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Retiree finds new joy in the tuba, despite bad memories

George Forrester and his tuba
Nancy Camden

“I didn’t play my horn for a long time because I just got burned out, played too many funerals,” says Kalamazoo tuba player George Forrester Sr. He plays with the Kalamazoo Concert Band. Their concert, “Through the Eyes of a Child” will be performed Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Cheney Auditorium.  

In 1968, Forrester was accepted into the Army/Navy School of Music and played with the 150 strong 5th Army Band in Chicago until he was transferred to Alaska, where he played in the post band. 

“We had a sousaphone. That’s the kind that’s just like a tuba, only it’s wrapped different. And, you put that on your shoulder, so you can support it and march with it. Same instrument. It’s just a different shape," Forrester says. "We played a lot of marches and a lot of funerals at the time. One of the times we had to play a funeral was for President Eisenhower, when he passed away. They flew us down to Kansas. It was in February and it was cold and I’m still cold from it.”

After the army, Forrester played for the Battle Creek Symphony for one season. Then, he laid the tuba down. He says he picked it up again because when he retired his wife told him he would have to have something to do.

“So, now, I’m busy every day of the week and it came back to me pretty good," says Forrester. "One band led to another band and I ended up with five bands now. So, I’m playing at it as much as I can."

Forrester says there are a lot better tuba players than him but that he enjoys it and has fun doing it. 

“It plays the same range as a low string instrument, the base viol," he says. "It’s the lowest instrument of usually concert bands. We keep the rhythm. We very seldom have any melody, usually just the downbeat of the measure.”

In 4th grade George played cello. In 5th grade he played base viol. Then, his music director told him that he should try one of the brass instruments.

“I think that’s because he needed a tuba player," says Forrester. "In 6th or 7th grade and played it all through high school and junior high.”

The tuba is a big instrument for a small kid, but Forrester says he was kind of a big kid at the time.

“I liked playing the tuba because there was only one," he says. "So, I enjoyed that part of it.”

Forrester feels that a person involved with music tends to have a personality that is happier.

“The musicians that I am around are always smiling," he says. "Anybody that’s involved with music, in any kind, just seems to be more of a happy person.”

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