'Nothing I can't do' Ability to adapt: At 17, Michael Jones is a talented tuba player who makes an impression -- and not just because he was born without one hand.

March 31, 1996|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Michael Jones knows that audiences tend to remember him -- the 17-year-old Elkridge musician is the tuba player with one arm.

"People say, 'I've seen you before, I've seen you at a concert,' or, 'I've seen you at All-State [Band],' " said Michael, a senior at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, who was born without the lower portion of his left arm.

But like one-handed California Angels pitcher Jim Abbott, the young tuba player isn't about to be limited by the lack of something most people take for granted.

"There's nothing I can't do," said He's the furthest thing from handicapped I've ever seen," Mr. Goldstein said. "The instrument weighs about 20 pounds, and he swings it around like it's a feather."

The young musician began playing the instrument at age 9, faced with the choice of a tuba or a trumpet -- the only two school band instruments playable with one arm. The tuba won out, he said, because "everyone was playing [trumpet], and I didn't feel like following everyone else."

He has studied with Mr. Goldstein since high school, drawing inspiration at times from the example of Arnold Jacobs, famed tuba player with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 47 years, who had only one lung -- thus half the air capacity of an ordinary player.

Recently, Michael had to find a way to overcome his physical limitation when he switched from a B-flat student tuba to a professional key of C tuba.

The C tuba is more demanding in its tuning, which usually is done by moving a slide up and down with the nonplaying hand. To get around that, Michael traveled to Falls Church, Va., where a craftsman shaped the slide on the tuba so that Michael could work it with the thumb on his right hand.

An accomplished player, Michael routinely qualifies for area honor bands, and for the first three years of high school played with the All-State Band. He also has played in orchestras and brass quintets, including 2 1/2 years in the Peabody Brass Quintet.

This fall, Michael and his new tuba will travel in his car with license plates 2BA to Tennessee Technological University -- a school known for its tuba ensemble -- on a partial music scholarship. He wants to major in education, hoping to teach if he doesn't land a position in a studio orchestra making music for movies.

Outside school, he and his friends have formed a brass quintet that plays at weddings and parties.

With loud, deep bass notes at the heart of any tuba player's repertoire, his favorite pieces include "Mars, Bringer of War," from Gustav Holst's "The Planets," and the soundtrack of "Jurassic Park."

"I like to play loud, challenging pieces," Michael said. "The tuba is the foundation. Without the tuba, it would be just a bunch of high instruments."

Pub Date: 3/31/96

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