“An Instrument of Chaos:” Ethan Tubb and his Banjo

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If you happen to be passing by the lawn between Miller and Hightower in the early morning or at lunch break on a sunny Friday, you might hear the twanging of the banjo coming from one of the benches. There are only a few known banjo players at school: Father Tim Sean Youmans, Mr. Larry Moore, and now Ethan Tubb.

Ethan Tubb (’24) brings his banjo to school every so often to play in his down time. “It’s very loud for an acoustic instrument, and there’s really no ‘right way’ to play [the banjo] as I’ve been told, and I play the wrong way if there is one.” Calling the banjo an “instrument of chaos,” Ethan only recently started playing as he began learning a couple of weeks before the school year started, getting into it when a) he was “extremely bored” and b) he realized some of his favorite musicians played the banjo in many of their most well-known songs. When he started out, he borrowed Father Youmans’ spare banjo, but for Christmas, he was gifted his own banjo by his parents.

Ethan initially started bringing his banjo to school every couple of Fridays as he “didn’t have fitness in the afternoon, so it wasn’t a pain to carry around too much,” and because he thought it would be funny. Tubbs says “I never thought of it as a performance thing; I just wanted to play it,” comparing it to learning to pick locks in the sixth grade. “I needed the practice, so I decided to practice at school.” He claims to have no favorite songs to play, as there are many different types of ways to play the banjo, he plays in a loose form of clawhammer style, and most songs that include the banjo are played in bluegrass style.

Not intending for it to become a recognized thing, he said “I never thought it would be something I was remembered for, as with most of the things I do.” The banjo is among many of the unique hobbies Ethan does in his free time, along with blacksmithing, lock picking, and raising his pet duck, Dot.

“Dot doesn’t really like to listen to me play; she prefers to listen to soft classical music. She’ll tolerate it, though,” he explained about his duck’s listening preferences, and went on to say that she would waddle away angrily if he played for prolonged periods of time. Ethan first got Dot in the beginning of the year in seventh grade, after a long and hard campaign backed by his peers against his parents, including a successful persuasive essay on the merits of owning a pet duck.

Before Dot, Ethan was a successful amateaur lock picker, often fiddling with handcuffs and a shiv in his free time. “Nothing I really do is a ‘hobby.’ Just an obsession that I dig really deeply into for extended amounts of time.” From handcuffs and shivs to paperclips and padlocks, Ethan practiced picking locks for about a year before a new love came along: blacksmithing.

Ethan first discovered blacksmithing as he does with most of his interests: a YouTube rabbit-hole late at night. Over the course of a year, he went to multiple conventions and blacksmithing gatherings, and he always had a fun fact to share about the craft. He once even observed that molten metal had a “sticky, glue-like texture” after his forge tongs hit a piece of superheated metal. As the lockdown started last year, his forge was always up and firing away, the sound of a ringing hammer never foreign to his neighborhood. 

From a duck to locks to smithing, Ethan’s interests remain random and varied. Now, he adds the banjo to the long list of his passion projects. Most importantly, when asked if he would be willing to play “Dueling Banjos” with Father Youmans should the opportunity present itself, his answer was an unhesitant yes. As the weather moves away from what feels like sub-zero temperatures by the lake, I’m confident in the fact that for many more mornings to come, we will hear the twanging of Ethan Tubb’s banjo playing for all to hear.