House Kills Tuba Player!

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From the writer’s notes for an upcoming episode of the hit TV Show “House”.

Before:

INT. MUSIC PRACTICE ROOM — DAY

TIBALT OYYLANT, 30s, joyous, bubbly, plays “Carnival of Venice” on TUBA for one of his college tuba students. This is an almost impossible piece to play on the trumpet; on tuba, it’s almost stupid. But Tibalt is one of the world’s best tuba players and he delights in the technical difficulty. The student has a huge smile on his face watching Tibalt play.

Tibalt takes a deep breath, but suddenly coughs violently, blood squirting out of the corners of his mouth. As he attempts to hold it in, the blood forcefully goes into the tuba and sprays out the bell end. And Tibalt tumbles awkwardly onto the tuba…Dead.

———————————————————-

What an interesting coincidence. Oystein Baadsvik was playing the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto with the Bakersfield Symphony and stayed a few nights with me in Los Angeles. One day while he was here I got an email from my neighbor, Elan Soltes, who does production work on the TV show “House”. He saw an advanced script for the show that called for a tuba player. He submitted my name to play the part and music. So I get a call to do a pre-record session. Oystein commented on how popular House was in Norway. While he was at LAX awaiting his return flight, he got an e mail from his agent. It was from the producer of House who had seen Oystein’s You-Tube spectacular (fast) version of The Carnival of Venice. He wanted to know if Oystein could quickly make a solo version of the last variation—the one with a BILLION notes as opposed to the others with only a MILLION notes. If he had gotten the message earlier he could have done it while he was in Los Angeles (depending on the AFM rules). In any case by this time I had already been hired to do the session and I was expected to play it as fast and impressively as that video. I even got out of some work with the Pacific Symphony at the last minute to do it only to find that it was postponed a week—frustrations of work conflicts. But at least it gave me some more time to woodshed the piece.

One of the more challenging parts of being a studio musician is having to copy something that others have done. Producers and composers hear something and think it is cool so they write it (or something like it) that you have to record. After Tommy Johnson recorded the famous Jaws melody, the same theme was used in the opening credits for later movies, Airplane 1 and 2. I showed up on those sessions and had to sight read that thorny line.

Well I went into House composer Jon Erhlich’s little studio to record the Carnival of Venice. They wanted me to do it at 8th note equals 180 as Oystein had done it but the fastest I could do was 160—still damn fast. After 2 complete takes we did a couple of sections where they wanted me to cough and then resume playing. This gave it a surreal sound. Anyway we did the session in 1:15 minutes and I was relieved to have it “in the can.” I got paid double scale!

Later that week I was called to do the sidelining for the show. They had hired a real actor Mark Beltzman, (who happened to be an amateur tuba player), and also a stunt double. All they wanted me for was a “hand double” so they could cut to my hands that would (at least) look like I was playing the notes. Mark did the several takes, some in which he spit up fake blood. Then they filmed my hands and finally the stunt double came in and made several takes falling with the tuba. They did some serious damage to a brand new Jupiter BBb tuba. The several thousand dollar cost of that instrument could have been better spent paying me to do the whole thing. I’ve been told that I may have to go back in and record it again so the coughs will line up with when the actor coughed so maybe I’ll get another double scale gig out of it—but I was sure hoping I would never have to play that again.

Word is that the House episode will be shown about September 9th—another milestone in the history of tubas in the studios. When it comes to the studio business I don’t believe anything until it happens.

May 2008

After:

Well the House episode titled “Not Cancer” aired on September 16th. I was working at the opera but my neighbor gave me a DVD of the show. It was a big disappointment. The scene with the tuba was very brief and the music was so low in the mix that I could barely hear it. In fact the background ambient music was playing over the tuba. My hand “double” got into the scene for a few seconds. So much for all the hoopla and hard work playing Carnival of Venice. But at least I got paid well for it–hey, a job’s a job!

The tuba scene is near the beginning of the episode–view it on line at:

www.hulu.com/watch/37152#2F70AD

Jim Self
September 2008

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