Low Commotion performed recently at the Poland Spring Inn in Poland. From left: 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 Jon Hall of Portland. Submitted photo

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

But when you put together a full band of tuba players, the oompah takes flight.

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

“At last, the tuba gets to play the melody,” Bennett said.

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

Members range in age from 65 to 87. Bennett, 79, is the northernmost resident. Others live in Auburn, Portland, Harpswell, Arundel, Phippsburg, North Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth and Casco.

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Bennett, a retired music professor, has played professionally for decades in Yankee brass bands and Civil War ensembles.

The tuba is his second instrument.

“Most of the time, I played the trombone,” he said. “I played the euphonium in college and kept playing it over the years in various groups.”

The euphonium is the smallest and highest-tone tuba, a tenor English version. Five members of Low Commotion play euphonia. Two others play the e-flat tuba and two play the “monster” b-flat.

Tubas are the largest, lowest-pitched and youngest brass instrument, according to Wikipedia. Their tubing ranges from 12 to 18 feet, three times as long as a trumpet. B-flat is the largest and lowest tuba.

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

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Its orchestra role is “huge,” 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 Commotion is all about fun.

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

The group assembled in 2013. Bennett knew most of the members, “just a group of people who like to play the tuba.” He was asked to come to a rehearsal in Portland. At his second rehearsal, he was asked to direct the ensemble because he had decades of experience.

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

“It kind of came from the group, probably at the first rehearsal,” he said. “We do make a commotion.”

Members of Low Commotion like to open their shows with the rock tune “Locomotion.” They also play Sousa marches, some jazz tunes and polkas. Fitting, since the tuba was invented by two Germans in 1838.

The group does not really have a favorite piece, Bennett said.

“But we always love playing the “12th Street Rag,” an old jazz tune.

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

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“Unfortunately, the places where we do a great deal of performing (senior living centers and veterans’ homes) are still not open because of COVID,” he said. “It’s been a long three years.”

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

If you want 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 stress that even though the group is a little bit older,” Bennett said, “music is an art we can continue to enjoy no matter what age we are.”


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