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.