The V&E Simonetti Historic Tuba Collection in Durham, N.C., is the result of an obsession that grew one oompah-pah at a time.
Vincent Simonetti started playing tuba in high school in the 1950s — and it was love at first puff.
"And I would draw it in study hall. I'd draw pictures of it. I don't know why. I just became obsessed with it," he says.
He and his wife, Ethel, used to run a tuba exchange that sold sousaphones, euphoniums and other members of the tuba family to high school bands. Now that they're retired, they've converted a house into a home to almost 300 tubas. The collection fills five rooms.
He says the tuba we know and love was invented in Germany in 1835. "I have one almost exactly identical to that first tuba from 1845," he says.
To hear the sounds that come out of this tuba — as well as others in the V&E Simonetti Historic Tuba Collection — click the play button above.
Morning Edition is visiting unsung museums all across the county, those little-known but ridiculously interesting gems you're glad you stumbled across.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
OK. This summer, we have been exploring obscure collections and hidden treasures, places we like to call unsung museums.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GREENE: Today, a museum that is more than capable of tooting its own horn.
(SOUNDBITE OF TUBA)
GREENE: That is the sound of one of the exhibits in the tuba museum in Durham, N.C.
VINCENT SIMONETTI: We have five rooms in this building filled with instruments and we're up to almost 300. Uh oh, it looks like we have some guests coming into the museum. Hi, folks, come in.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Hi.
V SIMONETTI: Welcome to the Vincent Ethel Historic Tuba Collection.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Vincent and Ethel Simonetti used to sell tubas to school bands. They're retired now, and they've turned their instrument collection into a tuba museum. Vincent Simonetti says the tuba we know and love today was invented in Germany in 1835.
V SIMONETTI: I have one almost exactly identical to that first tuba from 1845. I can try to get my son John to play it.
JOHN SIMONETTI: (Playing tuba).
V SIMONETTI: Yeah, the valves are dry. They're not functioning.
J SIMONETTI: (Playing tuba).
GREENE: You probably have an image of a tuba. You think it's really big. Well, get this - over the years, tubas have gotten bigger, and the sound has grown deeper. Simonetti says if you uncoil a tuba from the 1800s, it would be about 12 feet long. Modern instruments are longer and capable of playing much lower notes.
V SIMONETTI: Now, this instrument was made in Germany in 1984. It's one of the finest of its type.
J SIMONETTI: (Playing tuba).
V SIMONETTI: That last note is called the fundamental, which is the lowest note you can play on the instrument. The particulars from what John is playing is 17 and a half feet long, and that's why you get that big, full sound.
MONTAGNE: Simonetti himself started playing tuba in high school in the 1950s, and it was love at first puff.
V SIMONETTI: And I would draw it in study hall draw. I would draw pictures of it. I don't know why. I just became obsessed with it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OOM-PAH-PAH")
MONTAGNE: An obsession that grew one oom-pah-pah at a time. Vincent Simonetti spoke to us over Skype from his tuba museum in Durham, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.