Submitted by Don Doman
I’ve always loved music. I began playing the baritone saxophone at Mann Junior High in Lakewood. I switched from alto to the larger, lower register instrument that no one had chosen to play in the ninth grade. Since the baritone was free for me from the school district and stood beautifully in all its brassy glory I said yes to play it. I hated my old, antique silver alto saxophone, which I had played since the fifth grade.
I was allowed to take the baritone home with me over summer vacation. I had applied for Concert Band at Clover Park High School in the fall, but assumed I would not be selected and so didn’t practice until I received notice in mid-August that I would indeed be playing in the Concert Band. I began practicing.
Once I found myself in the midst of alto and tenor saxophones I took my baritone home every night. The first chair alto was a senior who was later selected for the Air Force Band, and the senior female tenor sax was selected for the University of Washington Band. My playing talent fell in the middle of the seven saxophones. I beat every challenge, but never challenged anyone for better placement. The object of course for aspiring musicians was to be “first chair.” The first half of the year I practiced often, but not every night that I brought my baritone home. I earned a “C” grade. The second half of the year, I only occasionally took my sax home and actually practiced. I earned a “B” grade.
All three years of high school I still played alto in the orchestra, and marched in the Daffodil Parade. My junior year I very rarely practiced and earned an “A.” My senior year I only practiced when I was selected for the All Puget Sound League Orchestra and was scheduled to perform. Again, I earned an “A.”
I had a nice tone when I played. The technique remained the same from fifth grade on, and I took piano lessons from first to sixth grades, so I knew music. Baritone sax parts are mostly like those of a tuba: syncopation, the bottom notes of chords, and the thumping heart of marching (one hundred and twenty beats to the minute for most marches). To this day when I sing our national anthem at various meetings, I don’t really sing the melody, but rather the harmony and notes I played at every home football and basketball game with the “pep” band at Clover Park.
One of my fondest musical moments was years later when I no longer played saxophone. I was president of the Rotary Club of Tacoma #8. I was hosting a meeting of the local Rotary clubs. My concert band teacher from Clover Park High School, Ron Mellom, attended the dinner with his wife who was a Clover Park Rotarian. He spoke to me after the meeting and said, “I am so proud of you.” Those words stopped me short. They meant so much.
Today three of my grandchildren have played different instruments (not saxophone) in local school orchestras and bands. But each time I attend a student concert my eye searches for the baritone saxophone, so I appreciated a story in The News Tribune (July 16, 2017) about Pat Van Haren. Pat learned to play tuba in the 7th grade.
In 2013 Pat rescued a sousaphone from the back shelves of Ilwaco High School. The sousaphone was named after the American bandmaster and composer John Philip Sousa. Sousa was the director of the Marine Band for twelve years and wrote many marches including “The Stars and Stripes Forever” (National March of the United States of America) and “Semper Fidelis” (Official March of the United States Marine Corps).
Pat had his prize sousaphone restored and has since played it in Dixieland jazz (which has close ties to march music), and holiday tunes. It’s funny how those early days of playing music (especially marches) in school come back as joy at the strangest times. Sometimes whenout walking, I find myself marching eight steps to five yards, which is how we would keep track of the beat and location for football field formations.
I met Pat when he and his wife barb worked on Zoobilee, a fundraiser for the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. My wife, Peggy and I, joined by our buddies Debbie and Donn Irwin were in charge of selecting restaurants and their samples for inclusion in the fun summertime event, which featured music, food, and drink. We reported to Pat.
In June this year, Pat reported, also, to the Tacoma Police Department after he returned from an out-of-state trip to find his house sousaphone-less. He’s posted on Facebook, talked to pawn shop operators, and offered a reward, but so far there have been no results or clues as to what happened to this classic sousaphone. Being a brass instrument, it was probably sold as scrap ($50 value).
When I think of a sousaphone it reminds me of the Carole King song “Wrap Around Joy.” Not because of the melody, but just for the name. The sousaphone is the only band instrument that you step into. It wraps around you. The tubing is circular and the instrument rests on the shoulders of the player, with the open bell facing forward. In close comparison, the baritone saxophone hangs from a lanyard in the front of the musician. The weight of the instrument rests on the neck and shoulder muscles as well as the hands of the player.
Both the baritone saxophone and the sousaphone have “spit valves” on the underbellies of tubes for draining condensed moisture. In other words it takes a lot of hot air to play these wonderful instruments. I still have an affinity for the baritone saxophone and have cheered my grandchildren as they’ve marched in the Daffodil Parade . . . and all of this makes me feel the loss of Pat’s sousaphone even more.