Monday, April 6, 2009

The Gimpy Tuba Player

Here I was Sunday afternoon, in a rehearsal for the University of Alaska Anchorage Wind Ensemble. A rehearsal for a concert we give tomorrow evening in Palmer. That's a warmup for our gig at the PAC next week.

The Palmer concert TODAY (7:00p.m. - Palmer High School gym) also features the great bands of Palmer High School. Stan Harris, Palmer's band teacher and music department head, is certainly one of Alaska's best.

I have a real fast solo in one of the pieces. Normally, that fun, happy passage is challenging. The gimpy thumb is increasing that challenge. I'm not happy.

If you click on the pic, it enlarges. If you home in on the thumb, and know anatomy, the thumb is slightly deformed.

My right thumb's lowest joint has started jamming away the bone in my wrist. The next joint up the thumb has had to refashion its role as the bottom one slowly went out of place.

The thumb, placed in its ring, is opposed by the four fingers, which press down in the opposite direction of the thumb. That's how the valves work.

Tubas have existed for less than 200 years. New ones, like the one I'm playing, are remarkably responsive and flexible.

But my left hand's thumb can oppose its on index finger with over 40 psi pressure. My right hand's injured thumb can only force about six pounds pressure against the rest of that hand. So I'm unable to put enough force down on the valves to comfortably play really fast passages.

I've devised an elastic strap for one tricky passage in an upcoming performance at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. So far, it helps a little.

(sadly, the Mat-Su College Community Band, that I conducted from 1994 to 2007, will not be playing there at this concert, for the first time in nine years. Not quite sure why not....)


KaJo said...

It almost looks like you have 6 digits on your right hand in that picture, Phil.

Howcum it's gimpy, did you try walking on it? :)

Unknown said...

Can't you just use your body or your left hand, or better yet, the weight of the tuba? If I were you I would just practice without using the thumb ring thingy at all, though that's probably easier said than done.

Philip Munger said...


Wouldn't work. That's part of why we have evolved into the kind of musics people play. All musical instruments played by hand are designed to take advantage of that hand in many ways. And most instruments, the piano in particular, are designed with right-handed people in mind. And so is the music written for it.

Anonymous said...

Your mind is bent more than your thumb so what is your point?