Petite flute player makes big switch to the tuba

December 10, 2009 — by Kyumin Shim and Amanda Yi

Standing a mere 5 feet 2 inches, junior Neya Vishwanath strolls into the room to pick up her instrument. With her small hands, she finds her case, opens it and pulls out her… tuba?

At the beginning of the 2008 season, Vishwanath decided to stop playing flute for marching band and instead try the tuba.

“Freshman year, flute was really fun and I really liked the section, because I played flute for SWE, [symphonic wind ensemble], as well, so I figured I should do something different for marching [band],” said Vishwanath.

She chose the tuba because it is much more unusual and unexpected than the flute.

“Not many people would pick the tuba, and it seemed so different and really fun,” said Vishwanath.

That is hardly the only difference between the two instruments. Vishwanath’s flute, which she has been playing for eight years, weighs 14 ounces. The tuba is 25 pounds.

“I guess you would think that a tuba player has to be a big burly guy who can lift a big instrument, but it’s really not like that,” said Vishwanath. “I don’t think my height or size has to do with much.”

Although most people might think smaller tuba players would have a harder time with the instrument, especially during marching season, Vishwanath said her lack of bulk hasn’t been a huge issue.

“Sometimes I wish I was stronger, but I don’t see my size as a disadvantage,” she said. “It was hard in the beginning because the tuba is really heavy, but I got used to it.”

The biggest shock for Vishwanath is how much lung power it takes to play the tuba. The flute focuses on the agility of one’s fingers and not so much on the amount of air needed.

“Tuba doesn’t seem like a hard instrument on the outside because there’s only three keys and the notes are slower, but when you actually pick on up and have to blow through it, you realize how much lung power it takes,” said Vishwanath. “My lungs have probably expanded these last couple of months.”

In addition to switching instruments, Vishwanath also switched sections when she picked up the tuba.

“The tuba section is different,” she says. “They’re a really goofy bunch of people and they’re a little bit rowdy sometimes, but I like that about them.”

Vishwanath isn’t the only female tuba player in the band, either. She and sophomore Clara Chao have formed a bond since the other seven tuba players are boys.

When she first joined, she was surprised by the difference between her old and new section.

“When I came into the section, I was shocked because the guys do this crazy thing where sometimes during rehearsals; they have sumo wrestling fights, and all the guys pile on top of each other,” said Vishwanath. “I stay out of it, but it’s really funny to watch. That’s the kind of section I’m in.”

Although Vishwanath felt a noticeable change in the characters of the old and new section, her new section mates had no problem with including her into the tuba family.

“We saw how hard she was working, and her enthusiasm was really infectious, so she had no problem fitting in with us,” said senior section leader Steven Sung.

After being with them, however, Vishwanath has gotten used to her section’s unique character and enjoys her time with them.

“We’ll stand in a big circle and put our arms over each other and do chants before we go out to perform,” said Vishwanath. “They’re a really fun group to be around. They always make me smile and laugh.”

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