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Lessons from an unlikely place: 40+ years of playing the tuba

I didn’t start with the tuba. I played the trumpet throughout elementary and middle school. But when I got to high school, I wanted to try something different. My band teacher said they needed a tuba player. That was definitely different. I said yes right away.

I played tuba all through college and medical school, and I still play today. I’m part of a community band called the Minnesota Freedom Band. It’s mostly made up of volunteer musicians who are LGBTQ+ but all are welcome. We most recently played at the Pride Parade in Minneapolis.

The tuba is more than just a big brass instrument. Throughout my life, it’s helped me meet people and feel part of a community. It’s also helped me in my professional life to understand and explain what kind of leader I want to be.   

For many years, I played in a brass quintet which is usually made up of two trumpets, a trombone, a French horn and a tuba. There’s no conductor. Instead, we sit in a semi-circle with the tuba player in the middle. The tuba player looks to see that everyone is on the same page of music. The tuba player plays a note, which the other players adjust to, making sure everyone is in tune. Once we start playing, the tuba is playing the downbeats, setting the tempo. The tuba rarely has the solo. It’s not front and center, but it has an important role in unifying and supporting the other players. It sets the tone and the tempo, keeping everyone on track.  

Minnesota Freedom Band
The Minnesota Freedom Band at the 2023 Twin Cities Pride celebration. I’m in the back left, one of two tuba players.

The tuba and leadership

Marc holding tuba
At a Tuba Christmas

During my job interview at Children’s Minnesota several years ago, someone asked me to describe my leadership style. I explained how my role as tuba player in a brass quintet is very similar to how I approach my role as a leader. As CEO of Children’s Minnesota, my job is to set the tone and tempo, make sure we’re all on the same page and then let people do what they do best. I can’t play the trombone or the French horn, but I can support those who do by making sure we’re unified, moving in the same direction, working toward achieving the same goals.

Several years ago, I got the chance to play the tuba a few times at our Children’s Minnesota Minneapolis hospital, performing in a “Tuba Christmas. That’s when a bunch of tuba players gather together to play Christmas songs. We haven’t been back since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but I hope we can do it again soon  because you haven’t fully lived until you’ve heard 500 tubas play Silent Night. 

Marc Gorelick, president and CEO

Marc Gorelick, MD
President, chief executive officer

Marc Gorelick, MD, is the president and chief executive officer (CEO) at Children's Minnesota. He is deeply committed to advocacy issues that impact children's health, sustainability and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Julianna Olsen