Two Notes on a Tuba

by | Jun 20, 2024 | Uncategorized

Today is the first day of Summer 2024. Let’s take this moment to pay homage to a musical instrument that unwittingly stirs fear in many as we look forward to activities this season that should be enjoyable: the tuba.

What?!? A tuba is scary?!? You may not think so. Most will picture this oversized brass instrument stuck in the back of an orchestra pit, presumably not to block the other musicians. It’s more whimsical than threatening. Spying aspiring musicians lugging a massive tuba draws sympathies toward those students, particularly compared to those assigned flutes and other dainty, easily portable instruments. It provokes empathy, not enmity. A sense of joyous humor, not terror, will likely overcome parade bystanders as they view a marching band pass by, specifically when the cumbersome tuba section marches along, tooting low-pitched notes. If you attend a concert, you may suddenly be entertained by a break-out solo instrumental, say a violin or a saxophone, but never a tuba! If that happened, the place would probably break down in hysterics. Fear and a tuba do not readily coalesce.

Yet, the emotional response to the sound of a tuba changed in 1975 when a new movie was released on this date. Tuba player Tommy Johnson played an alternating pattern of two notes on his instrument, variously described as an “E and F” or “F and F sharp.” That piece was part of a score that earned composer John Williams an Academy Award, and the American Film Institute ranks today as the sixth-greatest musical score for a movie. Thanks to that tuba rendition, the blockbuster movie tagline, “You’ll never go in the water again,” became true for many. If you haven’t guessed it yet, that movie, released today in 1975, was Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.”

That tuba rendition is widely described as one of the most recognizable cinematic themes ever. Composer Williams described the two-note theme as mimicking a shark’s heartbeat: “grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable.”

I suspect many of us will be humming those notes to ourselves if Newsday’s recent prediction of a greater shark presence in the warmer-than-normal ocean waters off Long Island shores this season proves true. But fear of the water has been with us much longer than that famous tuba two-note suspense warning. In Biblical times, the sea was a symbol of chaos, only to be championed by divine intervention. God created the world out of the chaos of the waters. The Great Flood purified the world for a new creation. Our Lord parted the river, allowing Moses to lead the chosen people to freedom. And Jesus stilled the seas. Cue a soothing tuba melody…

This Sunday, June 23, our Gospel message features Evangelist Mark’s version of Jesus calming the storm threatening the Sea of Galilee. While there is no two-note suspense warning for the disciples, there is the trumpet sound (sorry, no tuba) of success as Jesus alleviates the fears. Join us for this message at our 9:30 AM worship at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 36 E. John Street, Lindenhurst. A copy of the worship bulletin is attached.

Pastor Marc

Rev. Marc Herbst
St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
36 East John Street
Lindenhurst, NY 11757