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Tuba Time: An inside look at what it’s like to be in the Spartan Marching Band

Jad Safadi

WKAR Current Sports reporter never intended to play the tuba, or be part of the section for most of his life. He’s glad the journey took him to the back of the band.

There are 300 members in Michigan State’s Spartan Marching Band (SMB), and yet, I am probably one of the people you may wonder about the most. The Tubas, the section I belong to, only have 24 members.

While the ensemble performs at many different events over the season, we are mostly seen on game days. The tuba section is one of the smaller sections in the entire ensemble, but we stand out in the biggest way. Any mistake a tuba player makes is immediately obvious because of the size of the instrument.

I began band in fifth grade as a trumpet, because I thought the instrument looked cool. I was only 10, with no idea how far the hobby would take me. A few weeks in, I realized I could not play it. I could barely squeak out a single note, so my director switched to trombone. This lasted into seventh grade, when my director made me switch to tuba, because my volume was far too loud on trombone, and more suited for a bigger instrument. At the time, my parents were not happy about this change, and with their new job of having to transport a massive instrument.

I never expected to still be doing band at 22. I never had any plans to study music in college. I am majoring in Political Theory/Constitutional Democracy and Journalism. To be honest, I really don’t even do band because I love playing my instrument or love music a lot. I do it because of the wonderful people I’ve met over the years in the SMB and for football games.

I have grown up around MSU sports, especially football. I saw the SMB rush the field at Michigan Stadium in 2017 after the upset against the Wolverines, and knew I wanted to try to audition for the group when I attended MSU. My freshman year, I auditioned for the band, and was placed on the reserve list. I never got called off the reserve list, and spent my freshman year away from marching band. Going into my sophomore year, I really put my head into working on my audition, and was accepted into the SMB that summer. I can confidently say auditioning again was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my college career, and has made some unforgettable memories.

Carrying around a tuba isn’t terribly difficult, but it does take a toll on your body. The tuba weighs between 40-60 pounds, and is the largest instrument in the marching band. Carrying this weight for extended periods, and swinging the horn around our bodies eventually wears you down. I already have severe back pain, and all tuba alumni will confirm that they had major back issues at a young age. I do not look like I am built for the tuba either, as I stand at an average 5-foot-9. Surprisingly, there are quite a few people in the section even smaller than this. My size is no barrier to play and march with a tuba. I played just about every sport growing up, and the athleticism and work ethic I developed fuels me to be a strong member of the section. In short, yes lugging around a tuba gets difficult at times, but it is worth it.

Jad Safadi

Michigan Stadium 2022

The tubas are a section deeply rooted in tradition, with members in majors ranging from music education to international relations. This creates a wide range of personalities, coming together in a group with a strong bond. This bond extends to both on and off the field, as the section has gatherings most every day, even during the offseason.

On Nov. 19, I had my final game as a member of the Spartan Tubas, finishing up four great years. The section differs from the rest of the band, and that is apparent right away as we learn “The Series”, MSU’s traditional march to and from Spartan Stadium, separately from the rest of the band. An example of what makes the tubas different from the rest of the band, starts with the names. Each member is “renamed” when they join, while I cannot go into detail about this process, these names are unique to the tubas section and are how we are referred to by the entire band and staff. The name that was given to me is “Bandit”, as I made one too many references to the movie “Smokey and the Bandit” during band camp my freshman year.

An introduction to the tuba section

On senior day, the SMB seniors get the opportunity to vote on the final show, from a pool of tunes that have been played in our time in the ensemble. This year, the Latin jazz tune El Toro Caliente was chosen as the final song we played. There are many POV videos band members have done over the years all over the country, however tubas are typically charted in the back of the field, which shows a different perspective. On a day when the tuba valves were freezing to the point where only a few notes could be played, here is a tuba POV of the SMB halftime show, tune one, El Toro Caliente. When it hits below freezing temperature, the tuba valves begin to freeze, making it very difficult, if not impossible, for us to play. This was the case for the final two home games, creating rare occasions where I was actually able to play more than a few basic notes.

Yes, that is how the band sounds from a tuba perspective. We are almost always in the back of the field, and we don’t hear all what goes on in front of us, other than percussion. Most of the time, I have no idea what the tune we are playing actually sounds like until I listen to the recording after we perform. So while this may not sound too great, it’s a unique perspective of the drill of the show that most people never would see. While we are usually in the back, we try to add as many moves as possible to make ourselves seen,like we did in the second tune, a Latin pop medley.

Not being allowed to have cell phones in uniform is the best possible rule to let the section bond, and have fun enjoying the game without distractions. Over the years, the tuba section has developed different stand “dances”, some like what the rest of the band do, and some exclusive to the section.

The SMB also continues the Michigan State tradition of seniors kissing the Spartan helmet logo at midfield. After an on-field recognition for the senior class, we were given the opportunity to do this on this final game day. The MSU Alma Mater, “MSU Shadows”, is also special to the ensemble, our last opportunity to perform it as members of the group came during the postgame show. These are done after every home game, mainly for band friends and family willing to stay to watch one last show.

On the way out of the stadium, the SMB traditionally does “The Series” march from Spartan Stadium back to Demonstration Hall. On Senior day, the route changes, to end at Adams Field, the original band rehearsal spot early in the history of the ensemble and current pre-game performance spot. On the way, seniors step out of the block by the river, and are handed a rose to throw in the river. The rose is a symbol of the SMB, as the Rose Bowl was the premier destination for any Big Ten football team, and band throughout the majority of history, prior to the College Football Playoff era.

Jad Safadi

The 2022 tuba senior class

My 10 years of playing tuba will likely be coming to an end after MSU’s basketball season ends, as I play in the athletic bands, Spartan Brass as well. While my future graduate school choice may lead me to joining the athletics band wherever I end up, it is all uncertain now. It has been an incredible experience, and I hope I have the opportunity to return to participate in the MSU Alumni Band in the future.

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