Can you play the tuba in heavy rain?
July 22, 2007 8:47 PM   Subscribe

Can you play the tuba in heavy rain?

Recently a sports event was preceded by torrential rain - the newspaper reported : "It does it no justice to call it heavy rain - the tuba player had to be removed from the pre-match brass band for fear he would drown, such was the deluge." Was that a joke or accurate reporting?
posted by meech to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
That was probably a joke - in outdoor situations people generally use marching tubas or sousaphones, both of which have bells which face outward, not upward. Both of these types of instruments also have nylon-ish bell covers to prevent such things from happening (usually adorned with a team logo)

If they were using traditional concert tubas it's not uncommon for players to spin them around to empty pooled moisture out of the last turn of the bell. Spit doesn't usually work it's way to that last turn (a spit valve mid-tubing helps that) but for some odd reason you can get water all the way in there.

/me played tuba for a long time and is now nostalgic
posted by datacenter refugee at 8:55 PM on July 22, 2007

It was probably a Sousaphone rather than a tuba. Drowning by accidently inhaling a lot of water seems damn near impossible given the curvature of the tubes and the valves, and the way one breathes when one plays a brass instrument. More like it would just fill up with water and get heavy. Dopey joke.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:58 PM on July 22, 2007

Oops, should've previewed!
posted by Burhanistan at 8:59 PM on July 22, 2007

for some odd reason you can get water all the way in there

It's not that odd, it's the vapor in your breath condensing out in the tubes as it goes through them and cools.

We exhale a lot of water.
posted by Arturus at 9:05 PM on July 22, 2007

My recollection from my son's marcing band days was that the wood instruments like a clarinet were much more troubled by rain than the sousaphones. The more interesting sight is the drums - the water comes flying up off the surface in an amazing show (an effect that the Blue Man Group likes to use.)
posted by metahawk at 9:52 PM on July 22, 2007

First, you could play a bell-up tuba in the rain: like any brass instrument, it wouldn't affect the instrument at all except possibly the corks on the spit valves which are designed to deal with moisture anyway.

Under rainfall, eventually water would collect on the first big crook at the bottom of the tuba which does not have a spit valve, but could be easily dumped out in about 2 seconds, as datacenter_refugee said. The amount of water that it would take to fill up the bell (and thus, force the water backwards through the smaller crooks of the instrument) of even a smallish tuba would be incredible: gallons and gallons. To accomplish this unexpectedly would require an unbelievable rate of rainfall, more akin to a tidal wave.
posted by aliasless at 10:36 PM on July 22, 2007

From a practical standpoint, bell-up tubas can also be played horizontally, making this a non-issue. Most musicians learn how to cope with playing in adverse weather at some point.

As noted before, for outdoor playing, most "upright" brass instruments include a variant with a forward-projecting bell, just for the purposes of being heard. It's an added bonus that it keeps the instrument from collecting rain/snow/hail/trash thrown from the stands.
posted by plinth at 6:14 AM on July 23, 2007

That is an old, old joke.
posted by dreamsign at 7:24 AM on July 23, 2007

It was definitely a joke. High winds might make me stumble like an idiot on the field with a sousaphone, but from junior high through college, we only canceled a show for lightning or severe weather, which would result in a game cancellation anyway. "No game, no show" was the rule of thumb.
posted by willconsult4food at 10:09 AM on July 23, 2007

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