Summer in the City

Boston

For the twenty-third year in a row, we are teaching at the Atlantic Brass Quintet Seminar, which is being held in Boston at Northeastern University. It is also a special year, because 2015 marks the 30th anniversary of the Atlantic Brass Quintet.

Along with our colleagues in the Triton Brass Quintet and John Faieta, a former founding member of the Atlantic Brass Quintet, we are working with fifty students from across the country as well as students from Canada and Chile. The students from Chili are from the University of Talca and their Professors, Natalie and Alex Young, are alumni of the Atlantic Brass Quintet Seminar. With help from their University, our scholarship fund and an IndiGoGo campaign, they were able to make the trip. On Thursday, the “Tritantic Brass Ensemble” played a recital of music by Gabrieli, Schumann, Prokoviev, Jobim, Brian Thomas and Wes Hopper. The second half of the concert was a jazz jam session featuring both faculty and students. On Friday, the ten student brass quintets gave their first of two performance classes and that did a fantastic job of tackling some very difficult literature.

We are halfway through the seminar and about to enter into our second week. Tonight, our guest artists Sam Pilafian returns and all of us looking forward to his masterclass and breathing gym class. We owe a lot to Sam and the Empire Brass, since they were our mentors and many of us attended and eventually taught at the Empire Brass Quintet Seminar at Boston University Tanglewood Institute.

Two weeks ago, the Atlantic Brass Quintet spent a week rehearsing, performing and recording in New Jersey. We rehearsed and recorded Dmitri Tymoczko‘s “Rube Goldberg Variations” for prepared piano and brass quintet at Princeton University. We premiered it at Rutgers University along with music we have been playing this season. The next day we recorded the Tymoczko piece at Princeton. But with more than a week before the seminar started, I had a “free week” to wander around and visit family and friends.

My free week started with staying with Tim Albright and his family in Croton-on-Hudson. It was great getting to know his wife and son more and on Saturday night I went in with Tim on the commuter train to Times Square to watch the Broadway musicial he is playing in, Amazing Grace. From their website:

AMAZING GRACE is a new original musical based on the awe-inspiring true story behind the world’s most beloved song. A captivating tale of romance, rebellion and redemption, this radiant production follows one man whose incredible journey ignited a historic wave of change.

John Newton (Tony Award® nominee Josh Young), a willful and musically talented young Englishman, faces a future as uncertain as the turning tide. Coming of age as Britain sits atop an international empire of slavery, he finds himself torn between following in the footsteps of his father – a slave trader – or embracing the more compassionate views of his childhood sweetheart (Erin Mackey). Accompanied by his slave, Thomas (Tony Award® winner Chuck Cooper), John embarks on a perilous voyage on the high seas. When that journey finds John in his darkest hour, a transformative moment of self-reckoning inspires a blazing anthem of hope that will finally guide him home.

After that I rented a car and drove to visit my Aunt and cousins in Connecticut, my parents and sister on Cape Cod, my first teacher Jerry Shaw in Middleboro (we played duets!), the parents of a friend in Raynham (I got to see the new Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School), spent some time with Andrew Sorg and got to meet his adorable daughter Charlote, spent some time hanging out with my best friend (since Kindergarden!) Bruce, saw Tower of Power in Lowell, MA, and spent some time in Boston with my brother Kevin. I also caught up with old friends and my sister-in-law. What a week!

It’s always fun spending time in Boston, and this year we have had the pleasure of living in “East Village“, a brand new dormitory on the Northeastern Campus with stunning views of Boston. I’m looking forward to this second week working with these amazing students and our Atlantic Brass Quintet recital on Thursday. We will be premiering a lot of new music, including new arrangements of music by Bach and Mehldau by our newest member, Tom Bergeron, and two works we commissioned – Apex Predators by Catherine Likhuta and Balkan Dances by Kevin Walczyk – in addition to a second performance of Rube Goldberg Variations. The concert is Thursday, August 13th at 7:00pm in Blackman Auditorium at Northeastern University.

