Nothing But Bonfires: Now Apparently A Family Business

Since I'm currently busy supporting the German economy through the purchasing of mass quantities of milk chocolate, my brother Luke---whose musical stylings you may remember from back here---has stepped up to the plate in my absence with an excellent guest post. Luke will be studying Politics and Sociology at Bristol University in September, where he will doubtless pick up a whole ton of chicks.


On one snowy Connecticut morning in 1997, an enthusiastic collection of fourth graders sat in classroom 3 of Ox Ridge Elementary School. Before them, gleaming brilliantly in the fluorescent lighting, lay an assortment of wondrously exotic musical instruments. In intricate clumps of brass tubing, cavernous bells and slick and greasy valves, they beckoned to the children like puppies in a pet shop. 

A balding underpaid music teacher entered the room, and one by one raised each elegant reed or mouthpiece to his lips, exuding from this complicated mass of metal a single rich and enticing note. The children—captivated—were told to choose one of these instruments, which they would then learn for the following year, and possibly, for those who were diligent and disciplined enough, onward into middle-school. It seemed that those children unlucky enough to be poor at dodgeball, claywork or any other childhood staple of achievement, finally had the opportunity to prove themselves through the highly respectful—if not always audibly pleasing—world of woodwind and brass.  

But what a decision! How could the average publicly-schooled nine-year old possibly discern from the array of instruments before them, a choice that might alter and decide their musical fate forever? The wrong decision could have horrific repercussions; one might be trapped until the end of fifth grade, painfully blowing away valuable hours of childhood down an uncool instrument! 

Each also had its pros and cons. The tuba, for example, was heavy and cumbersome, but had only three valves to master. On the other hand, the flute could slip easily into any L.L. Bean knapsack, but was punctured by more sound holes than Swiss cheese. It was like choosing between desserts.

Nevertheless, every child prevailed. Though some were forced to resort to the heart-wrenchingly arbitrary technique of eeny-meeny-minie-mo, by snack time, each had walked away from the music room clutching a new adoptee like an unopened Christmas present. There had been something for everyone. Many had chosen flutes, and a few others trombones. Three girls picked French horns while several more favoured the alto saxophone and two the tenor.  Clarinets, tubas, trumpets, the occasional bassoon, all were crammed into cubby-holes to be taken home at the end of the day where they would be nervously admired by parents.

With such a variety to choose from, I have sometimes wondered why, on that unrecognisably important November morning, I walked away from that classroom eagerly grasping a brand new euphonium.

 Euphoni-what? Go ahead, I’ll wait while you Google it. Still aren’t satisfied? Looks just like a tuba, you say? No, no, no, my friend, this instrument is nothing like a tuba. Nor is it a French horn, or even a tenor horn. The musical enthusiasts among you may be surprised to know that the euphonium isn’t even like a baritone horn. It isn’t related to the trumpet, nor her slightly estranged cousin, the cornet. Both the trombone and sackbut would struggle to identify themselves with the euphonium, as would the entire saxophone family. Not even the flugelhorn would be caught in the same room as my poor, unentitled brass instrument. Alas, the euphonium stands alone as one of the most common yet whole-heartedly unknown musical instruments in the Western world.

This again, begs the question: why did I choose it? Recalling that exciting day in classroom 3, I can begin to understand why. I’d had my heart set on the trombone. Perhaps it was something to do with the fact that after sufficient training on the instrument I might be able to tell my friends I was a true ‘tromboner’, but more likely it was the convenience of playing an instrument whose inventor was lazy enough not to bother even putting in any valves, triggers or sound-holes. Whatever the reason, the trombone seemed right for me. However, as soon as the Balding Underpaid Music Teacher blew the first deep, farting euphonium note, I knew my dreams of telling Grandma I was too busy tromboning to write thank-you cards were quickly fading. The cheap indoor-lighting glinted off the brass and I finally knew what love meant. Love meant three sleek and simple valves to drill like pistons, love meant a warm buzz of pursed lips followed by a deep and rewarding growl, love meant, as I related to my best friend Jack later that day, "a little tuba I can carry on the bus!"

As I type this, behind me on my bed is the original golden tumble of metal I took home with me from classroom 3, slightly dented now and a little bit green in places, but after a decade of Connecticut winters and Singapore monsoons, still more or less playable. A few years ago, sick with having to deal with puzzled stares as I constantly explained what exactly a euphonium looked like (that no, I couldn’t plug it into an amplifier and that no, it wasn’t of Indonesian Gamelan heritage) I fulfilled my original plan and became a competent tromboner. Later, when I realised I’d never become a rock star through mouthpieces and brass bells, I asked my dad to give me guitar lessons.  

So now, so long after my awkward initiation into the world of music, I write this not as a mere musician, but as an entitled Ambassador of Brass (an Ambrassador?), politely requesting that the next time you attend an orchestral performance, the next time you watch a play and get a brief glimpse inside the musicians pit, you look beyond the popular favourites like the trumpets and saxophones, and give a little attention to the underdogs, the euphoniums, bass clarinets, timpani and other overlooked instruments. Among the hierarchy of woodwind and brass, they may not be the most impressive or popular, but they have as much soul as (the coolest of cool) the electric guitar, and deserve an equal amount of respect.

The euphonium is an endangered species. It’s up to us to save it. 

Jun 11, 2008

Great job, Luke! I remember that same moment of choice. I picked flute b/c it was light and portable. And my aunt had a hundred-year-old one at home that I could play.

