September 20, 2008

Get Used to the Euphonium

By Debbie Farmer

Well, I've always said that, if one brass player in the house wasn't enough, two is even -- ahem -- better. Let me explain. You see, my 16-year-old daughter needed to choose an elective to fill her high school schedule. And, silly me, I suggested something useful like typing or Spanish or some other skill which she could use throughout her whole life. Which is why, of course, she chose to play in the marching band.

Now, mind you, I have nothing against music in any form, but here's the thing: My daughter can only play the piano. And, tell me, how many pianos do you see being marched around on a football field during halftime? Hmmm, let me see "... None!

So she picked the only thing left in the band room closet of deserted and abandoned instruments: the euphonium (pronounced "you- phony-um"). Apparently, it's a little-known member of the brass family, sort of a cross between a sousaphone and a tuba that weighs about three hundred bazillion pounds.

Now, for those of you lucky people who've never heard a euphonium before (and my guess is that it's most of you), it has about three notes, all of which sound like "pppfffttoooomph!!" Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm sure it's a lovely instrument. Especially when it's played a thousand feet away on a football field. However, right now it's mostly played about six feet away from my ear inside the house.

"Hey Mom, how does it sound?" my daughter asked one day after a particularly intense practice session in her room.

Of course, being the kind of parent who wouldn't dare squash a child's musical interest, I lied. And I bet that would've been the end of it, except she asked the five most dreaded words that any mother of a beginning music student could ever hear: "What song was I playing?" I frantically ran through the Mental Rolodex of Euphonium Repertoire in my head and came up with ... well, nothing. So I did what any panicky parent of a euphonium player would do: I blurted out random marching band songs and hoped I got lucky.

"'When the Saints Go Marching In?'" I tried.


"The theme song from 'Rocky'?"


"'Stars and Stripes Forever'? 'We Are the Champions'? 'DANCING QUEEN'?

Oh all right. I know that the chances of it being the last one were slim to none, but, hey, it was the best I could come up with at the time.

"It's 'Beethoven's Fifth Symphony.'"

"I was just going to say that!" But I could tell she could see right through my flimsy charade.

So, since I'm a big fan of self-education and all things Internet, I did a Google search on "euphonium" to broaden my musical horizons.

And, lo and behold, among all of the spam and discount medication offers, the euphonium had its own official Web site: Well, you can't say the Internet isn't thorough.

And, hey, I did learn a lot of interesting facts. For instance I learned that there's an annual Army-Tuba conference in Virginia, which means that someone else on this planet besides my daughter actually plays the euphonium. (Who knew?) And that silver is much more popular than brass even though it's harder to keep shiny. And that it was invented by a particularly bored trombone player who decided to make an instrument out of drainage pipe, an airplane engine and a bullhorn. (To all you euphonium enthusiasts out there. I kid! I joke! I jest!) But the most refreshing thing I learned is that the euphonium isn't the loudest instrument on the entire planet after all. That's right, incredible as it seems, there's a band instrument out there that's much, much worse. So what is it, you ask? Well, I'm not going to tell you.

Just to be on the safe side my lips are sealed until the end of marching band season.

Reach Debbie Farmer at, or by writing [email protected]

Originally published by Debbie Farmer , Family Daze.

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