The Recreational Musician San Francisco’s Lucky Octogenarian Tubist

The Recreational Musician Hank Niebolt with John Griffith

San Francisco’s Lucky Octogenarian Tubist

Hank Niebolt is a very active 83-year-old tuba player. This is what he had to say about his many years of playing experience and the Golden Gate Park Band.

I am lucky! In 1961 I wanted to play in the Golden Gate Park Band. I knew the conductor Ralph Murray played tuba with the San Francisco Symphony so I went to the symphony rehearsal and talked with him after the rehearsal. I told him I played the tuba and I wanted to play in the Golden Gate Park Band. I asked him if he had any openings. He told me he didn’t have any openings, but he asked me to give him my phone number. Two weeks later he called me on a Saturday night and asked me if I would play with the band on Sunday. I had a borrowed sousaphone then and went to the 10:45 am rehearsal at a building two miles away from the park and then played the concert that afternoon at 1:00. After the concert I went up to Ralph and I asked him if he would need me next Sunday. He said, “I will need you next Sunday and every Sunday until I tell you I don’t need you anymore.” Fifty-two years later I am still playing with the band.

The band had three tuba players then. The other two died and now there is only me. Back then, we were scheduled to play 52 weeks a year but the schedule was usually narrowed down to about 42 weeks with cancellations because of rain or cold weather. Now we play each Sunday from late April to early October.

Much later I bought Ralph Murray’s tuba. I still have it. I own five tubas. I used to play my modified CC Meinl Weston with a bell-front Miraphone bell. Without the bell-front bell there was a danger of the sound hitting the wrong location on the shell wall behind me and being distorted. I weighed that Meinl Weston modified with a Miraphone bell; it weighed 35 pounds and the bell front made it top-heavy. I don’t have the breath I used to have and the top heaviness of the bell-front made it hard to handle. I have to climb seven steps to get into the band shell and I was afraid of falling with it.

I now play a CC Miraphone tuba for classical music rather than the modified CC Meinl Weston-Miraphone tuba. I play an Alexander F tuba for the light stuff like show tunes and musicals. The tall bell on the CC Miraphone tuba, when properly positioned, gives me resonance when I need to be heard above the percussion. I am always backed up by an electric bass.

I drive to rehearsal in my four-door Buick and I set both tubas, my CC Miraphone and my F Alexander, on the floor in the back seat, one on each side. They fit nicely. I arrive there at 10:30 am. I keep my equipment, my cushion, my tools, a four wheeled folding shopping cart for wheeling the tubas in, and the “pegs” I attach to the bows of the tuba, in the trunk. The length of the pegs allow me to sit comfortably on my cushion with the tuba in front of me and the mouthpiece directly in front of my face so I don’t have to lean forward, bend my head or lower my chin. My breathing is free and unobstructed. I also wear special music glasses when I play. I unload everything and head into the rehearsal hall.

After the rehearsal I know what music we will be playing. I then reload the equipment back into my Buick, drive two miles to the shell, park, and once again take everything inside. I usually have to carry in both tubas. I rush to get into my position in the upper corner, stage left, early to avoid climbing over the three trombone players. I warm up and tune.


Golden Gate Park Band

The Golden Gate Park Band is a labor of love for me. I need to get out of the house. My wife died seven years ago and I live with my Boston terrier Darlin’. My studio is in the basement and Darlin’ lies at my feet each day when I practice.

I am an alumnus of San Francisco State University and I play in their band and low brass ensemble on Tuesday and Thursday. I enjoy playing with the college kids and it seems my age and my passion for playing amazes them. I hope when they are my age they will still be playing and realize how lucky they are. Monday evenings I play in another band. Wednesday I play in still another band. On Friday I play in a band close to home. I am lucky!

I am a retired 4th grade teacher and school librarian. I used to play Pictures at an Exhibition for my students and have them draw pictures for each movement as they listened to the music. I have been practicing that tuba slur in Pictures. I have it!

This photo was taken in my old uniform. Before the hard times of 1975 we wore white hats, the black jacket, grey slacks, white shirts, and black ties. Now we wear the red jackets, red hats, black slacks, white shirts, and black ties. In 1975 things were bad and we had to cancel concerts. Then they discovered the Hotel Tax and we were able to continue to play weekly concerts.

The Friends of the Golden Gate Park Band have been helpful with the continuation of GGPB. The Annual Band Festival is great for us and an opportunity for the bands that participate. A lot of people my age just sit. I have to keep moving and getting away from the house. The Golden Gate Park Band reminds me each week I play that I am lucky!

The Golden Gate Park Band

The 131-year-old Golden Gate Park Band boasts of a place in the colorful history of San Francisco. Since its inception in 1882 the band has presented over 5,000 free Sunday concerts to San Francisco residents. With musicians from the American Federation of Musicians, GGPB is primarily funded by San Francisco’s Hotel tax which helps support the arts in San Francisco. The band’s primary venue is the magnificent Spreckels Temple of Music which is a focal point in beautiful Golden Gate Park.

In 2013 the band celebrated Memorial Day weekend, July 4th, and Labor Day with patriotic American music. Concert themes have also included Polish Constitution Day, Armenian Independence Day, Great Concert Band Music, Patriotic American Music, Italian-American Day with Simi Cantori, 7 th annual GGPB two day Band Festival (hosting 10 performing bands), Day at the Circus with Circus Bella, Tribute to Scotland, Tribute from Russia, Way Out West, A Space Odyssey, St. Steven’s Day, Spanish Dance Day, Robert Emmet Day (Irish), All That Jazz, and their Grand Finale: All request!

Programming is the key to Golden Gate Band’s long life and success. The band plays to their audience’s patriotism, musical preferences, and ethnic pride by following the golden rule of performance, “know your audience.” The band is guided by “The Friends of the GGPB (a San Francisco Parks Alliance partner)” which organized in 2006 to ensure that the band continues. The Golden Gate Park Band lives! With the talent and programming of Michael L. Wirgler, its conductor, dedicated professional musicians like Hank Niebolt, octogenarian tubist, Friends of the Golden Gate Park Band, and the loyal San Francisco families who keep coming to its concerts each Sunday, the GGPB will continue to enrich the cultural life of San Francisco for many generations to come.


Festival Tubists!

Caption: Tubists from the 7th annual Golden Gate Park Band’s two-day Band Festival, including Hank Neibolt, Golden Gate Park Band; Stevan Chandler, Woodside Village Band; Keith Galtz, Joseph Alcala, Gottschalk Music Center Concert Band (Modesto); Trevor Clark, Dick Zarcanella, Oroville Community Concert Band; Ray Farley, Larry Mann, Jenni Knight, Amador County Concert Band (Sutter Creek); Hank Neibolt, Ed Andre, Daly City Allstars Concert Band; Bob Bauer, Walter Frey; West County Winds, (San Pablo); Bram Moulton, Jacob Telquist, Brentwood Concert Band; Cody Ng, East Bay Symphonic Band, (Hayward).