy?”
Jeff drew himself up straight and shifted the sousaphone carefully. “Mr. Gunderson says that I have good posture and the best breath control in the brass section. That’s what’s important.”
“Blow on it!” Ben shouted, dancing around Jeff and the big horn. “Blow on it!”
Jeff put the large mouthpiece to his lips and blew—baroomph! braphoom!
“I’ll need to practice,” Jeff said quickly. “Mr. Gunderson is going to give me lessons every week.”
The microwave pinged, and Mother took out the casserole. Father tossed the salad while Jeff washed up for dinner.
Afterward, while Ben and Father watched TV, Jeff helped Mother with the dishes. “Do you really want to play the sousaphone?” she asked.
“You realize that you’ll need to practice a lot, just as you had to when you learned to play the trumpet?”
“I know. Mr. Gunderson thinks that I should be good enough to march with the band in the Thanksgiving Day parade.”
“In just three months?”
“They’ll be simple pieces, Mom. Mr. Gunderson is going to make some of the sousaphone parts simpler this year. And by next year …”
“This means a lot to you, doesn’t it, Jeff?”
“Oh yes, Mom!”
Mother put her hand on his shoulder and smiled, “Well, then, you work hard at it, Jeff.”
And Jeff did. Mr. Gunderson gave him a private lesson once a week, and he practiced at least half an hour every day. He learned to hold the big mouthpiece correctly against his lips to get a proper tone. He was careful not to puff his cheeks out too much when he blew into the instrument. It didn’t take as much breath as he had thought it would, only about as much as when he blew up a balloon.
“Why do they call it a sousaphone?” Ben asked. He was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the family room while Jeff practiced.
“It’s named after John Philip Sousa. He was a famous bandleader and composer. They call him the ‘March King.’ He’s the one who wrote ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’”
“Oh, I love ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’ Can you play that?”
“Not yet.” Jeff took a deep breath and went back to his practicing.
“Jeff wants to play the sousaphone in the worst way,” Father joked to Mother, coming in from the garden. “And that’s the way it sounds.”
“Now, John,” Mother said, “remember those first weeks with the trumpet?”
“I remember,” Father said. “And I’m sure that he’ll soon be as good on the sousaphone as he became on the trumpet.”
Jeff polished the sousaphone carefully with cheesecloth, making the coiled tubing and the flaring bell shine. It’s the most beautiful instrument I’ve ever seen, he thought.
By the end of October he had learned how to press the valves just right. He had learned how to move his lips and control his breathing for a steady supply of air.
“You’ve made real progress, Jeff,” Mr. Gunderson told him.
“You’re beginning to sound a lot better,” his father said.
“I’m proud of you,” Mother said and smiled.
“Will you be in the Thanksgiving Day parade?” Ben asked.
“I sure hope so!” Jeff replied.
The band began to practice for the parade the first week in November. It wasn’t hard to do the marching part, but making the square turns with the big instrument on his shoulder was a bit tricky to learn. Jeff didn’t have to play anything really difficult—just some deep, satisfying bass notes to mark the beat of the tunes.
At last it was Thanksgiving Day. Jeff’s family drove him to where the parade was to begin. His mother kissed him. Father clapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Good luck, Son.” Ben yelled, “I’ll wave to you, Jeff!”
The band marched along Main Street, sounding loud and clear. Soon they reached the reviewing stand, where the mayor and other officials watched. Jeff carried himself proudly in his red and blue uniform with its white trim and with the big sousaphone resting on his shoulder.
“Hey, Jeff! Jeff!” Ben was jumping up and down and waving. “That’s my brother!” he told everyone.
“Way to go, Son!” Father called.
Mother smiled and waved.
Jeff tilted the bell of his sousaphone toward them ever so slightly and made a little bow. Then he marched on, blowing strong, true tones: Oompah! Oompah!