Mountain-climbing UO grad takes the tuba to new heights

For his adventure climb up Mount Kilimanjaro, Sean Jacob Turner made the usual checklist: Sleeping bag. Tent. Sunglasses. Lip balm. Hiking boots. Tuba in the key of F.

That F might stand for “freezing cold,” because during the eight-hour climb, the UO music school alumnus discovered his horn had entirely frozen. But some warm air blown through the tuba – albeit air that had half the density of his normal breath – warmed it up sufficiently to play “Mighty Oregon” at the 19,000-foot summit.

It wasn’t easy. Not only was the horn frozen, but his hypothermic lips were unresponsive, and, well, he had just climbed one of the world’s tallest mountains. “It was the most physically taxing thing I've ever attempted,” Turner said.

He got the idea after learning that, according to Guinness World Records, there was no existing record for the highest elevation for a freestanding tuba soloist.

He then borrowed a compact travel tuba from his teacher and mentor, UO tuba professor Michael Grose. Turner’s dad, John Turner, a faculty member at Oregon State, was also on the Kilimanjaro climb and filmed the performance.

“So far, no other mountain summits have been made with it,” Turner wrote in an email, “but I'd love to keep doing adventures of a similar nature.”

Turner received full scholarships for his UO undergrad degree and earned his masters from the School of Music and Dance in 2013. He’s now a band director at Whiteaker Middle School in Keizer.

—By George Evano, Marketing Communications