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Milnarik Music Initiative Tuba Euphonium Academy

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This week I will be a guest artist at the Milnarik Music Initiative Tuba Euphonium Academy, which is held at Nichols College, in Dudley, MA. Celebrating their eleventh year, the MMI Tuba Euphonium Academy focuses on individual learning and accessibility to the staff and guest artists. The other guest artists this year are Roland Froscher from Switzerland and Donald Palmire from Washington D.C.

I am really looking forward to working with all of the students and artists and especially getting to spend some time with my old friend and former student Mike Milnarik, who is the founder and director of the academy.

On Wednesday, July 8th, I will be giving a masterclass, presenting a clinic entitled “Your Musical Voyage” and playing a solo recital featuring works from my recent recording. Academies like this are great ways for musicians to expand their horizons and for staff and artists to continue to pass on the legacy of music we received from our own teachers.

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Solo Recording Session – January 2015

IMG_4733From January 7th through 9th, I recorded my second solo CD, which will be called “Field Notes: Tuba Music from Iowa”, at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. We recorded there since our new University of Iowa School of Music won’t be opening until Fall 2016 and our interim facilities lack a really great recording space. I played in the ISU Center for Performing Arts Concert Hall a few years ago with the Iowa Brass Quintet and absolutely fell in love with the acoustics. On our recent recital tour leading up to this recording, Alan Huckleberry and I performed her in December of 2014 and were really happy with the sound. We did have a surprise on the first day of the recording when we discovered a recessed lighting fixture in the hall that vibrated sympathetically to loud B-flats and middle C-naturals. We incurred a delay while the problem was fixed but quickly got back on schedule by the end of the first day. We managed to keep a good pace throughout the session, averaging about an hour or recording time for every five minutes of music. Here was our schedule:

Tuesday, January 7th:
9:30 -10:30 am – Arrival, warm up and recording equipment set up.
10:45 – 11:00 am – Soundcheck
11:00 – 3:00 pm  – Delay to resolve lighting fixture buzz (Hello, Jimmy John’s?)
3:15 – 4:00 pm – Recorded I Shall Buy a Black Horse by Jerry Owen ( 3’30”)
4:15 – 7:15 – Recorded Four Paintings by Grant Wood by Barbara York (16′)

Wednesday, January 8th:
10:30 – 11:30 – Warm Up
11:30 – 1:30 – Recorded Sonata en constante evoluçion by Roberto Pintos (12′)
1:30 – 3:00 – Lunch @ Merry Ann’s
3:00 – 5:00 pm – Recorded Theme and Variations (2 tubas and piano) by Jerry Owen (8′)
5:00 – 5:30 pm – Set up and sound check for offstage portion of Intra Muros
5:30 – 7:00 pm – Recorded Intra Muros by Kate Wohlman (9′)

Thursday, January 9th:
10:30 – 11:30 am – Recorded Blue Grace by Claire Sievers (no warm up!)
11:30 – 1:00 pm – Recorded Cheese Spread by John Manning
1:30 – 2:30 – Celebratory lunch at The Rock Restaurant

Overall, the recording session went very well. Despite the intitial buzzing light fixtures, the hall and the piano sounded amazing, and Alan Huckleberry’s playing was impeccable.  The sound engineer, Andy Bove from Bove Audio, is an old friend and has recorded the last few Atlantic Brass Quintet recordings. Along with Andy Rummel, our host at ISU, they served as producers, or “tonemeisters” helping us ensure we covered everything. Andy also played tuba on the Owen trio, which we will be performing, along with Alan at the Midwestern Regional Tuba Euphonium Conference at Bowling Green State University of Ohio in May 2015. Alan and I will also perform I Think I Shall Buy a Black Horse and Four Painting by Grant Wood on that program.

There were some interesting challenges, which I kept track of:

  • I suffered from a really painful ear infection from Dec. 23 to about Jan. 3rd and didn’t play at all during that time.
  • We had below zero weather throughout the recording session, with wind chill factors around -30° F.
  • On the first day, I almost fell down a 10 ft. hill taking a short cut while walking from the parking garage to the Performing Arts Center in the bitter cold.
  • While walking along the shrubs to avoid falling down the hill, I scraped my face and after recording for about two hours, I discovered seven berries from the bush which had fallen into my tuba.

