One Twisted Instrument!

Music nerd Andy filed a request recently for a Music Nerd Merit Badge having to do with brass instruments. He didn’t specify which one, and in keeping with my characteristic goofiness, I chose the Wagner Tuba. I went looking for pictures of the instrument to use as a model, and I found a real purty one on the website of a German instrument maker:


It was the largest picture I could find, which helped me see the details clearly. I set about copying it, and got rather fascinated by the twists and turns of its tubing:


I used a variety of pretty colors for the different sections to help me keep them sorted out, and then I planned to turn them into gold (er, brass, I mean!) when I was all done.

I decided I’d better look at some pictures of players actually holding the instrument, to see how that worked. I found plenty of examples. Here’s a single player:


And here’s a quartet of them:


Great, right? Except for one thing… It may seem like a minor detail, but the mouthpiece is on the opposite side compared to the model I was working from! Ack!

I looked at as many pictures of people playing the instrument as I could find, and they all had the same arrangement, which differed in a small but very important way from my developing masterpiece. (Musicians can be pretty fussy about these things!)

So if there’s anyone out there who plays this consarned thing, or knows anything about it — can you hip me, humble pianist/non-brass aficionado that I am? What gives? Is there no standardization to the thing? Are there no rules? What’s next, dogs and cats living together?!

But most importantly… do I have to scrap my backwards drawing and start all over! :'(



One Twisted Instrument! — 2 Comments

  1. I’ve only seen a few of these in real life, and they’ve been like the pictures. At least the valves are operated the same way on either of these versions (with the left hand, like a French horn, unlike most other brass instruments).

  2. When I heard the SLSO perform excerpts from Die Walkure, I saw that two of the low brass players were using unusual instruments: the bass trumpet and the contrabass trombone, seen at each end in this picture along with the regular low brass instruments:

    I’ve also seen Wagner tubas in the backup band for Heino as he performs alte Kameraden (Old Comrades)–look around the 0:22 mark:

    (You’ve heard of the Philip Jones Ensemble? That band looks like the Phillip Morris ensemble.)