Below is an interview I participated in for the International Tuba and Euphonium Association's "Players Project" on its website, reprinted here with permission. To see the interview on the ITEA website, click HERE. To check out the other interviews available as part of the Players Project, click HERE. To go to the ITEA website homepage, click HERE.

 

1. How did you come to begin playing the tuba?
I began studying classical guitar when I was 6 years old, and I was serious enough about it that I attended a music camp during the summer between 6th and 7th grades, also bringing along the baritone horn that I had just started to learn in my middle school band program. At the camp, I heard the student orchestra rehearsing, and was so mesmerized that I attended every one of their rehearsals, observing from the front row. I made the decision then and there - at the age of 11 - that I wanted to be a musician and play in an orchestra. The only problem was I didn't play an orchestral instrument. I decided to switch from baritone horn to tuba, and as soon as I returned home from the camp, I phoned every music store within 150 miles, trying to find a tuba to rent. I couldn't find one, so I used my middle school's sousaphone until later that year, when my parents found a used Yamaha YBB-201 3-valve BBb tuba which they bought for me for $500. I think it was bigger than me at the time.

2. Who were your most influential teachers and how did they affect your development as a musician?
I consider myself extremely lucky to have had a number of great teachers at various times throughout my life. Beginning in 9th grade, my first teacher was Gary Ofenloch (Utah Symphony Orchestra), who at the time was a free-lancer in Boston, and the Tuba Professor at the University of Connecticut (in Storrs, CT, where I grew up). He gave me instruction in basic fundamentals, an appreciation for the importance of a warm-up routine, and - most importantly - the encouragement to pursue a career as a tuba player. When Gary left for Salt Lake City, I began studying with Sam Pilafian, who lived in Boston at the time, and was playing with Empire Brass at the height of their touring years. His excitement about music and tuba playing was contagious, and he seemed to have a background in absolutely every kind of music. He is a true "musical entrepreneur", and I learned from him to never limit my aspirations. For a year during high school, I studied with Chester Schmitz, who at the time was tubist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and from whom I learned about a "big, quality sound". When I attended The Curtis Institute of Music for my formal study, Paul Krzywicki (then of the Philadelphia Orchestra) was my teacher. He instilled in me an understanding of the expectations on a professional orchestral player, and he demanded musical purpose in everything I played. Glenn Dodson (then Principal Trombone in Philadelphia) was also one of my teachers at Curtis, and I learned about good ensemble playing from him in Brass Class and Low-Brass Class. Later, as a young professional, I studied less formally with David Kirk and Floyd Cooley, both of whom helped me a great deal with sound production. And the learning never ends! I have had many colleagues and students over the years who to this day provide me with inspiration and new ideas...

3. How old were you when you won your first full-time position as a performer? With what organization did your performing career begin?
I began playing in the New World Symphony (Miami) when I was 21. That is a pseudo-professional situation for post-graduates. I went directly from there to a one-year position with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and then Principal Tuba with the Sacramento Symphony.

4. How many auditions did you take before you won your first job?
I took my first professional audition when I was 20, and even counting the New World Symphony as my first "job", I had taken at least 10 other auditions by the time I won that spot. And I took MANY more after that. The bottom line is that I always did better when I was as well prepared mentally as I was physically. And in the end, I finally realized that the auditions at which I made the musical performance my primary focus were the ones where I succeeded.

5. Which tuba (or tubas) do you find yourself playing most in the orchestra these days' Has this changed much over the years?
I use the Meinl Weston handmade 6450 (Baer model) CC tuba in the orchestra 90% of the time. I've been using a B&S PT-15 F tuba for 10 years, but I'm actually trying some other F tubas right now. I used to be very "loyal" to my equipment, partly because I wanted to avoid chasing the perfect tuba at the expense of buckling down and learning to play the one I had. But the other side of the coin - which I learned the hard way - is that equipment DOES matter. The fact is that in the finals of an audition, the committee is often very hard pressed to choose between two or more qualified candidates, and it is sometimes a very subtle difference which distinguishes the winner. A few tweaks, a different mouthpiece (and obviously a different horn) can all make a difference in that situation. Eventually I became much more open to experimenting with equipment. Over the years (beginning with my student days) I have played as my primary instrument a Cerveny ("Piggy") CC, an Alexander 163 CC, a B&S PT-6 rotary CC, a Nirschl 6/4 York CC, and now the Meinl Weston 6450.

6. What are the most satisfying aspects of your job in the orchestra?
One thing that is really great about my job is playing with 100 other great musicians every day. It's very satisfying to work with other players who are equally dedicated, intense, and capable. I'm also glad to have a job that provides constant challenge. But the most gratifying element of the job is the opportunity to have a positive impact on the people who come to hear the orchestra play.

