The White Plains High School sophomore calls it a natural fit.
“Part of it is that I can just actually lug it around,” McKinney said. “You have to have a bigger face to play an instrument with a bigger mouthpiece. For a lot of people it feels like a bowl.”
Not everyone can play the tuba, and not many can play it as well as McKinney, who is just one of nine high school tuba players who will play as part of the National Association for Music Education’s All-National Honor Concert Band next week in Nashville.
“When I heard that, I said ‘No, you’re pulling my leg,’” said McKinney from the band room at White Plains High on Wednesday. In the seventh grade, McKinney played for the all-state band, and became first-chair tuba player in the eighth grade. He repeated the honor as a freshman, and in his first year of eligibility, he made all national honors.
Approximately 600 students from across the country are selected each year to participate in the four national honors bands.
Students selected for the All-National band play “remarkably challenging music,” according to a press release from the organization. They will be conducted by Dr. Peter Boonshaft, Miriam Burns, Rollo Dilworth, and Rodney Whitaker – four of the most prominent conductors in the United States, according to the release.
Challenging pieces are what McKinney said he likes to play the most. The more technical, the better, he said.
“I like fast, hard songs,” McKinney said, citing the band Yes, and other progressive rock music as the kind he would like to one day play on the decidedly non-rock tuba. “I’m not that good yet, but that’s my goal.”
Wendy Etter, the band director at White Plains, said McKinney’s proficiency on the tuba has raised the bar for other students in the program.
“The tuba has that bass sound that sets the foundation for the band,” Etter said. “Ryan is very good, and he sets an expectation level very high for other students.”
And McKinney sets a high standard for himself as well, Etter said. Since last year, the teacher said, McKinney had been bugging her to have a marching band show comprised of all video-game theme songs, including Super Mario Brothers and Pac-Man.
“I told him if you make all-state as freshman, and you bring a friend, so someone else representing White Plains, I’ll do the show,” Etter said. “And of course he did it. So I’m keeping my promise.”
Besides playing his favorite video game tunes, McKinney has also become a composer himself. Etter said he’s formed his own brass ensemble that performs original material at school concerts.
“As a teacher it’s great to have students who are so self-motivated,” Etter said.
McKinney said he isn’t sure what his future holds, but said he’s thinking about going to college to major in a music-related field.
“It’s very possible,” he said.
McKinney will perform at the gala concert in the Presidential Ballroom of the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville on Oct. 30.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.