EASY ED’S BROADSIDE: The Tuba Player Who Lives Upstairs
In my biography that I posted on my website many years ago, there is one white lie. While it is indeed true that I live in the Lower Hudson Valley of New York, I do not have an apple orchard that I tend to. In fact, I live in a 70-year-old apartment building and despite my living space lacking any flora or fauna, there are several large windows that overlook dozens of beautiful tall trees that run along the train tracks across the street.
On days when I’m not at work or out and about, I can see and hear the trains that normally carry thousands of people each day into Manhattan, a mere 29 minutes away if you catch the express. The station is a five-minute walk into our village, which has the distinction of being classified as the “richest town on the East Coast” according to Bloomberg’s 2020 list. Neither my fellow neighbors nor I were included or calculated into that statistic, as we live two blocks outside the official boundary.
The 80 apartment units in my building are occupied by the elderly, several young families, those who are divorced or widowed, and working stiffs trying to keep our heads above water. The wonderful labyrinth of New York rent control laws has allowed many of my neighbors a roof over their heads for 20 years or more, paying far below market value in comparison to others in this area. I moved here almost eight years ago from California, and while I know several of my neighbors by name and we say hello in the lobby, parking garage, or as we pass each other in the halls, there is also a certain detachment that exists. For example, I do not know nor would I recognize the people who live in the apartment above me.
They moved in a year ago, and judging only by sound and schedule, I would guess the occupants to be an adult male and female, with a child I would place in middle school. He or she is a musician, occasionally playing improvisational pieces on an electric keyboard in the living room. Sometime after last Thanksgiving, this person also began practicing the French horn in the bedroom above mine. The same song every night for at least one hour.
It was the Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi tune from A Charlie Brown Christmas holiday special, a show and song I never grow weary of. For a month, as he or she played it over and over, it got better and better. I imagine it was for a school program or concert, as I have not heard it since. And there are times I miss it.
A month into the COVID-19 lockdown, the French horn was replaced by a tuba. As the schools have been closed since March, I’ve not been able to sort out in my mind how a new instrument has made its way into the hands of this young person, let alone the time or space for learning how to play it.
Could it be a once-played instrument that has been resurrected in these troubled times out of boredom or passion? Are there online lessons they may be taking? And although I imagine there is a particular song they practice, the tuba is like a bass guitar. No melody per se, but progressive notes working lockstep with percussion to create the tempo and rhythm. Unless you are Oren Marshall.
I have enjoyed the mystery of whomever is the source, and have zero interest in walking up a flight of stairs, knocking on a door, introducing myself, and inquiring. While I know some might find it annoying and would be banging on the ceiling for them to stop, I have come to look forward to hearing the tuba sessions each day. As someone who is surrounded at this moment by a mandolin, banjo, lap steel, mountain dulcimer, six guitars, and a box full of harps in various keys, and who tries to play for at least an hour each day, I hold in high esteem anyone who chooses to play, practice, or rehearse music.
This week will mark two months of lockdown for me, and like many of you I am missing the concerts and gatherings, the sidewalk buskers, and the chance encounters of incredible talent one finds underground at Manhattan subway stations. I can watch livestreams for hours, yet I find them flat and cold, despite emanating from the warmth of someone’s home. I’ve come to appreciate the dynamic that distance creates between audience and performer in the concert environment, and am fearful I may never experience it again.
For now, I will focus on my own playing and enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime tuba extravaganza each evening, live from the apartment upstairs. I shall leave you with two things: a quote by the late Sir Terry Pratchett, the English humorist, satirist, and author, and a song called “Cakewalk Into Town” by the great Taj Mahal. Stay safe, y’all.
“And the people next door oppress me all night long. I tell them, I work all day, a man’s got to have some time to learn to play the tuba. That’s oppression, that is. If I’m not under the heel of the oppressor, I don’t know who is.”
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed here and at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboard and Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.