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Street Sousaphonist Marches His Music Through Watertown Amid Pandemic02:42
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Zack Hickman plays his sousaphone on the streets of Watertown. (Bruce Gellerman/WBUR)
Zack Hickman plays his sousaphone on the streets of Watertown. (Bruce Gellerman/WBUR)

Music can help heal during this time of global health crisis. In Italy, opera stars sing arias from balconies. In Brooklyn, New York, an accordionist entertains neighbors from the stoop of his brownstone.

But nowhere is there anything like the music that comes marching down the streets of Watertown, Massachusetts.

The Sousaphonist

Long before you see Zachariah Hickman, you can hear him coming down the block, the low notes of his instrument carry far. He marches down the middle of the street in the middle of the day.

Zack Hickman is a professional musician who was supposed to be on the road playing bass with singer-songwriter Josh Ritter when the pandemic hit. Hickman headed back to his hometown and turned into a modern-day pied piper pulling curious Watertown neighbors onto their porches, drawing smiles from windows, as he plays his unusual instrument, decorated like a mythic monster.

Zachariah Hickman playing his sousaphone on Galen Street in Watertown, Massachusetts. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
Zachariah Hickman playing his sousaphone on Galen Street in Watertown, Massachusetts. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

"This is Nessie, the world’s only Loch Ness Monster Sousaphone," Hickman says.

Closely related to the tuba, John Philip Sousa designed the sousaphone for marching bands where the player stands inside the instrument.

Hickman's Nessie has big pointy scales running down the spine of the main tube and fire breathing flames painted inside the horn where the "oompa" sounds come out. And he walks Nessie almost daily.

"This is called the parade of one. I try to do a parade for my neighbors to help break up all the monotony, you know," he says. "So I do a couple of hours a day."

This segment aired on April 29, 2020.

Bruce Gellerman Twitter Senior Reporter
Bruce Gellerman is an award-winning journalist and senior correspondent, frequently covering science, business, technology and the environment.

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