Jun 11, 2008

I picked French Horn, but switched to Flute once I realized how heavy the French Horn was. I had a back problem and had to have a second set of textbooks to keep at home because I couldn't wear a backpack - let alone carry a heavy instrument!

You are a great story-teller, Luke. I can tell it runs in the family. I like these guests posts, Holly!

Jun 11, 2008

Great post Luke! And also I played the euphonium and baritone in our school brass band. Then I got tired of lugging that damn thing to and from school on the bus and I defected to the woodwinds section and took up the flute. After the movie American Pie came out - I wish that I had stuck with the brass section. Less mocking from friends and much better arm muscles from all that lifting.

Good luck with university and have a great summer!

Jun 11, 2008

I love 'meeting' Holly's family members on this site--what a great bunch!

Good for you to follow the road less traveled by, instrument-wise--I 'played' the flute when I was younger...badly. I remember once during a concert I hadn't rehearsed and didn't know the music, so I blew on my flute as if it weren't working, making bewildered faces all the while.

I'm not sure, but I THINK my music teacher may have known I was faking. As if she believed I had something large stuck inside, like a snickers bar or an orange, that would cause it to become clogged.

But. Very glad that you stuck with music in some form, and that you wrote so eloquently about it. Welcome!

camels & chocolate
Jun 11, 2008

How lucky of you, Holly, to have an ample supply of talented and willing guest bloggers at your disposal. I think Momma Burns should be next!

Luke, I opted for the flute (this was far before American Pie days), but now you have me feeling The Guilt for not picking an underdog!

Jun 11, 2008

Wow, that was really well written, Luke!! Good job. I too, like seemingly nearly everyone else here, chose the flute in 4th grade. I really wanted the drums but there were already enough drummers. I will say, my favorite instrument at the symphony has got to be the timpani.

Jun 11, 2008

Yes, I do believe Ambrassador is correct.

Jun 11, 2008

This was incredibly well written, Luke, and might I also add that I loved the songs Holly shared with us?

I wanted the saxophone but ended up with the clarinet because there were too many others before me that chose it. My band career was very short since the clarinet and I were not meant to be the best of friends. I think the sax and I would still be hanging out together.

Jun 11, 2008

Ooh, the timpani! I always had a huge crush on the guys who played the timpani in our middle school band. Great post, Luke!
House of Jules

Jun 11, 2008

I think band class was one of the only places I could consider myself one of the cool set. That was because I had chosen the trumpet! Envied by all!

Jun 11, 2008

Hi Luke! Love your music and love your name (both of my sons were almost named Luke but it doesn't go well with our last name). Leave it to the family musician to choose the euphonium. I generally sleep through the symphony (gotta avoid that champagne they sell in the lobby) but next time I promise I'll sit up and pay attention.

Very nice to hear from you. Please pop in again sometime, you and Susie both.

Jun 11, 2008

You know, I've never played a musical instrument. Ever. I mean, you could count the recorder, but does that really even count? Especially when you're in 3rd grade?

I always took Drama classes instead, and there were four years of Speech & Debate in high school. But now I kind of wished I'd taken at least ONE music class, because I haven't a musical bone in my body. And I kind of regret that.

Jun 11, 2008

Well written Luke!
Congratulations and best wishes!

Now about that Euphonium, I always thought they were cool, but I was in the back, playing the Timpani...the only girl drummer in the school, nay, the city.

Rock on my brother, rock on.

Jun 12, 2008

Flute for me, but I've always wanted to play an instrument in the lower register. My sister is a trombonist, and my brother also plays the euphonium (he switched to it from the trumpet) And my other sister was one of two female percusionists.

Great post.

Jun 12, 2008

The euphonium!
In my school orchestra there's a guy who plays the euphonium, and my, is he mighty tetchy about people calling it a tuba.
Even the conductor (whose first language was most definitely not English) often referred to it as such during rehearsal, which always inevitably led to an angry threat of non-participation from said euphonist (is that a real word?).
Unfortunately, his attempt to demand respect for his poor instrument was a little compromised by the fact that it took him three years to graduate from producing - unintentional- fart sounds on his instrument.
And I say this in the kindest way possible.
But thanks to him, I'll always know what a euphonium is.

Jun 12, 2008

As an endangered species, the euphonium is now being illegally smuggled into this country and being sold on the black market to cosmetics companies, and sick rich people who like to use it as an umbrella stand.

To join the fight go to

Jun 13, 2008

Luke, this post is utterly radtastic! When I've dared to mull over my regrets, the one that stands out is not having ever learned how to play a musical instrument (although technically, there's still plenty of time). I was thinking drums or bass guitar, but thanks to you I now know there might be a euphonium out there with my name on it.

Jun 13, 2008

Beautiful piece of writing. Music to my eyes.............

Jun 14, 2008

I just love the word euphonium.

Jun 16, 2008

I remember that day in fourth grade. I desperately wanted to play the guitar, but it was not an option and the music lessions were free. The flute, clarinet and saxaphone frightened me with the number of keys. I didn't know how I would learn where to stop my arm to make the different notes with the trombone. So I chose the cornet, the slightly mellower version of the trumpet. I mistakenly believed that, with only three "buttons" I would only have to learn three notes.

I played for nearly ten years, until I left for college, but my heart was never truly in it. I still wish I had learned to play the guitar.

Thanks for the guest post!

Jul 13, 2008

I remember that same day! I picked the clarinet because it had a lot of shiny keys, but I often wonder how my life would have been differnt if I had chosen a different instrument. It's 15 years later and I'm now a professional clarinetist!