Home » ARTSY FARTSY » JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–Tuba Player & (104) ARTSY Spirals

JEAN SHEPHERD Kid Stories–Tuba Player & (104) ARTSY Spirals


Getting to be a Tuba Player

How does a guy get to be a tuba player?  There’s a certain look of sadness in the eye of all tuba players.  A tuba player is a man who has lived through a peculiar kind of hell.  When you’re marching down the street with a spanking wind blowing in your direction and you’re carrying that big ol’ B-flat tuba on your shoulder and the band is starting and you’re picking it up with “Stars and Stripes Forever, “Semper Fidelis,” “El Capitan.”  We’re marching, men.  The crowd is roaring and cheering and somebody throws a quarter into your bell.  You hear ding ding dingdingding.  Or a penny or an eraser.  That kind of thing.

As a kid in high school I was absolutely the ace of the bass section of our band.  The first chair bass man.  And that is a great feeling.  For years I had worked my way up.  I started in eighth grade playing E-flat tuba.  The tuba itself is a kind of challenge.  It’s a heavy instrument.  You get so that you love the tuba.  You get so that you actually have a physical love for your instrument—for your tuba.  Yeah, you sit there and you pat it, you talk to it.  Many’s the time I’d come into the band room and seen Reg Rose, who was in the bass section.  I saw him one time weeping, sitting there talking to his B-flat sousaphone, weeping and crying, and the sousaphone was crying back.

So you get deeply involved with this instrument and it begins to sort of become an extension of yourself as a sousaphone player.  At first you’re not and you feel like a phony.  Then you begin to learn this instrument and it begins to be part of you.  Every day I’m in school all day in trig, in algebra, and all those classes.  And then I had a band rehearsal period.  You know how Sherlock Holmes sits by his window and he’s playing his violin and he’s composing himself.  I used to love that.  I’d be by myself in this little band room surrounded by all those instruments up on racks.  All by myself with my tuba, and in front of me is a rack of music.  And I’m playing Ba ba ba ba ba ba ba baaaa.  That is Exercise Thirty-two.  Then tacatacatacataca, Exercise Thirty-three.  And I begin to grow to love this instrument and begin to feel that I could play it.

More Tuba Player to Come




Spirals come in many forms: The clustered bits of some flowers;

many animal horns; tornados; galaxies, and much more.

Over the years I’ve sought out and peripatetically encountered

articles and books focusing on spirals.

Spirals, for me, represent the prime symbol of life and advancement in almost all things. To simplify: the circle seems to me to represent an Eastern ideal—eternal return without advancement; the straight line seems to me a Western ideal—the single-minded idea of moving from past to present to future without a sense of the past and tradition.   

A special and widespread form of spiral, which, in its living force, advances around toward its circular beginning, and, through the foreword energy of a straight line, moves outward and combines in one, the two energies.

(I designed the form of my first un-published novel, written in the early 1960s,

as though the content progressed metaphorically in a spiral shape.)

The type of spiral I refer to is called “logarithmic,”

conforming to a mathematical formula. The sequence of numbers

arrived at by adding the sum of the previous two numbers.

(The smallest square =1, each succeeding square is formed by adding the previous number to it—1+1= 2+1= 3+2= 5+3= 8+5= 13 etc.) The resulting proportion, called “the golden mean,” has been used in art and architecture for thousands of years.

It’s present in many growing things, most spectacularly in the chambered nautilus, that forms chambers within its shell that grow in a particular, mathematical progression known as a “Fibonacci Sequence” (named after an Italian, Middle-Ages mathematician who formulated the particular numerical pattern upon which such spirals are calculated.) The nautilus (and innumerable other natural forms) grows outwardly around itself, best seen when its shell is cut in half lengthwise.

The most common of the few species, the most familiar, is Nautilus pompilius. I’ve only read a bit of the popular literature about it, and I’ve looked at my samples and many other images in publications. The tube that runs through the chambers, I believe, is to  allow the animal to be heavier and float downward when water is ingested, or, when the water is expelled, it’s lighter so it rises up.

I’ve noted two aspects regarding “growth and form,” visible from the sliced samples, that I haven’t found in popular commentaries, and both concern my understanding of how/why the animal forms its chambers. (These must be familiar to experts on the subject.) As the nautilus’s fleshy body grows, its shell has to grow with it, so it must move forward from the latest interior wall to accommodate a slightly larger interior bulk, forming the new, larger interior wall.

On right, smaller, final chamber

with its thicker wall.

But I’ve noted that the final chambered area, instead of being larger (as are each of the earlier ones), is smaller, seen in the photo above. Yet that final wall is thicker. My amateur’s theory is that, old, no longer with the vigor to continue to produce its larger bulk, it still produces the shell-material, which it exudes into a thicker wall.


I have books and various articles about the nautilus; about spiral growth; and about its ancient ancestor, the fossils we call ammonites, some of which are straight and many feet long, but many of which are in the same shape as the modern chambered nautilus. (As I came into possession of a preserved chambered nautilus during my design of a Museum of Natural History exhibit, I had the specimen for years, until the wax seal preserving it in its glass container failed, and I had to toss out the whole stinking mess.) I’ve had several nautilus shells, whole and cut, revealing their chambers, and I’ve also had a number of inexpensive ammonites, whole, and also cut to show the chambers. (Sometimes I’d see at the Museum, being wheeled through the public halls on a dolly, a cut and polished ammonite that I believe was about three feet in diameter.) Below, those on the upper right and lower left are of some of my own ammonite specimens.


One may well be familiar with the poem, “The Chambered Nautilus” by Oliver Wendell Holmes, written in 1858, so the metaphor of the shell had been contemplated for many years before I thought to refer to it. (Even in such a muscle-bound manner as the Holmes poem has it, with its philosophical hyperbole.)  I wrote my own nautilus/ammonite poem (with what I hope is restrained simile) and made it into a 6 X 9 inch “artists’ book.” The thick, front and back covers have, inserted, the two halves of the same, authentic, small ammonite (approx. 1- 3/8”diameter) revealing its chambers:


A book by eb, 1998



1 Comment

  1. I did see Shep play a tub bass with a blue grass group after an concert. He enjoyed playing it. I can’t remember where it was….

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