Mix a batch of fearless, flexible tuba players with a boisterous crowd supporting a nationally ranked women’s basketball team and a nostalgic variation on “Hail Purdue” and what have you got?
That’s what the Gold and Black Sound women’s basketball band found this season when they reintroduced “Tuba Hail” to Purdue games for the first time in more than a decade.
Before every game, the band’s four tuba players conduct a personal game of “how low can you go” at center court in Mackey Arena as they posture, prance in a circle and bend over backwards in a theatrical attempt to hit a low A flat with as much flair as possible. Their efforts always elicit a roar from a crowd anxious to flex its vocal muscles.
“I love it when the crowd cheers after we hit the low note,” says tubist Kristina Murray, a junior from Osceola. “And when we walk through the crowd on our way back to the band, we always get pats on the back and people saying ‘good job!’ ”
Swathed in nostalgia, “Tuba Hail” is familiar to anyone who watched men’s basketball games on television in the 1980s, or at Mackey. It got its start in the opening segment for the Indiana Farm Bureau-sponsored TV broadcasts which depicted a middle-aged man rummaging through his attic, discovering a dusty tuba and pulling together enough breath to puff out the a phrase of “Hail Purdue” on it.
It caught him totally by surprise when a pep band, somewhere in the distance, softly echoed back the melody. Emboldened by what happened, he took a deep breath and launched into another phrase of the song, swaggering around the attic in moves that mimicked those of Purdue’s pep bands.
The inspired poke at college tradition and nostalgia caught audiences’ fancy and was used for many years, as was an opening bit for Indiana University broadcasts which showed a mop lady in Assembly Hall breaking out into an operatic version of “Oh, Indiana.”
Purdue’s marching band director at the time, Bill Moffit, adapted the TV bit for tuba section and band. It, too, was used for many years, injected into half time or time outs at Purdue’s men’s games. It was never used for women’s basketball. “Then someone in athletics decided it was old-fashioned and wouldn’t allow us to play it at games,” says Bill Kisinger, long time Boiler Brass, men’s basketball band director.
Still, the band department kept the tune in its repertoire and marching band has occasionally pulled it out for pep rallies over the past decade. Ironically, an I.U. graduate - Matthew Conaway, current director of Gold and Black Sound - reinstated the tradition.
As the newest director to Purdue University Bands, he looked at “Tuba Hail” on a play list and asked, “What’s that?” When he heard the story, he felt it was time for a revival.
“I figured retro is in. Let’s give it a shot at a couple of women’s games and see what happens,” Conaway recalls. The crowd gave it an instant thumb’s up. “Now we have people asking us if we’re going to do “Tuba Hail.” It’s like asking us if we’re going to do ‘Hail Purdue’,” he says.
Besides Murray, the quartet of tubas taking center floor include Jeff Hester, a freshman from Hudson, Ohio, Dave Eisert, a junior from Pittsboro, and Jenny Campbell, a sophomore from Mishawaka.
“To see how much the crowd enjoys it is really neat,” says Campbell, who’s too young to remember the nostalgic TV bit but gets a modern-day kick out of performing “Tuba Hail.”
“One of the women who sits by Jeff rates our melt-downs and they tell him (each game) who wins. I don’t know how they do it, there might be style points as well as distance,” she says.
Gold and Black Sound’s goals as a basketball band lie in using music and antics to create the kind of lively, fun atmosphere at Mackey that contributes to victory.
“Tuba Hail” has become a special part of the hoopla this year. “It is all for the fans. When the fans enjoy something it helps you perform better,” Campbell says. “It’s like when Coach Kristy Curry talks about the team feeding off the energy of the fans. Anytime the fans are more into it, you’re more into it” as a musician.
With the Purdue women enjoying a record setting 24 game home win streak, the third longest in the nation, it’s clear that the band, the crowd and the players are teaming up to create a very special kind of energy in the 2001-02 season.
And given that fans are also superstitious, “Tuba Hail” may be around a lot longer this time. “It’ll definitely be here for a while,” Campbell predicts.