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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — Eli Arnold just can't resist. As he's leaving a meeting at Fort Wayne's Mynett Music store carrying a silver tuba that stands nearly as tall as he does, he turns around and plays a comic riff.
"Ba, da, da, da, da. Da dum!" went the tuba.
"That's Tessie!" he said with a goofy smile. "That's the tuba!"
Around the Northwest Allen County School District, where the 71-year old drives a school bus, Arnold is known as "Eli the Tuba Guy" - a champion of a giant-sized musical instrument that has given him a huge amount of satisfaction over the years.
At NACS, Arnold helps aspiring players and gives talks on tubas to middle schoolers.
He gives tuba lessons. And, at present, he's also helping plan a day-long symposium dedicated to the tuba and its smaller cousin, the euphonium.
The symposium is scheduled for April 30 at Fort Wayne's Sweetwater Sound.
At the event, Arnold hopes to gather dozens of area enthusiasts for a pick-up concert - and a continuing role in a good cause.
Arnold is forming a Fort Wayne-area Tuba/Euphonium Society. Its aim, he said, would not only be getting people of all ages together to play on a regular basis. He also wants society members to help get the big brass horns into the hands of more young people.
That's because the instruments are not always an easy sell to today's young people, more used to the electric guitars and electronic synthesizers than marches by John Phillip Sousa.
Traditionally, he says, schools provided band instruments to those who wanted to learn to play them, or parents bought them. But tubas and euphoniums are expensive. These days, Arnold said, "You can pay $3,500 for a low-end tuba, and $2,100 for a euphonium.
"Not many parents can do that," he said.
And neither can many school music department budgets, which can only stretch so far.
Joe Godfrey, band director for Fort Wayne Community School's Blackhawk Middle School, said his program has "four working tubas" and a couple of baritone horns, similar to euphoniums.
"I'm working on acquiring more baritones. They're old. They're older than me, and I'm 38," he said.
But Arnold has found a way area residents can help out. This past January, and without a lot of fanfare, the Fort Wayne Community Schools Foundation started a fund drive to amass money to buy band and orchestra instruments, said Melanie Hall, foundation executive director.
Some of the proceeds from the symposium's $15 fee will support the drive, Arnold said - and, he hopes, so will money raised at the society's future events.
Hall said the foundation's campaign - named B Instrumental - will allow the district to start a revolving pool of new instruments. The first ones will be placed at three middle schools - Shawnee, Lakeside and Miami - as part of a pilot program. Eventually, Hall said, the program could expand to all FWCS middle schools.
Seventh-graders will be given the instruments. The students will be allowed to play them until they are no longer interested or graduate from high school. Then, the instruments would be returned to the pool for the next group, Hall said.
Targeted instruments include clarinets, flutes, trumpets, trombones, alto saxophones, violins and violas, Hall said. But, if a student is interested in a tuba, euphonium or baritone horn, "we probably could be flexible."
The fund, she said, has raised $155,000 so far, in part from major donations from Fort Wayne's Auer Foundation and the AWS Foundation, Hall said. She added the Fort Wayne Community Schools Foundation is independent of the school district.
Arnold said supporting B Instrumental helps ensure tuba and euphonium players don't become extinct.
Not many kids today, he said, can come to the tuba the way he did. When Arnold was growing up, his older brother Aaron played the school's only tuba. Arnold "graduated" to it from other horns when his brother got his high school diploma.
Today, Arnold has more than 60 big horns in his collection, including Tessie - a 99-year-old tuba he named after the nonmusical monster of Scotland lake legend. He said he worked odd jobs around a local music store to save the money to pay for the instrument.
Over the years, Arnold has had some interesting experiences playing, including participating in all-tuba Christmas concerts that other tuba societies sponsor.
Godfrey said the tuba can hook kids, once they hear it played.
"A really good tuba adds so much to the sound (of a band)," he said. "The tuba is the foundation - it's like the subwoofer of a stereo system.
"What I notice is that tubas and baritones - it's like you don't know they're missing until they start playing. They have such a rich sound."
Source: The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette, http://bit.ly/21fAFAs
Information from: The Journal Gazette, http://www.journalgazette.net
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