The Tuba Monkey: Traditions in Leesville Music

The graudating tuba players hand over the monkey. Photo courtesy of Eli Kratt.
The graudating tuba players hand over the monkey. Photo courtesy of Eli Kratt.

All families have traditions — those ways that groups of people take their storied pasts and connect it to their futures. Leesville clubs work similarly, like when Political Club passes the club gavel to the next president, or when ITS, SNHS, NHS and other clubs induct the next wave of members.

When the traditions show up in Pride music programs, things change a little. That’s to be expected in some of the county’s longest-standing and most successful fine arts programs.

On Tuesday, May 17, seniors in the LRHS Orchestra were recognized onstage. But where the band simply recognizes the senior class and announces where its members will go to college, the orchestra imparts a meaningful gift to its departing musicians.

“I really look forward to getting my peg from Mr. Stiles at our concert,” said one Chamber Orchestra senior. “It means a lot to those of us who have committed time to the program and dedicated effort to the music.”

The humble violin peg. You know, the four black knobs sticking out the top of the instrument? Yep, that’s what Orchestra seniors receive in recognition of their time playing a stringed instrument, for two years or even for ten.

Unusual? Perhaps. Yet the band has an answer to peg keychains, and it isn’t presented on a stage.

As part of a ritual said to have been occurring since “the beginning of time”, a stuffed creature known as the ‘Tuba Monkey’ changes hands, and is passed down the line from one tuba section leader to the next.

“I’m a believer in the mystical power of the tuba monkey,” said Jason Nance, current leader of the tuba section. “It’s a good luck charm, but we have proof that it’s very powerful — we forgot it once at a football game, and my third valve slide stopped working.”

“I think Seth will wield it with great skill and power.”

The prestigious primate has all but evolved into legend, making for a significant responsibility bestowed upon up-and-coming tuba section leaders, including the 2011-12 section leader Seth Pixton.

“I just came into band as a freshman, and they told me to squeeze it…  you have to squeeze it twice before every performance,” said Pixton. “I feel honored to receive the tuba monkey and its responsibilities.”

Attempts to discover the history of this acclaimed ape fell short, as its path went cold after eight years of handing it off despite efforts to uncover its path through Leesville tuba history.

“[The Tuba Monkey] was there when I was a freshman, and I guess it’ll always be there,” mused Nance.

“I am so happy, that I may get a monkey, since I play tuba,” said rising freshman Ethan Kratt, speaking in haiku. He claims to be “invigorated” about his future chances.

Strange customs among the musically adept are part of what helps set us apart, and they’re crucial in developing the way groups of Leesville musicians interact and thrive. It’s also a vital part of making incoming freshmen feel like part of the group — like Band Camp is, but evident in all that the band and orchestra do.


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