I hope to be able to announce the release of this CD on the Summit Records label later this year. I am very grateful for all of the help I had on this project and will be including these acknowledgements in the liner notes:

  • This recording was made possible with generous support from the University of Iowa’s Office of the Vice President for Research & Economic Development, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and the School of Music.
  • Joseph Kearney, Associate Dean for Research & Infrastructure, and the Arts
  • David Gier, Director, University of Iowa School of Music, Erich Funke Professor, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Administrative Faculty Fellow, Office of the Vice President for Research & Economic Development
  • Dr. Alan Huckleberry, Professor of piano pedagogy and collaborative arts at The University of Iowa
  • Dr. Andrew Rummel, Assistant Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at Illinois State University in Normal, Illinois.
  • Andy Bove, Producer/Audio Engineer at Bove Audio.
  • Tim Schachtschneider, Auditorium Technical Director
  • Jerry Owen, composer
  • Claire Sievers, composer
  • Barbara York, composer
  • Kate Wohlman, composer
  • Roberto Pintos, composer
  • Josh Calkin, Wayne State College, Wayne NE
  • Tom Stein, University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory
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Solo Recital Tour 2014

NEKSIAMOILmapIn preparation for my upcoming recording this January, I have scheduled four recitals in four week in four states.

On November 1st, I gave a masterclass and presented a recital at Wayne State College in Wayne, Nebraska for their annual Octubafest. My former student, Josh Calkin teaches their and on Halloween night, his students presented a studio recital in costume. I had a great time getting to know his students and working with pianist Philip Pfaltzgraff.

On Monday, November 17th, my colleague Alan Huckleberry and I will going to University of Missouri Kansas City Conservatory. I’ll be giving a masterclass and a recital at and am looking forward to seeing Tom Stein again, who was my guest for the University of Iowa OkTUBAfest just a few weeks ago.

On Wednesday, November 19th, Alan and I will be heading to Illinois State University at Normal for a recital in the same hall that we will be recording in this January. Andrew Rummel, our host, will also be joining us onstage for a trio for two tubas and piano composed by Jerry Owen.

Finally, on December 2nd, I will give my solo faculty recital at the University of Iowa School of Music. Alan and I will be joined again by Andy Rummel for the Owen trio “Theme and Variations for Two Tubas and Piano”.

This will all culminate in January 2015, when we record this program for my second solo CD, which will be called: “Field Notes:Tuba Music from Iowa”. The complete program is listed below:

I Shall Buy a Black Horse – Czech folk melody arranged by Jerry Owen

Four Paintings by Grant Wood – by Barbara York. Commissioned by John Manning 2012
I. Stone City, Iowa
II. Young Corn
III. American Gothic
IV. Parson Weem’s Fable

Blue Grace – by Claire Sievers

Intra Muros – by Katharine Wohlman

Cheese Spread – by John Manning

Variations for Two Tubas and Piano – by Jerry Owen

Sonata en evoluçion constante – Roberto Pintos. Commissioned by John Manning in 2013

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OkTUBAfest 2014

image-1Last night we kicked off our annual OkTUBAfest here at the University of Iowa with a fantastic recital by our first guest artist, Dr. David Earll from the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. Dr. Earll presented a preview of his very special program of music by Arizona composers which he is about to present throughout Europe next month.

The program included: Tapestry II for Solo Tuba and Tape by James Demars, Canticle for Unaccompanied Tuba by “Bear” Thomas C. Woodson, Baroque ‘n Brass and Lyri-Tech by Eugene Anderson, Low End by Glenn Hackbarth, and Relentless Grooves: Armenia by Sam Pilafian. The concert was innovative, musical and inspiring and wish Dr. Earl the best of luck on his tour.

Tomorrow, on Saturday, October 25th, will we present our annual “Spooky Tubas” concert at the Coralville Public Library at 1pm. Collegium Tubum will be presenting a program of polkas prior to librarian Sara Glenn reading “Baby Danced the Polka” by Karen Beaumont. This year, I composed a new work called “Horton Hears a Tuba”, which is incidental music to be performed during a reading of “Horton Hears a Who” by Theodor Seuss Geisel. We really enjoy dressing up in costumes and playing for the children each year.