7. I'm sure that you are probably in high demand as a teacher in your area- what are your first priorities with your students?
This is hard to answer, because my priorities for each student vary according to each of their needs. But obviously there are certain common threads. I try to work with all my students to help them achieve the highest level of physical efficiency in their playing: the ability to get the best result with the least amount of effort. The most important priority, however, is to have a clear and intense musical purpose in everything you play, and to learn to allow that motivation to drive your development.

8. Do you have any musical experiences that stand out in your mind as being "highlight reel" worthy?
Here's a true story that would have made the news on the Tuba-Channel. When I was in graduate school at Boston University (I was 21), I went to hear the San Francisco Symphony play on tour at Mechanics Hall in Worchester, Massachusetts. My old roommate from Curtis, the late John DiLutis, had just joined the orchestra as Second Trombone. We had dinner before the concert, and then I heard them play Nielsen Symphony #5 on the first half of the concert. Floyd Cooley sounded great. Well, at the intermission, as I was reading through the program book, I looked up to see that John had come into the audience to find me. "Floyd's not feeling well", he explained..."I think you'd better come backstage, we may need you to play!". I went back and spoke with Floyd (whom I'd never met). He had eaten some bad clam chowder for dinner, and he didn't look good, but he thought he would be OK for the second half. I decided to watch the rest of the concert - Dvorak's 8th Symphony - from the balcony. They played the first movement. Then, as you probably know, the tuba does not play again until the fourth movement. As the orchestra played the second movement, I could tell Floyd was feeling worse (he started to fan himself with his music), and after awhile, he got up and left the stage. My hair stood up on the back of my neck, and I quickly found the exit and my way down the stairs to the backstage. Floyd was lying down and said there was no way he could finish the concert...I would have to play for him. He took off his tail-coat, which I put on over my street clothes. He gave me a spare mouthpiece, and I went up to the stage level and waited for the pause between the second and third movements before quietly walking on stage and taking a seat in the empty tuba chair, fitting the mouthpiece into Floyd's tuba. John Engelkes, the bass trombonist, discreetly shook my hand and introduced himself. Then I had the third movement to look over the upcoming fourth movement. The fact is that the part is not difficult, and I had played it several times before, so I was able to enjoy playing with the San Francisco Symphony in what was quite possibly the most last-minute substitution ever! Herbert Blomstedt asked to see me afterwards, and thanked me for helping out and doing a good job. It was a memorable night for an aspiring tubist!

9. What kind of music do you find yourself practicing these days?
I practice a lot of orchestral music, even thought I have "learned" most of it by now. I feel a responsibility to perform each week's PSO program at "recital quality", and I find that I am still able to improve orchestral pieces which I have already played many times before. Recently, I have been practicing a lot more solo literature, on both F and CC tubas. I use my position as a teacher as an opportunity and incentive to learn new music; I try to "shadow" my students and work on the same pieces they are, so that I can be more informed and helpful in their lessons.

10. With a full time symphony orchestra job, how do you organize your daily practice sessions? What is important to you in your practice sessions?
My practice varies a lot from day to day, and depends on what I am doing with the orchestra. On a week with a heavy program, I will be practicing a lot less. And, often my practice off-sets the playing I'm doing that week in the orchestra to make sure I am getting a good balance; for instance, if we are playing a program with a lot of low register, I might concentrate on the high register at home. I am always focusing on fundamentals: long-tones, lip-slurs, mouthpiece-buzzing, register studies, and articulations studies. Because I spend so much time playing orchestral music, I try to regularly spend time on solo literature as well. In general, I'm very disciplined about warming-up and practicing. Sometimes, I have to be careful not to overdo it.

11. What instrument do you really love the sound of?
I've never really thought of it like that; I love the sound that a great musician makes on whatever instrument they're playing. Perhaps the piano is the instrument that astounds me the most; I don't find the basic sound of the piano that interesting, and yet a great artist can create a huge range of colors on it. The instrument I listen to the most in recordings is the human voice; I love listening to a great bass-baritone.

12. What pieces are you always excited to see on the season's schedule? What pieces tend to evoke a groan?
I'm always excited about playing the big romantic works of composers like Mahler, Bruckner, and Prokofiev. There is a lot of great music, and it's also exciting to see a less-often programmed work with a great tuba part (like a Vaughan Williams Symphony, for instance). I'd be lying if I said I don't groan when I see Dvorak's New World Symphony on the schedule.

13. What are your interests away from music?
In addition to my family (which occupies most of my time away from work), I enjoy running, hiking, biking (and other outdoor activities), and photography.

14. If you were not a musician, what do you think that you'd like to do for a living?
If I were to change careers right now, I just might pursue photography. I enjoy it a great deal, and it would be something that could provide a creative outlet similar to music. But if I had not decided on music at a young age, I don't really have any idea what I might have ended up doing. There are a lot of things that interest me, and I'd have to retrace a lot of steps before getting to a place where I could imagine what path I'd have taken instead.

15. If there were one thing that you could change about how people perceive the tuba, what would it be?
To be totally honest, I don't worry too much about how people perceive the tuba. Is that bad?