Tuba Genius?

Sweat drips from faces as the bright stadium lights shine down. Nearly 100 students stand in formation, feeling pulses of adrenaline as they flex their toned muscles. The crowd watches in anticipation. The Marching Band begins their intense half time show, and one particular student’s face breaks into a huge smile as he picks up his unusually large instrument.

Constant discouragements and daily insults of how “they’ll never amount to anything” usually push students away from pursuing sports or extracurriculars. Senior Jacob Higgins overcame early struggles with music to become a tuba master of sorts– the large instrument melts at his touch to play even the most delicate of notes.

Today, Higgins holds “first chair” in the “All County” band, places within the top three “chairs” at the district level, is a member of the Triangle Youth Brass Band and is currently working to raise $14,000 to purchase a premier tuba for his collegiate pursuits.

Higgins grew up in a large household straight from a sitcom– with two full brothers, one half brother, and two step sisters, he often decided to do whatever his oldest brother, engineering student William, was doing.

“I was born and raised in North Carolina. I grew up in a small household until my mom got remarried– then there were seven of us. The house itself is still small. It’s just full,” Higgins said.

Higgins and his family noticed his talent for science and math early on. Dreams of becoming a computer programmer or engineer did not leave much room for musical experimentation. Instead, Higgins spent his childhood developing his “nerdy” side.

“I used to build like model rockets out of scrap parts and made my own natural fuel. I’m possibly the nerdiest person you’ll ever meet. I win regional bowling tournaments. I believe croquet is fun, and I still have a lot of my childhood action figures. I have a croquet set in my closet if you don’t believe me,” Higgins said.

Music was an alien concept to Higgins until the fifth grade. A class trip to the North Carolina Symphony moved him– something about the power of the music commanded his attention, while the complexity of the notes intrigued his challenge-loving brain.

“Jacob is the most hard-working and ambitious person I know. I’ve never seen him give up on anything. I really haven’t,” said Higgins’ girlfriend and fellow band member, Ashley Abernathy.

When Higgins started sixth grade at McGee’s Middle, he enrolled in band classes as fast as he could. He expected to be able to pick up any instrument he wanted and play with ease, figuring that if advanced math came easily to him, reading sheet music would be a breeze. This idea was quickly proven incorrect.

“As a kid, and all the way through the beginning of high school, I was actually really bad musically, and had no idea what was going on. I often got told I wouldn’t amount to anything… I started practicing to prove them wrong,” Higgins said.

Higgins battled through, mastering the tuba by practicing over 30 hours a week.

“Sometimes hours go by without us seeing each other even during band practice because he’s so focused on his tuba. Even outside of school he spends hours practicing and I only see him some days,” Abernathy said.

Unique personalities are encouraged to flourish in fine art extracurriculars like band. Higgins found an outlet for his quirks while meeting students with similar interests. Band students typically choose their instruments with great care, likening the decision to choosing a college or even getting married. Higgins had a different approach.

“Honestly, I picked the tuba because its large. That is the sole reason. Now, I like the range of the tuba. I just wish we had more interesting parts to play, like the French horns.”

An intense extracurricular, band pushes students to the limit. During Marching Band season, members give over nine hours a week to mandatory practices, and compete in all-day tournaments almost every Saturday. Concert Band follows, and has a less intensive schedule of in-school rehearsals and occasional shows. Individual players have the choice to further immerse themselves into the musical world by auditioning for “All County” and “All District” community band organizations.

“Band teaches me time management and dedication– one time, in biology, I told myself I wasn’t allowed to practice tuba until I completed a project. I was motivated to actually do the project quickly and on time because I knew I had to practice,” Higgins said.

Music is now an integral part of Higgins’ life– he could not even think of a time when his brain was completely void of musical thoughts when asked. Higgins plans to use the rest of his life utilizing his talent and pursuing his love.

“I would like to go to either Appalachian State or UNCG because they’re the top music schools in N.C. to major in music composition and music performance and eventually play in a professional orchestra,” Higgins said. “After I complete college, I’d like to get a job as a movie score composer.”