Museum of Northwest Colorado: Tuba boy
The Denver Post in past decades often ran small feature stories that featured their Western Slope and Yampa Valley readers. In 1950, a diminutive 8-year-old boy from Craig started playing the double B-flat tuba, an instrument definitely larger than him. Jackie Steffen was the son of June and John Steffen, both musically gifted people with equally talented children. His photograph with his oversized instrument appeared in The Denver Post that year.
Jackie’s mother, June, born and raised in Craig, was part of the Craig High School band during her school years. Daughter of Ralph White, she and her sister Freddie were musically inclined, and after graduating from high school, the two girls went back east to study music at the Chicago Conservatory of Music. It was in the Windy City where June met John Steffen, who was working in a violin store near the conservatory, and the two young people married in September 1935.
Eventually, after a number of years living elsewhere, John and June returned to Craig, where they raised their three children. During that time the children became active with the school band. In an email to Museum of Northwest Colorado staff, Jack reminisced, “I can’t say if the band teacher was short a tuba player, and when asked, my parents said it was OK with them, but I think that is how I became a tuba player. I played it until high school, when I started playing a sousaphone, which is the same instrument, but it can be carried over your shoulder in the marching band.”
“As a family, we played music together — usually at my grandfather’s prodding on Saturday nights. Aunt Freddie played the piano and sang quite well, but since she lived on a ranch in Brown’s Park, she was only there when they happened to come into town for shopping and other things. When she wasn’t there, my grandfather Ralph White could play chords on the piano, and that filled in the music and provided a ‘beat.’ My father played the violin and viola, and my mother played the violin, the bass violin (bass fiddle as we called it) and also was a terrific singer. My sister Billie played the flute, the piano and also sang. My Uncle Charles (White) was also a very good singer and would join us in our family music-making whenever he was in town from Denver. It was a perfect weekend if all three of Ralph White’s children were there to sing and play, with singing being more important than playing.”
The sight of young Jackie with his ungainly tuba must have caught the attention of Craig photographer Shorty Newell, who took photos of Craig people and scenes. His work frequently was published in The Denver Post, and the image of little Jackie Steffen and his huge instrument must have proven irresistible to the Post editorial staff. They published it with a small byline in November 1950.
Jack Steffen left Craig after graduating in 1959 and went on to school in California, then served in the military for 20 years. He never played the tuba or any other instrument after graduating in Craig. He is retired now and lives in Oregon, and he kindly shared his story with us. The Museum of Northwest Colorado loves to hear about and document family stories such as the Steffens’. If you have a photo or story to share, drop by the museum and visit with the staff. You also can visit the museum’s website at http://www.museumnwco.org and see more local history stories. Remember, “Your story” is our story and is “history”!
Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar of the Museum of Northwest Colorado.
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