Benjamin Hopkins, who is beginning his senior year at McPherson High School, was selected to play tuba in the National Association for Music Education’s All-National Honor Ensemble for the second year in a row. He is also one of two tuba players in the nation that were chosen to be in the All-National Honor Orchestra.
Last year, Hopkins was first-chair tuba in the Kansas Music Educators Association All-State Honor Band which qualified him to audition for this year’s NAfME All-National Ensembles.
It took Hopkins a while to find an instrument he could connect with.
“I started on piano when I was really young, and then I took up clarinet in fifth grade,” Hopkins said.
After a year of playing clarinet, he switched to bassoon, but again did not find the instrument interesting. After talking to his band director, he was told he had two options — either move up to play more challenging music with an older band or switch instruments again. Hopkins decided to change instruments one last time.
“He kind of threw (the tuba) at me because it’s really important for a band and we didn’t have one,” Hopkins said. “It was really challenging at the start because it was nothing like the clarinet or bassoon.”
Changing from playing wind instruments to a brass instrument took dedicated effort from the high schooler.
“Honestly, I didn’t fall in love with it the first time I played it,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins began debating whether he should quit band and focus on sports. His parents told him he had to participate in band at least through his freshman year in high school, so he kept on practicing his music. It wasn’t long after when he decided to give up a few sports to focus on the tuba.
“The more you practice, the better you get. The better you get, the more fun it is,” Hopkins said. “...I fell in love, not only with the music, but with the people, because everybody in band is nice.”
Hopkins said he now realizes how his instrument is key to the sound of a band.
“In basic music, especially in band music or orchestral music, the general rule is to build from the bottom up when you’re making a sound, so the lows have to be in tune and right, because that’s what makes the chord,” Hopkins said. “...A tuba player, especially in a really young band, keeps them together by keeping them in tune and also keeping time.”
Even though tubas typically are given less to do in orchestras, Hopkins said he appreciates how the instrument contributes to the group’s overall sound.
“What it really does is amplify the orchestra to sound louder and bigger,” Hopkins said. “What I’m doing is changing the sound of the group, when I’m playing, completely, which is a lot of pressure because when I have 10 notes in a piece, I have to play all 10 notes right or else it doesn’t sound as good.”
As his playing improved, Hopkins started to audition for district and state bands and began participating in solo festivals, which led to him auditioning for NAfME during his sophomore year. After only a few years of practicing the tuba, he was surprised when he was chosen to play in the 120-piece national band.
“I was surprised — I think most people were — because I was still just starting to get into it,” Hopkins said. “...It was a crazy, awesome experience.”
This year, Hopkins not only made the NAfME band, but was chosen to play as one of two tubas in the organization’s national orchestra.
“I was really happy I got in again...and realizing I got into orchestra was even cooler for me, because it’s a new thing I’m doing and less people get into it, so it felt like a higher achievement,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins will travel to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. in November to play in the NAfME ensembles.
Back home in Kansas, he plans to continue playing tuba in the McPherson High School band and in a youth orchestra in Wichita before going on to study music in college.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.