Tag Archives: band

Trapped in a Tuba Case


AX: I think a long long long time ago, one of like the brass instrument players got stuck in a tuba case. So in our band, we always had one case open in the storage area: I didn’t know if it was accidental or purposeful. Sometimes, we’ll have tiers of levels, like a trombone case open here, and a tuba case open there. I was like, is there always an instrument missing or something? And the people went oh yeah! It’s so that we can make sure that nobody is in there. And I was like in a case? And they said yeah! A long time ago, some kid fell asleep in his tuba case, and without knowing it, some of his band mates closed it and buckled it up. And this kid is still dead asleep by the way, like in a coma. Must have been a rough day at practice. When he woke up, he was like what the hell? And this was like midnight, so nobody was on campus, so he was just banging on his tuba case for help. In the morning they found him, and then they opened it, and at that point his tuba was right next to him. He was actually traumatized, so traumatized that he left his tuba and case in the band room, left and never came back. So now everybody leaves their cases open, including flutes and clarinets. I was like Jesus Christ! And it’s so funny because during practice, we joke about it. People actually sit in the tuba case, so we joke about closing it, like it looks empty to me! If that happened to me, I would resign myself and say this is how I die.

Context: AX is a freshman at USC studying English—she’s a fellow student in our folklore class and knows the material well. She grew up in Chino, a small suburb outside of Los Angeles. She’s of Asian descent.

AX: “I’m pretty sure it’s not real because like… all night? I don’t think it happened. I think it’s made up so that people are responsible with cases, so maybe it was made up by someone to force good instrument etiquette. It’s less of a horror story and more of a joke story. Now that I’m telling it to you, it sounds way more messed up than I thought.”

Analysis: The story is definitely a legend. It takes place in the real world, but it may or may not have happened. AX herself questions it. Though being a part of a high school band may not be a paid position, this story very clearly fits into the realm of occupational folklore as explained by Robert McCarle. It serves to enforce rules involving cases, but also acts as a catalyst for jokes. The joking that band members engage in about closing the tuba cases help reinforce a sense of community: members only “get” the joke if they’re familiar with the tuba case story, separating fledgling band members from the seniors. In the moment, it’s funny, and members seldom stop to think about the horrifying implications of being stuck in a case overnight. The story also provides context for the occupational custom of leaving cases open. The legend includes a leap in logic that AX acknowledged: how can you close a tuba case without seeing a person? It’s a part of the story that, being so well known, wasn’t challenged until the informant told the story outside of their circle.

USC marching band flute section’s chant/ditty


“So, we do this before any performance. It’s in a band again, in the flute section. I don’t know who taught us this. And I don’t remember being taught this. It’s something that I had experienced since freshmen year, and we teach it to our incoming freshmen as seniors.”

“This chant that we do, I think it’s for good luck. Or just to let out some steam or nerves before a big performance. But it goes like ‘stop, don’t talk to me, loser lame don’t wanna be. Oh, like totally, all you wanna be is me, stay fresh!’ And then you put your hands in the middle and you throw them up at the stay fresh part.”
“And we scream it as loud as humanly possible whenever we do it. And I have to know idea where it comes from.”


My informant is a performer at USC’s marching band. She is in the flute section.


This is an example of a hype-up song or chant before a game or performance. Like sports games, musical performance requires the players to come up with a way of encouragement. This is typical in a team environment before an important performance. The chant or the hype-up song helps the player build up confidence, and confirm solidarity.

The chant is rhythmic. So it’s easy to remember, learn and perform. It’s similar to the special handshakes, that once one learns it, it almost becomes mechanical in performing it with one’s in-group members.

I had a similar experience before. When I played in my high school soccer team, my team would do something similar to cheer each other up before the game. And I remember that different teams had different slogans to yell before the game. The volume of it is also very important. It almost serves as a scale for courage and determination. I think this is more typical in the sports arena because there is competition.

Band Riddle

Background: The Informant was a band member in high school. The riddle was told by the band teacher.

Q: What music instrument never tells the truth?
A: A lyre.
My band teacher told us this riddle during rehearsal. I didn’t find it funny at the time. It’s pretty much a dad joke.

The instrument has the same pronunciation as the word “liar”. This riddle requires knowledge in the music field, which also explained the occasion and audience of the riddle.

Jazz Slang – Band Leader Terminology

Main Piece:

CS (mid-twenties, white male, music degree background, LA resident) and I had a conversation about musicians.

Me: “So can you like explain that phrase, ‘take it to the top?'”

CS: “Take it to the top means to go back to the beginning of the song.”

Me: “That’s it?”

CS: “Well, like, there’s also usually a hand motion too.”

He mimes spinning his hand in a circle in the air.

CS: “When we used to play at bars in New York, I’d have to swing my hand around all wild and scream it out just to get people to hear me. It’s usually energetic like that, ya know? Like when you want to keep the jam [song] going, you take it back to the top.”


Phrases like this seem to be universal to musicians and are passed on homogeneously by other musicians and music teachers. The emphasis of this saying is returning to the “top,” which references the top of a music sheet where the notes would begin. The only real time that this phrase would appear would be during a live performance or amidst a practice with a band that plays the sort of songs that don’t have a clear run time.


Jazz definitely serves itself to folk expression because of the collaborative nature of the music. Call outs like this connect the band into a collective consciousness that allows them to move as a uniform organism. The call out to loop the song also greatly relies on reading the audience for when the energy in the room wants the song to continue, versus wanting it to end.

Kicking the Lightpost – USC Band Tradition

“So the band has a tradition of, every time we march to the football stadium–the Coliseum–for games, everyone has to kick the bottom of the light pole as we are leaving campus for good luck. Then, we also kick it on our way back on [campus] after the game.

If we win the football game, we always play ‘Conquest’ at Tommy Trojan as, like, a celebration.”

Context: The informant, EK, is a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band (also called Spirit of Troy), and specifically part of the drum line of the band. We were having a discussion about some of the strange and somewhat rituals that the band does on game days (football) and how they affect the outcome of the games. EK feels an obligation to participate in this ritual as she is a member of the band, and fears the consequences of not participating in the tradition as it is a highly ingrained belief in the student group. The band, according to EK, relies heavily on many superstitions and traditions in order to ensure the success of the USC football team.

Analysis: For the informant, this ritual is extremely important for the band and to ensure a good outcome for the football game that they will be performing in. In this manner, this ritual is a demonstration of folk belief and superstition and how it supposedly affects the outcome of events that can be seemingly out of our hands. With this superstition, this group of performers can have a level of control over an unpredictable event.

There is also a participatory context for this superstition. If you do not participate in this ritual and kick the light pole, then if the football team loses, the band can blame the person who didn’t kick the pole. In a way, knowing and participating in the superstitions of the marching band is a way to figure out who is a member, and who is an outsider. Due to this, if you choose not to participate, or merely forget, your band members will see you as someone who is not really a member of that group anymore, and only after you resume your participation in that ritual can one resume their membership. This is mirrored in many other societal groups, from firefighters to physicians to USC students. Particular superstitions and customs are defining components of culture, and the groups that perform them claim them as a piece of their identity.