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Updated: May 02, 2020, 09:04 IST | Dalreen Ramos | Mumbai

As International Tuba Day passed by yesterday, we celebrate the underrated, weighty brass wind instrument through the eyes of a city-based tubist

Bandmaster Kalyani plays the trombone as the Mumbai Police Band put up a show by the Gateway of India in 2018
Bandmaster Kalyani plays the trombone as the Mumbai Police Band put up a show by the Gateway of India in 2018

You may have never seen a tuba, but you sure have heard one; it's the sound of the marauding shark in the thriller Jaws (1975) and in the theme song of the modern Stone Age family aka The Flintstones. Derived from the Latin word tuba meaning tube, the tuba evolved significantly over time to take its current oval shape with a conical tube and a cup-shaped mouthpiece. In 1590, Frenchman Edme Guillaume invented the serpent that resembled the carnivorous reptile. A little over two centuries later, the ophicleide was created by Jean Hilaire Asté, and after a decade, in 1835, the bass tuba came to be. Patented by Prussian instrument makers FW Wieprecht and JG Moritz, it claimed its place as the lowest-pitched musical instrument in the orchestra and military band.

When Sanjay Kalyani, bandmaster of the Mumbai Police and director of music, Maharashtra Police, first laid eyes on the three-and-a-half-foot instrument (the length and weight of tubas vary according to brand and pitch), he was disappointed. But today, he takes pride in being among the handful of the country's tuba players. Kalyani, 41, was always fond of music. Hailing from Kolhapur and now based in Dadar, he picked up the harmonium in class seven. After class 12, an advertisement showcasing vacancies for musicians at the Indian Navy piqued his interest. He was selected and joined the navy in 1997.

Every member had to undergo tests to determine which instrument in the band was suitable for them. "The size of your lips has to be considered: if your upper lip is bigger than the lower one, the saxophone is good for you; if both lips are thin, you get the oboe and if both are big, then the tuba. Your physique is important, too. Because playing the tuba implies being able to bear the 13 kilograms of weight that comes with it," he tells us.

Kalyani (first place, first row from right) playing the sousaphone, an  instrument of the tuba family that coils around the body, at the Republic Day parade in 1999. The tuba can be spotted with the member next to him.Kalyani (first place, first row from right) playing the sousaphone, an instrument of the tuba family that coils around the body, at the Republic Day parade in 1999. The tuba can be spotted with the member next to him.

After being handed the tuba, Kalyani thought it was boring but when he began to play in a band setup, he realised the value of bass. "I first thought it was only about the 'bomm bomm bomm' but then understood how it gives foundation to melody and harmony," he shares. In 2003, he was selected for the four-month-long course at the Royal Marine School of Music in Portsmouth, United Kingdom, which offered pivotal training to become a bandmaster. "It was quite hard because the medium of instruction was English but I learnt the history of music and instruments, how to arrange music and how different composers used notations," he shares.

After falling in love with work by composers such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Wagner — he credits Wagner for bringing out the true colours of the tuba — Kalyani says that for one to call themselves a tuba player, it is crucial to know the following: "It is important to have a sense of timing; beats won't always be constant. To blow the perfect note, you need to prepare for the right volume of air, the right tempo and beat. Breathing technique is key when playing the low notes."

After leaving the navy and a stint as a music teacher at a school in Pune, Kalyani joined the Mumbai Police in 2018. With most brass players of the country part of the naval or police bands, Kalyani who plays the "stylish" trombone now, states that the lack of awareness about the tuba and other brass wind instruments can be attributed to the fact that there is no place for interested pupils to go to; it's not as easy as finding a guitar or keyboard teacher. "But if you learn one brass instrument, you can master all with ease," he adds.

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