Born for the horn

Young Island tuba player aspires to perform alongside the best musicians in the world.

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Mateo Darack began playing the tuba when he was at Tisbury School. - Lexi Pline

When fourth grade students at the Tisbury School were asked to choose an instrument to learn for their music class, Mateo Darack gravitated toward the baritone horn because he said it had the coolest name.

He switched over to the tuba in fifth grade, and despite its immense size, he hasn’t put it down since.

Now a ninth grader at Falmouth Academy (FA), Mateo has achieved national recognition as a tuba player in both the New England Conservatory Youth Orchestra and the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra (BYSO), and is opting to play with the BYSO Repertory Orchestra. 

Mateo said the journey that has unfolded since he first picked up a brass instrument has been one of trial and triumph, and explained how his past experiences have informed his plans going forward.

“It’s not easy to play the tuba, because there is only one tuba per orchestra. You really need to be the best, and stand out as much as you can,” Mateo said. 

According to Mateo, the tuba is a largely misunderstood instrument, and people often mischaracterize its importance and role in a large orchestra or concert band.

“People say the tuba only plays the baseline. It definitely does play the baseline, but it has so many roles,” Mateo said. “It has an incredible range of sounds, and can play many different roles.”

Mateo told a story of one prolific teacher he met at a band camp who played the tuba in a rock band, and specialized in rock tuba. “You can play all types of music with [the tuba]. You can play classical music, rock, jazz — pretty much any genre you can think of,” Mateo said.

But Mateo said he likes to fill some of the tuba’s more classic roles in school bands, and even the Vineyard Haven Town Band.

After switching to the tuba in fifth grade, Mateo took private lessons with Julie Schilling, who directs the Vineyard Haven Town Band. It wasn’t long before Mateo joined the group and played with them every summer. 

In seventh grade, Mateo enrolled at FA, and began playing in the advanced instrumental ensemble. He then started taking lessons with the former principal trumpeter for the Cape Symphony Orchestra, Phil Hague.

The Cape Youth Orchestra was looking for a tuba player, and FA music director George Scharr thought Mateo might be the perfect fit. Mateo played with the orchestra for 18 months, and solidified his love for orchestral performing.

Since being accepted to play with the BYSO Repertory Orchestra, Mateo has commuted from Martha’s Vineyard to Newton South High School every Sunday for a five-hour practice.

“It’s a lot of time practicing and rehearsing, both alone and with the rest of the orchestra. I would say I practice for about 12 to 15 hours every week — sometimes even more if there is a concert coming up,” Mateo said.

One of the biggest challenges Mateo said he has to overcome every day is the sheer size of the instrument. “It really is big and heavy, so it’s tough to carry it around places. This is the small, soft case that I have it in now,” Mateo said. “The other hard case I have is huge; it’s the size of my sister.”

One of the ongoing jokes that Mateo said isn’t as original as some might think pokes fun at the size of the carrying case. “People always ask me, ‘Do you have any bodies in there?’ and I always tell them that’s not the first time I’ve heard that one,” Mateo said.

In the future, Mateo said, he hopes to be a professional tuba player, and his determination and love for the instrument is what will get him to that point.

“There have already been a lot of challenges, and I know there will be more. But I am ready to do whatever it takes to overcome those challenges,” Mateo said.

Eventually, Mateo said, he hopes to move up to performing with the premier Boston Symphony Orchestra, a goal he enthusiastically set for himself after being accepted into the youth version of the orchestra.

When he establishes his reputation playing the tuba, Mateo said he might teach private lessons for young aspiring musicians.

“I really love the instrument, and being a part of an orchestra makes me feel like I’m contributing to something really important,” Mateo said.

Mateo’s father, Adam Darack, said he is proud to see his son pursuing his passion and excelling at what he loves. “You should always support your kids when they are spending time doing what they are excited and passionate about,” Darack said. “Whether it’s skating at the Ice Arena, painting after school in the art room, or practicing the tuba, encouraging your child to do what they love is so important.”