Kelly Walsh High School junior Nia Garner isn’t ashamed to admit her infatuation with the tuba.
The tuba isn’t the most convenient brass instrument to pick up, literally and figuratively.
Nia, 17, wasn’t even allowed to play the instrument when she started band in fifth grade.
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“I was short, I had no muscles for this, I was about as tall as the instrument,” said Nia.
She played the baritone horn until halfway through sixth grade, when she again asked her band teacher about the tuba.
Her teacher was thrilled, but Nia can’t quite say the same about the school’s tuba at the time.
“It was so bad,” she said. “The valves were in the wrong spot so it wasn’t even making the right sounds, but from the moment I picked it up and played it I loved it.”
Odds are she’ll never have to play a subpar instrument. During the Wyoming Symphony Orchestra’s final season performance in April, Nia was surprised with a brand new professional Eastman tuba.
Each year the Hill Music Company and the WSO choose a student worthy of a new instrument based on written essays.
KWHS orchestra instructor Brent Rose has mentored Nia since sixth grade and helped Hill Music choose her instrument, which was pulled and prepared right off the factory line to present to Nia during the concert.
“If she’s going to get one now, getting her the one she’s going to play forever is really important,” said Rose.
Rose calls Nia a “practice hound,” who tackles any piece of music she’s given.
“This instrument is basically my life,” said Nia. “It’s meant the world to me.”
“It gave me a reason to keep going.”
She needed that reason as the people closest to her struggled with health issues.
“It’s been one right after another,” said Nia.
While Nia was in elementary school, her mother suffered a major stroke. Shortly after that her grandfather died.
Then in middle school her father was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
“I felt like life was throwing all these things at me,” said Nia.
“I didn’t know exactly what to do and I just wanted to stop doing everything…because what’s the point if more bad stuff keeps happening.”
Nia says band and music gave her the support she needed.
“Band became like a second family,” she said.
“It’s a place to keep going and achieving, just playing my instrument makes me happy and makes me forget those things.”
Nia’s mother Nikki has made an impressive recovery, but suffers some complications according to Nia. “She’s amazing,” Nia said.
Her father Bob died from ALS in 2017.
Through it all, Nia’s love of music has never wavered. After she graduates next year, she plans to pursue music education and performance in college.
“She’s a high flyer,” said Rose. “Band is her family, it’s where she spends 90 percent of her time outside of home.”
“When we’ve watched her go through personal struggles, I think that she probably doubled down on her commitment with what she loves, what gives her joy,” said Rose.
“It’s neat to see a kid push through adversity and not just get through it, but succeed maybe in a way most kids never will.”