Gaining the brass ring

Young musician accepts a big challenge

August 24, 2008|By Shayna Meliker | Shayna Meliker,Shayna.meliker@baltsun.com

Corey Hamilton's tuba is 4 inches wider than he is.

The instrument measures in at 33-by-18 inches, and 10-year-old Hamilton is about 56 inches tall and 14 inches hip-to-hip. The tuba looks as if it's older than its musician, and the sound it makes is easily twice as loud as Corey's speaking voice.

But none of that stopped Corey, a rising fifth-grader at Worthington Elementary School, from learning to play it this summer - so he could fill a much-needed chair in the school band.

"When I started, these notes looked so hard, and I didn't know what buttons to press," the Ellicott City resident said. "I'd just say, when you're playing an instrument, always think that you can do it. Because you can."

Corey first became interested in music two years ago, when he learned to play the recorder in third grade at Fogelsville Elementary in Pennsylvania. He then tried the trumpet - but decided it was too small. That's when he landed on the euphonium, a brass instrument similar to the tuba.

"This is kind of a special instrument, compared to all the other instruments," Corey said. "I get to learn, and it's good to be doing something. It's like a sport - it's challenging."

And all that practice prepared Hamilton for a challenge he probably didn't see coming. Jennifer Cherry, the band instructor at Worthington, asked Corey and his parents if he could learn to play the tuba during the summer. Cherry said she knew he was the right kid to ask.

"He did really well with the euphonium he was playing, and he's a very bright kid," she said. "The tuba is a very integral part of the band. It's very important to have a strong person playing it."

At first, Corey was tempted to decline because he felt he'd have to completely start over with the tuba. But he was up for trying something new - and this was an upgrade in size from the euphonium.

Then came the lessons - Tuesdays and Thursdays every week, 45 minutes each session. And the homework - learning warmups, practicing songs and memorizing entire pieces, like one called "The Beret." He typically practices six hours a week.

Corey attributes much of his success to his instructor, Ben Denne. He said Denne challenges him in his lessons, but that he always shows him what to do and encourages him.

"He did a test on Corey," Corey's mother, Marie, said of Denne. "It was just amazing the amount of air that Corey can move into that instrument. He was so impressed, that kids four or five years older than him can't even move the air that he does."

Corey's dad, Chris, is equally as impressed. He and his wife noticed their son's love for music when he started playing the recorder. Marie felt pressured to play the piano when she was a young girl, so she and her husband didn't want to push their sons to play instruments.

"He works at it, and he enjoys it," Chris Hamilton said. He jokingly complained that it's difficult to take "proud parent" pictures because the tuba is almost as big as his son. "[Corey] likes it, so that's what's important. I think he'll have fun for as long as he wants to play it."

And even at 10 years old, Corey Hamilton is looking ahead. He said he'd like to play love songs in a jazz band when he gets older.

But for now, he is content to play in his living room, clad in a performance outfit of jean shorts and a green, blue and yellow striped shirt. He grips the tuba's music stand between his white-socked feet, playing a song from memory. And even as his fingers stretch to reach the brass keys and strands of light hair linger on his forehead, his eyes stay locked straight ahead.

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