On Sunday night, our second guest artist, Tom Stein from the University of Missouri Kansas City will present a solo recital. The program will be: Arabesque for tuba and euphonium by Joseph Turrin with Randil Jeffreys on euphonium, Sonata (Vox Gabrieli) by Stjepan Sulek, Tuba Concerto by Martin Ellerby, Cascades by Allen Vizzutti, Autumn by John Stevens, and Allegro Fuoco by Roland Szentpali. It promises to be an amazing and impressive program.

On Monday night we conclude our OkTUBAfest with a studio recital featuring students performing solos, duos, a quartet and Collegium Tubum. My students have worked very hard this semester and I am very proud of all of them. Please consider joining us for any of these performances and help us celebrate the tenth anniversary of our University of Iowa OkTUBAfest.

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Music for All

I just returned from a trip to Muncie, Indiana where the Atlantic Brass Quintet played for an audience of 1200 screaming teenagers. It was for the Music for All summer music symposium, which took place at Ball State University’s Emens Auditorium.

We were asked to play a 90-minute program without intermission and to make it interactive; talking to the students and explaining each piece as we went. We also invited to young saxophone players up on stage to join us for a performance of Thelonius Monk’s Blue Monk.

It was a fantastic hall and probably the most energetic and appreciative audiences we have ever performed for. One audience member took a vine video showing their amazing enthusiasm.

Here is a slideshow of some photos I took:

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ITEC 2014 – Bloomington, IN

ITEC2014As usual, ITEC 2014 was an amazing and overwhelming experience, for both me and my students. Sam Pilafian called it a “Love Fest”, and the motto, “Where it all began” refers to the fact the first International Tuba and Euphonium Conference was held at Indiana University in 1973.

I was thrilled to be able to bring my students from the University of Iowa. As Collegium Tubum, they performed brilliantly on the last night of the conference and we were all inspired and entertained all week by the many amazing performances.

Collegium Tubum backstage at ITEC Bloomington

It would be hard to single out any favorite concerts, but of the course the big names like Øystein Baadsvik , Steven Mead, Roland Szentpali and David Childs were all incredible. But, my favorite moments of any conference are when I get to reconnect, even if briefly, with old friends. Getting to say hello once again to my old roommates from the Regina ITEC David Silden and Bart Collins, and old friends and classmates from Boston, Craig Knox and Steve Campbell. I was also very proud to see two of my former students, Dr. Kate Wholman and Dr. Chris Dickey presenting at the conference as well.

ITEC 2014 was also my first visit to Indiana University and Bloomington. The campus was beautiful and impressive and it was very special to be attending a conference that returned to “where it all began”.

One of the most memorable moments involved hearing a performance of David Baker‘s sonata for tuba and string quartet by David Saltzman. The performance was impeccable and musical, and although I have owned the piece for years, I had never heard it performed – not even in a recording. Dr. Baker was in the audience and it was an extra treat to be able to shake his hand after the concert and marvel at this man’s talent.

It was very touching to hear Eduardo Nogueroles’ performance of his original composition Harvey’s Tuba. Harvey spent some time in Spain and had a great influence on Eduardo and his students, and it was even more poignant for Carol Phillips, Harvey’s widow, to hear the performance and reconnect with Eduardo.

The inter-connectivity of our close-knit world is truly remarkable, and one of our strengths is the bond we all share and celebrate every two years at ITEC. My students and I look forward to the regional conferences of 2015 and the next ITEC in Knoxville in 2016.

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Abbie Conant and William Osborne

Abbie Conant in a scene from Miriam

I recently served on the thesis defense committee of Dr. Jessica Butler, whose document is entitled The Creative Identity of Women: An Analysis of Feminist Themes in Select Chamber Music Theater Works by Composer William Osborne for Trombonist Abbie Conant. This document focusses on three works that Osborne wrote especially for Abbie Conant: Winnie, Miriam: The Chair, and Street Scene for the Last Mad Soprano.

Conant was the victim of egregious sexual discrimination by the Munich Philharmonic and endured years of harassment and litigation, ultimately winning her case. Her husband, William Osborne wrote this series of “Chamber Music Theater” compositions for her, and her playing, singing and acting is quite impressive. These visceral works are an artistic reaction to the sexism Conant faced, but highlight the widespread misogyny that is sadly part of our musical heritage. These works make you think, challenge you, inspire you, and strive to make a significant impact on the audience. You can view videos of Conant’s performances on Osborne’s YouTube channel or visit their website.

