COOS BAY — It’s 8 p.m. and the sound of a tuba rings out from the front steps at Ralph Mohr’s house on Ferguson Avenue.
This particular night is a Thursday, but it could be any night — for more than 100 days in a row save one when Mohr was out of town. Neighbors come out into the street or onto their own porches to listen.
What started on April 21 when Mohr played “Taps” as a tribute to victims of the coronavirus has continued as the death toll from the pandemic has mounted.
“It started with a disgust of how the coronavirus was being handled and all the people dying in April,” Mohr said.
But while “Taps” is generally a somber tune, the nightly tradition has grown into much more.
Each evening, Mohr plays another song before closing with taps.
On this Thursday it was “Simple Gifts,” but on other nights it has been a variety of tunes ranging from children’s songs — two kids across the street come out with their mom nearly every night — to classic patriotic tunes — his first song was “America the Beautiful” — to “Happy Birthday.” Some are chosen by request of the various neighbors, which is how “Mary Had a Little Lamb” joined the collection of 15 or 20 songs Mohr has played.
As Mohr’s tuba projected the sounds of “Simple Gifts,” neighbor Eva Reese sang along.
“I come out every night,” said Eva, who stood with her husband, Jeff. “I love to sing with whatever he is playing.”
What Mohr didn’t know was how special that tune, played for the first time, was to his neighbors.
“I sang it at my father’s funeral,” Eva said.
Mohr originally planned to play at Sunset every night, but as the summer days got longer and he realized neighboring children go to bed before Sunset, he settled on 8 p.m.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Eva said. “It marks the day and makes this time special instead of dreadful. It gets neighbors out of their houses. It feels neighborly.”
Indeed, it’s not uncommon for neighbors to clap at the end of the nightly tunes or to vocally thank Mohr for his playing.
Like Eva, he likes that it helps foster community spirit.
“I consider it any more part of the neighborhood,” he said.
Before April, Mohr hadn’t played his tuba in about two decades. He purchased this particular instrument, a Besson tuba, when he was in community college in California in 1965 for $710, which was a lot of money back then (the specific brand costs more than twice that much today). He likes the model because the bell of the instrument projects the sound outward instead of up.
And following college, he played in community bands, including at Southwestern Oregon Community College under the direction of Frank Leuck and Bob Gillette.
Starting back up wasn’t easy, as any former brass instrument player knows.
“It’s taken a while to get the lips back,” he said.
But now he warms up for a few minutes in the house and then moves out to a nook at the top of the steps, where he has a music stand set up with that night’s selection and a chair to sit on.
And the music rings out.
“I chose (the nook) because of the sound quality,” Mohr said. “They can here it down on Anderson.”
And they enjoy it up and down the street.
“Ralph is delightful,” Eva Reese said.