The Cornhusker Marching Band is cranking up the bass.
During halftime of the Sept. 12 Husker football game with South Alabama, the band will take to the field with 68 sousaphones — including 50 played by high school students from five states. Organized by Doug Bush, assistant director of bands and a lecturer in UNL’s Korff School of Music, the bass expansion will be the culmination of “Tuba Day,” a first-time event designed to draw tuba players to the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s marching band.
“We’ve had a couple of lean years in the cycle of tuba players in our marching band,” Bush said. “So, we thought holding a ‘Tuba Day’ would be a good way to draw some attention to the instrument while also recruiting for the future.”
The idea took root when a graduate student mentioned that Kansas State University has previously held a similar game day event for tuba players.
“When I taught in Kentucky, they had a trumpet day that was pretty successful,” Bush said. “So, I wondered if we could make the idea fly and started asking around.”
Garnering support from music, athletics and admissions, Bush set enrollment for the free event at 50 participants, first-come, first served. An open invitation — shared in part via social media — quickly gathered more than 70 interested tuba players from across the nation.
“We kind of laughed when we set it at 50 participants,” Bush said. “The response was amazing. And, now, we are considering if we should offer this kind of event with a different instrument each year.”
Along with performing in Memorial Stadium with the Pride of All Nebraska, the high school tuba players — who hail from Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Illinois and Maryland — will participate in activities throughout the day. The schedule includes a master’s class with Craig Fuller, principal tuba of the Omaha Symphony and a senior lecturer of music at UNL; a lunch and presentation by admissions; rehearsal with the band; playing in the pre-game concert outside Kimball Recital Hall; and marching with the band to Memorial Stadium.
Parents of the students will also participate in tuba day events.
Dressed in their own high school uniforms, the 50 sousaphone players will join the Cornhusker Marching Band for the final third of the performance. They will play a medley of popular music, including “All About That Bass” and “Uptown Funk.” The sousaphones will be positioned primarily in the southeast corner of the stadium and play toward The Boneyard — the section reserved for current UNL students.
The tuba players have been sent the music to be played, diagrams of where they will be located on the field, and a link to a video showing how the formation will move during the performance.
“We have an idea of what it will look like, but we won’t be able to practice together until Saturday rolls around,” Bush said. “It’s going to be interesting.”
Bush said the performance will be a unique experience for the students, band and fans.
“Running onto the field and playing in front of 90,000 fans is going to make these students feel like rock stars,” Bush said. “We have no idea what 68 sousaphones playing together will sound like.
“I can’t wait to find out.”