What strikes me is not just the unique character and power of the performances, but the fact that Conant memorizes 30 minutes of singing, acting, and trombone playing – all done with unbelievable ease.

For more about the story of Conant vs. the orchestra, read Osborne’s article: “You Sound Like a Ladies Orchestra” or the L.A. Times article Trombonist’s Battle Gives ‘Miriam’ a Voice.

They are currently preparing for an upcoming premiere of their new work Alethia in September at University of Victoria hosted by tuba Professor Eugene Dowling.

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Online Tuba Discoveries

Mademoiselle Tuba

I have recently run across a number of interesting tuba and music related things on the internet lately that I thought I would share:

Limelight the “classical music and arts website” from Australia. This online version of the magazine features news, articles, reviews, events, galleries and more.

Not to be confused with the Meridian Arts Ensemble, the Meridian Brass (Quartet) have a very interesting and interactive website. Be sure to check out their new online interactive promo for their new recording “Once Upon a Time” on Prezi. Really cool interface, but I could do without the birds.

Jesse Chavez has a blog called “Longtones: The Pursuit of a Life in Music“. Check out his Sightreading Sundays posts and his posts on practicing with titles like Why Your Degree Title is Wrong and Well Rounded or Specialized?

Another tuba-centric blog is Mademoiselle Tuba maintained by Rachel Matz, principal tuba with the Tallahassee Symphony. Check out her post I’m using my F tuba, and no, I’m not transposing.

Another fun and interesting blog is Sousa Central with the description “Sousaphone and Tuba news, reviews, pictures, interviews and everything.” It’s loaded with photos, videos, and stories all related to tuba.

If you are interested in “BAT” (big ass tubas), check out Barth’s Brass Blog which has posts on his travels with his company Big Mouth Brass.

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New School of Music wins award!

ImageArchitzer recently announced that the Suspended Theatroacoustic System for the new University of Iowa Concert Hall has won their A+ award (celebrating architecture’s relevency) in the fabrication category.

To say we are excited about our new building would be an understatement. Due to open in 2016, the new Voxman School of Music will be a state-of-the-art modern masterpiece uniting once again our faculty staff and students under one roof for the first time since 2008.

View images and information about the new building here at the LMN Architects website. (To scroll through the images, look for the << / >> at the top left of the page.)

Here is a diagram of how the system will work:

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http://www.architizer.com/en_us/projects/view/university-of-iowa-school-of-music-suspended-theatroacoustic-system/50135/#.UVcPMRlAsoN

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Tubas in the News – March 2013 Edition

ImageA great gallery of photos of the “biggest tuba in the world” from the Houston Chron

Check out this story about a Norwegian “Ice Musician” in Turning a Glacier Into A Tuba from NPR.

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Music Class by tuba player and business student Andrew Schwartz from CNN.

Read about the new work by composer Michael Daugherty, Reflections on the Mississippi for Tuba and Orchestra from Broadway World.

 

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Atlantic Brass Quintet Recording

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Last week, the Atlantic Brass Quintet did a recording session at Enlow Hall at Kean University in New Jersey. We recorded a album of jazz and Balkan music that we are very excited about. The title and label of the recording has yet to be determined, but here is the program, in no particular order:

Jazz Set:
Passages by Patrice Caratini (five movements)
Private Music by Dave Douglas (two movements)
Jazz Suite by Dmitri Shostakovich (three movements)
Kopi Luwak by Alan Ferber
Luteous Pangolin by Ben Monder

Balkan Brass Band set with Jon Wikan on percussion:
Bubamara
Sat
Zvonce Kolo
Doise

We’ve been performing this music for a while, so we were thrilled to record it in an amazing hall, and with Andy Bove – a fantastic engineer. With the help of Yelp and our friend Jim Leff, we also visited a few great restaurants and bars in the area. (Sri Ganesh’s Dosa House in Jersey City,  and Coppermine Pub in North Arlington, NJ)

The night before our first day of recording, we were in need of a rehearsal space (since our hotel wouldn’t allow us to rehearse there) and we found Wagon Wheel Rehearsal Studios. If you are ever in the Newark/New York City area looking for a rehearsal space, I’d recommend it.

