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Never mind 76 trombones. The Land O'Lakes High School marching band needs four new tubas. But tubas don't come cheap, and the band needs a lot of financial oomph for a little oom-pah.

When I heard about the plight of the Land O'Lakes High School marching band, what with its tubas falling apart without money to replace them, I decided I'd try to help the band find a good deal.

How hard could it be, I figured, to find four tubas cheap?

Pretty hard, actually.

I called pawn shops. You can find Nintendo, power tools, electric guitars and VCRs. But a tuba? Don't count on it. And four tubas? Forget it.

The problem, folks say, is that the tuba just isn't a particularly popular instrument, especially where cost is concerned. Parents may not mind shelling out a few hundred dollars for a clarinet, but tubas can cost as much as a year's tuition in a state college.

I called several music stores in Tampa. One, Cutro's, actually sells tubas, but does not keep them in stock. You can, however, have them ordered, store worker Lynn Cleland tells me.

So, I asked Lynn, just how much does your basic oom-pah tuba cost?

"What kind of tuba are they looking for?" she asked back.

What kind of tuba? I'm a veteran of junior high school marching band (I played the flute, or at least pretended to), but I never realized there were different varieties of tuba, which I had always regarded as one of the dullest instruments.

They've got tubas with three valves and four valves. The more valves, the greater the range.

They come in nickel, silver and brass.

Do you want double E-flats, double B-flats or double C-flats?

Maybe you're after a fluegelhorn or a sousaphone.

I was overwhelmed. I had no idea. So, I called band director Kim Bondi. I'm trying to help, I told her, but I'm clueless.

The marching band, she tells me, wants four silver, three-valve Yamaha sousaphones.

Bringe Music in St. Petersburg has told the band it could get those for about $4,000 apiece.

Marsha Jones, proprietor of Happy Tunes in the Pasco side of Lutz, wants to keep that business local. However, she doesn't keep tubas in stock, either. She usually orders them from Bringe.

No matter who provides the tubas, they won't be cheap.

The School Board whacked the band's funding for new instruments. The boosters' annual budget is about $31,000 and covers travel expenses for competitions and other band trips, such as to march in parades at Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Florida.

Last year, the club bought new professional snare drums which, as you may well imagine, are much easier to find (and cheaper) than new tubas. The tubas the marching band has are 10 years old. They're falling apart.

"By themselves, there's not a lot they can do," boosters president Donna Berringer said of tubas in general, "but they keep the beat of the band and hold it together."

The kids in the band turned into street musicians last week and played a concert at Wal-Mart in Land O'Lakes to raise money and awareness about their plight. The company is expected to present a check to the boosters soon, but an exact amount could not be determined before the Central Times went to press.

The Lutz-Land O'Lakes Woman's Club heard about the band's problem and has contributed some cash to the cause.

Want to help?

Here's where to send donations:

Land O'Lakes Band Boosters

P.O. Box 1928

Land O'Lakes, FL 34639.

If you have a story tip, you can reach Wes Platt at 996-1534 or on CompuServe, user number 75543,1764.