Meet ONE’s Tuba-Playing Renaissance Man 

After a 46-year hiatus, Gary deBroekert started playing the tuba again.

It all started in middle school in Eugene, Oregon, where he grew up. The music teacher recruited him as he could easily handle the weight of the tuba and had the wind that was required to blow the notes. Turns out, he says, “I loved the tuba and was able to perform well with it.” Gary continued playing through high school and at the University of Oregon, earning his BA in music and then a master’s in music, majoring on the tuba. 

To avoid being drafted, Gary then enlisted in the Army and ended up in Washington, DC as a tuba instructor at the Army/Navy School of Music. When his tour was up, he took his family to Seattle to “become a middle school music teacher and eventually play in the Seattle Symphony.” But after a year, he says he realized “teaching was not for me.”

Gary took up watercolor after retirement and sells his prints online.

Gary then went to work in a local restaurant until Saga Food Service offered him a position as in the Health Care Food Service division. He sold his tubas and wholeheartedly learned the food service industry, working many positions. When Marriott bought Saga out, Gary continued his position with them. “Learning the hotel business was interesting and always challenging,” he said, “from carpets, housekeeping products, to overall hotel requirements, I needed to know it all to perform my position with Marriott.” Gary traveled the Southeast states and retired from Marriott after 32 years.

“Life really began when I retired and moved to St. Petersburg,” says Gary. “And with a push from my wife, I took up playing the tuba again.”

It didn’t take him long to become proficient, playing for the St. Petersburg Community Band, the Pasadena Band, St. Petersburg College Band, the Pinellas Community Orchestra, and for a week in January every year, with the Windjammers, a historical music society dedicated to the preservation of traditional music of the circus.

In his studio at the Clay Center, Gary experiements with different forms.

Never one to quit learning, Gary says, “I started taking watercolor and drawing lessons and was accepted into the Watercolor Society and obtained Signature Status.” He now sells his paintings on the And, while Gary was learning watercolor, he also became interested in clay sculpture. He now has a studio at the Clay Center of St. Petersburg and sells his whimsical creations in their gift shop.

You might think that was enough to keep him busy, but Gary is always looking for something new to do and to learn. He rents a garden plot in the Old Northeast where he plants cabbage and greens and throws in some wildflower seeds now and then to add a little color to the plot. “I’m a dirt nerd,” he jokes, “and love to see plants and vegetables grow.”

Now a widower at 89, Gary fills the days with his art, and gardening, and somehow even finds time to volunteer, helping in the Westminster Palms Gift Shop by setting up displays, repairing things, and freshening up figurines. He’s always willing to lend a helping hand.

Gary has a gardening plot in the Old Northeast where he likes to grow green veggies and the occaisional wildflower.

Music is still Gary’s first love, and he says, “Playing the tuba gives me great satisfaction – seeing the smiles of those in nursing homes and assisted living who for an hour forget their worries and enjoy the music of the groups I play with.” If he has time before concerts, Gary says he likes to walk among the audience and show them his tuba, “explaining how the valves work to make music.”

Bringing a little joy into people’s lives is payment enough for the hour he practices every day and the effort of lugging this big instrument around. “Life has been good to me, and I feel it is now my destiny to share my talent with those I meet,” says Gary. “I will continue to do this until I can’t lift the tuba anymore.”