Mouthpieces & Synchros
Synchronicities, like dreams, matter little to anyone beyond the experiencer. That’s a caveat. While I’m awestruck by the exchange in this post, I am sure it will feel insignificant to the reader. If you’re inclined to dismiss personal encounters, tap out now.
Musicians, like most subsets of the population whose occupation is dictated by equipment, tend to fall into two categories: Gearheads and non-Gearheads. At the risk of being overly snarky (which, good Lord, UFO Twitter has seen plenty from me these days), I tend to simplify this into “Gearheads and Professionals.”
It’s a tale as old as time: YOU aren’t to blame, your EQUIPMENT is! It absolves one of the fact that practice, discipline, and competence are the primary drivers of success. It’s the same reason rock stars use the same guitar for decades, while garage band musicians constantly cycle through new axes, picks, pedals, amps, etc.
I’ve felt the least interesting booths at tuba conferences (yes, Virginia, they do exist) are mouthpiece booths. I personally have a “Love the one you’re with” attitude vis-à-vis mouthpieces; horns vary from awful to spectacular, but for me, tuba mouthpieces sit on a spectrum of “okay” to “okay+.” It’s never made a difference in my performance. I realize this is not a nuanced view. As a classically-trained musician, I should believe that mouthpieces are essential to a musician’s sound. I acknowledge this reality, but feel that too many brass players use mouthpieces as a panacea to problems that could be solved through (again) practice and discipline.
Having put all this forward as background information, you’ve probably got a good idea of my playing. I found a mouthpiece I loved circa 2005, bought two copies, and haven’t switched in the interim. Granted, I’d flirt with something different—usually something from my ever-diminishing collection—but I’d always come back to my old standby: the Parke Ofenloch (it’s enormous, you could almost take a bath in the damn thing). My teacher used this mouthpiece, and I experienced great results. It remains my go-to set up.
Fast forward to early 2018. I was in New Orleans for PARAMANIA (the best non-conference you’ve never heard about) and, given my occupation and connections, sat in with several musicians in town. I was sans-equipment at Maison Bourbon when my friend (literally my mentor; topic for another day) Danny Rubio cajoled me into taking the stage to play some tunes. I played his horn AND mouthpiece (generally speaking, don’t do the latter, kids, unless you are confident in the owner’s hygiene and character!).
Danny was playing a LOUD Mouthpiece. It was a brand I was aware of, but (being an anti-gear guy) hadn’t tried. I loved it! Punched all my buttons plus (being stainless steel) retained heat better than any mouthpiece on the market. In that moment, I said that—if I ever used a different mouthpiece—it’d be a LOUD. Fasty flashy fasty forward to two months ago. I had a silver-plated Ofenloch for my sousaphone (marching band tuba, for those uninformed) and a gold plated version for my PT-6 tuba. Never switched ‘em out, never the twain met. I love these mouthpieces. So when a friend asked to borrow my silver-plated version, I obliged. No zealotlike a convert, right? In any case my colleague (whom I respect as much as the day is long—a great musician and an even better person) asked to purchase the mouthpiece for himself, for a generous price, I agreed. Love to spread the word regarding something I adore.
I was been paid the difference. So… time to get that LOUD equipment, amirite?
Sadly—in the interim between PARAMANIA 2018 and two months ago—the husband-wife ownership of LOUD saw a… falling out. You can visit the site for yourself and parse the details. My first thought: no one is entirely to blame in any divorce or falling out (cheaters/substance-abusers, even at their worst, are searching for something lacking in their relationships) , and it breaks my heart to see that narrative played out time-and-again. The reasons behind LOUD are not for me to dissect.
My second thought, however:
Shit. No LOUD MPs for me. <frowny face>
So… I wanted a LOUD mouthpiece, but the company is effectively dissolved, for better-or-worse. Looking to replace one of my old models but convinced of the need for professional diversity, I ordered a mouthpiece from another company (which I suspect will not satisfy my needs). I’ve literally spent hours in bed awake regarding this issue: I want to try something different, at long last, yet the object of my focus is literally nonexistent. I wanted a LOUD model, and they are essentially extinct.
… yesterday I randomly searched Craigslist for “tuba.” It’s dumb for a lot of reasons: you get loads of kitchen responses (UBA-TUBA!), garbage horns, hip-hop artists mentioning “tuba” in terms of the instruments “they can mix, bro,” and few-to-no paying gigs. Rarely do you find a job (don’t bother, I’ve looked on your behalf), or a reasonable deal on tuba-related ephemera. At this point, if there’s a jazz tuba gig in Georgia I haven’t been approached for, it’s either too far away or pays too little.
BUT YESTERDAY! I plugged in “tuba” search terms to Craigslist and it yielded gold. Two mouthpieces, both from the LOUD line. Both brand new. For sale. Not the models I wanted, but damn close. I’d scoured eBay for two months for these products. My anger over their inaccessibility was simmering. Yet on June 27, I found two LOUD models.
… 15 minutes from my house. I can’t disclose the professional circumstances that led to this providers surplus—suffice to say they appear both wholly legal and logical—but I emphasize the bizarre personal synchronicities leading to this purchase.
A need manifested (i.e.. new mouthpiece);
Said need presented no fruition or hope of obtainment (i.e. LOUD was no longer in production);
My need dominated intense, extended thought;
My need manifested in both high accessibility, affordability (-$50 retail), and geographical proximity.
The seller was an angel, and completely transparent about how she obtained and is selling this LOUD overstock.
Like most synchronicities, this likely means little to you.
It means everything to me.