The group All-oompah “finally manages to play the melody”


Low Commotion recently performed at Poland Spring Inn in Poland. Left to right: James Bennett of West Paris, David Rau of Cape Elizabeth, Duncan Webster of Auburn, Roger Guerin of Arundel, Mike Adair of Phippsburg, Carolyn Jones of North Yarmouth, Bob Travis of Casco, Bryan Foster of Harpswell and Portland’s Jon Hall. Photo submitted

In a full orchestra, it can signal terror, tension, even fear.

But when you get a full band of tuba players together, the oompah takes off.

Low Commotion, a nine-member ensemble led by James Bennett of West Paris, plays a range of genres including jazz, marches, rock and polka.

“Finally, the tuba plays the melody,” Bennett said.

The band plays primarily (and usually for free) at senior living centers, veterans homes, churches, and libraries in western and southern Maine.

Members are between 65 and 87 years old. Bennett, 79, is the northernmost resident. Others live in Auburn, Portland, Harpswell, Arundel, Phippsburg, North Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth and Casco.

Bennett, a retired music teacher, played professionally for decades in Yankee marching bands and Civil War ensembles.

The tuba is his second instrument.

“Most of the time I played trombone,” he said. “I played euphonium in college and have continued to play over the years in various bands.”

The euphonium is the smallest and highest pitched tuba, an English tenor version. Five members of Low Commotion play euphony. Two others play the tuba in E flat and two play the “monstrous” B flat.

According to Wikipedia, tubas are the largest, lowest and youngest brass instruments. Their tube ranges from 12 to 18 feet, three times longer than a trumpet. B flat is the largest and lowest pitched tuba.

The tuba (Latin for trumpet) first appeared in the mid-19th century, 200 years after all other brass instruments.

His orchestral role is “enormous”, according to Andrew Cresci of the London Philharmonic.

“We have so many different roles,” he said. “We are often asked to provide the power and depth of an orchestra.”

Some composers, he added, ask tubists to play “in a very scary way”.

But Low Concussion is all about the fun.

“We’re just going to entertain,” Bennett said. “It’s fun, that’s really the reason. We enjoy each other’s company. It can be demanding, but it’s just fun.

The band reunited in 2013. Bennett knew most of the members, “just a bunch of people who like to play tuba.” He was asked to come to a rehearsal in Portland. During his second rehearsal, he was asked to lead the ensemble as he had decades of experience.

The Low Commotion name seemed to evolve on its own, Bennett said.

“It kind of came from the band, probably in the first rehearsal,” he said. “We make noise.”

The members of Low Commotion like to open their concerts with the rock song “Locomotion”. They also play Sousa marches, jazz tunes and polkas. As it should be, since the tuba was invented by two Germans in 1838.

The band doesn’t really have a favorite track, Bennett said.

“But we always like to play the” 12e Street Rag”, an old piece of jazz.

The ensemble played nine or 10 concerts a year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. Things are finally starting to happen again, Bennett said.

“Unfortunately the places where we perform a lot (senior living centers and veterans homes) are still not open due to COVID,” he said. “It’s been three long years.”

The next concert is scheduled for the Auburn Historical Society in late October, Bennett said. He added that the band usually performed a few times during the Christmas season. Check your Sun Journal over the next few weeks for more details.

If you would like to invite the ensemble to perform, contact Bennett at 207-515-1406 or by email at [email protected] He would be happy to hear from you.

“It’s important to emphasize that even though the band is a bit older,” Bennett said, “music is an art that we can continue to enjoy regardless of our age.”

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