The Anarchists' Tuba

The following is based on a true story. Picture on left is part of the New York City Public Library's collection.

On a hot summer's night, Rosa, a double bass and tuba player, received a request. The drummer from the Auroratastiques had asked her to accompany them on the tuba at Park Avenue's Georges Alexandre, a local musician's venue. However, this tall slim blond from the Okanagan could not be expected to cart around both a double bass and a cumbersome brass horn. She would have to borrow one. To hear what a tuba sounds like click here.

The last time Rosa had publicly played the tuba was with a 10- to 15-piece anarchist marching band called the Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble. In late May, the Ensemble had performed as part of the Anarchist Bookfair. Their gig was euphoric and may or may not have resulted in an incident involving a number of elated book lovers and some, ah, fist i cuffs. Police descended on the scene in minutes and were less than pleased with the ruckus and poorly mannered participants. However, when an instigator could not be identified, the finger was apparently pointed at the Chaotic Insurrection. The band members were incredulous. They had not been among the petulant patrons. Just the same, the Ensemble decided to lay low until the forces of order had bigger fish to fry. This was bad news for the burgeoning marching band, but good news for Rosa, as they had an available tuba, which they lent her without reservations.

The Auroratastiques' gig at the Georges Alexandre was exhilarating in the heat of the hot July night. After their final set, Rosa and another musician headed out to the street where they met more people and continued to play. Montreal was a wonderful place to be a musician. They played on, as a few unconventional cigarettes were passed around, and a drink or two was consumed. Someone suggested that they take the party over to St.Urbain. Rosa made her way over, lugging the caseless tuba and her bag. Outside the house, she set down her things, removed the mouth-piece from the tuba, placed it in her bag and went upstairs. The group reclined on the balcony listening to music and talking in raised voices about the city's music scene and past shows. Rosa had already lived in Montreal for four years and enjoyed this type of get-together. It seemed like everywhere she turned in the city, she met musicians.

As their chatter continued below the hazy moon, someone said, "I can't believe it. Look there's another tuba out there." Rosa caught a glimpse of glimmering brass in the moonlight, making a mental note for future reference that someone else in the neighbourhood had a tuba. She tried to take a closer look to see who it was. She saw two women in their early twenties with shoulder-length brown hair walking quickly down the street. It was just like someone had said earlier; there were musicians all over Montreal. The conversation continued for another half-hour, then a lull--the cue to head home. Rosa went to the door, picked up her bag and quickly turned around. Her eyes widened. She had left the tuba downstairs. She ran down and looked around. It was gone....Those girls, they....Oh no!

Rosa had lost the anarchists' tuba. In fact, she and the other party goers had watched the two girls make off with it. Rosa sighed.What would she do? She couldn't go to the police because the tuba didn't belong to her. The Chaotic Insurrection would have to file a police report, but the band was leery of cops, as anarchists are wont to be. But a marching band without a tuba was like pizza without the cheese, and a new tuba costs thousands of dollars. Pacing back and forth on the sidewalk, Rosa panicked a little and thought a lot. She went home, got a pen and drew up posters. Using basic psychology, she assumed that the girls might want to learn to play the tuba, so she offered to teach them in return for the instrument. Posters were put up in the immediate vicinity of the party, and an ad was posted on Craig's list.

She waited and prayed, and prayed and waited. Then she felt inspired, wrote a song set to gospel music pleading with a higher being to bring back the anarchists' tuba. (Hear it on the phonograph below.) An e-mail reply from Craig's list came in, and Rosa jumped for joy. But the respondent had not found Rosa's tuba. Instead he, also a musician, had been so inspired by Rosa's ad that he had composed "the Lost Tuba," and wanted to know if she would accompany him on the brass horn and perform it. She said that she would love to, as she rolled her eyes, that is, if the frickin' frackin' tuba was ever recovered!

(Click play to listen to her song "Lord Tuba")

Wringing her hands, Rosa later walked around the neighbourhood, looking down alleys for the glint of shiny brass. She felt guilty, remorseful and a little bit desperate. How could she face the Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble? Or find a replacement instrument? And how would she pay for it? Musicians are known for their veeery limited budgets. The tuba was nowhere to be seen. Rosa slowly walked home with her head held low. She walked in the door and her two roommates came rushing towards her, jumping up and down. "She called," they yelled. "The tuba's been found," said one. "She's coming over tonight," said the other. Rosa put her hand over her mouth and fell into a chair. Her troubles were apparently over.

She and her friends waited in the living room nervously hypothesizing about how the girls had explained the tuba's presence to their families or roommates. After all, a tuba is a difficult object to conceal. And the girls wouldn't be able to play it because Rosa had removed the mouthpiece, unless, of course, they had their own....But what Rosa and her roommates really wanted to know was what went through their minds when they read the posters on the corner of every street. They talked and waited, and waited...but the girl never materialized.

In the days that followed, Rosa reached out to her network of musician friends in a last ditch effort to locate the instrument, already aware that she would have to face the grim reality: the tuba was either sitting in someone's basement or in a pawn shop somewhere on Ontario Street. Rosa resigned herself to the facts: she'd have to face the Chaotic Insurrection Ensemble and find a way to repay them.

I can commiserate with Rosa. It's a horrible feeling to have something stolen, and it's very rare that things are ever returned. Nevertheless, whenever I walk through the Mile End, I'm always surprised by the number of posters I see for lost items. After all, we live in a city with a lot of people coming and going. But oddly enough, I know of two people who have actually had things returned. Our neighbour put up posters for her lost cat, and after three weeks of nail-biting, kitty was found and returned. And the second was our tuba and double bass player.

Yes, just one week after Rosa had put up her posters, a young woman arrived at her doorstep with her eyes cast downward, holding the tuba. Rosa's roommate took the instrument, and as she looked up to say something, the woman had already left. Unfortunately, we'll never know what possessed the two girls to take the tuba in the first place. Was it motivated by greed or was it the enticing opportunity of finding an odd looking brass instrument left unattended on a hot summer's night in the Mile End?

What do you think reader?

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Johanna | August 11, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Another great Mile End story!

Fran├žois-B. Tremblay | August 11, 2010 at 12:06 PM

I love that story. Only in Montreal...

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