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Flood Recovery Funding Secured!

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We received some great new today regarding the progress of our plans for our new School of Music. According to this Iowa City Press-Citizen article,

“Federal officials are dropping their opposition to a decision to send million in reconstruction funds to the University of Iowa campus. The Federal Emergency Management Agency had committed funds to rebuild a handful of campus buildings ruined by flooding in 2008. But earlier this year, federal auditors called some of that money into question, saying the projects didn’t qualify for reconstruction support. Wednesday’s announcement ensures those projects will move forward as planned.”

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Alloy Orchestra Plays Nosferatu

Tonight, my wife and I enjoyed a rare night out. We went to the Englert Theatre in Iowa City to watch the Alloy Orchestra perform their original live soundtrack to the classic silent film Nosferatu.

To start the night off, we went to Molly’s Cupcakes in Iowa City. They have a ridiculous variety of flavors, including Boston Cream, Pumpkin Spice, and Peanut Butter Nutella – which we brought home for our daughter. They also serve an impressive array of espresso drinks.Prior to the performance, the staff at the Englert told us that this was the Centennial of the theater and of the many special events being held to celebrate it.

They also recognized their many volunteers and has a very special surprise gift for their head usher, Ken, who just marked his one thousandth show since the theatre’s reopening in 2004. Ken is known for personally greeting every single person who enters the theatre in his tails.  They presented him with a custom-made had and coat, similar to those worn by fancy doorman at expensive hotels. The whole ceremony and community atmosphere of the movie made us feel happy to be part of this city. As a surprise, we were treated to the recently restored colorized version of A Trip to the Moon. Created by Georges Méliès in 1902, this silent classic was the centerpiece of the recent film Hugo. The version we viewed included a recorded soundtrack by the French group “Air”.

Also present were the founders of Film Scene, a local nonprofit “dedicated to enhancing the cultural vitality of the Iowa City area through the presentation and discussion of film as an art form.” They have some exciting plans for the future and are one of the cultural gems of Iowa City.

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More Trouble for America’s Orchestras

Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune

The recent fervor over NFL replacement referees has come to a boil, and in a similar manner, American orchestras are facing labor disputes of their own. Fortunately, the Louisville and Philadelphia Orchestras have (partially) resolved their issues from last year, but the latest news of trouble with the Minnesota and Chicago Symphony Orchestras is alarming.

Here is an excellent article about the Minnesota Orchestra, featuring Steve Campbell, principal tubist. It tells of the players side of the story from one of the more common trends of major orchestras cutting back during troubled financial times.

Orchestra musicians have a big public relations task in this contract fight; justifying their salaries to the public. The state’s median household income is almost $57,000. The average Minnesota Orchestra musician makes $135,000 a year; the guaranteed minimum for the SPCO is almost $74,000.

Steve explains our side of the story; the years of training, the expense, the stress, the disappointment and the dedication required. I understand that the average players pay may be above the state’s median income, but compared to other professions, such as lawyers, doctors, and politicians, I think that the $135K is reasonable – and appropriate to attract and retain world-class musicians.

Here is a follow-up article from September 25th. It speaks of a possible lock-0ut on September 30th. The players are facing a significant pay cut. The chair of the negotiating committee said: “We are having a difficult time understanding a proposal of a 30 to 50 percent pay cut for musicians, while at the same time, building a $50 million lobby (at Orchestra Hall),” I sincerely hope that the situation resolves itself. The last time I heard that orchestra, it was an amazing experience (read about it on the post “Hammer Time!“)

In a few weeks I will return to Louisville KY for the Klezmerfest. Last year the Louisville Symphony went on strike and have come up with at least a one-year solution. I hope that Minnesota doesn’t get to that point. In related news, I was shocked to learn that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra went on strike this past Saturday.

Many things simply boil down to the issue of money, and in the current economic troubles, it is no surprise that organizations are having significant trouble maintaining a bottom line. N0 profession is recession-proof, and musicians have always been told to “have a backup plan”, but to hear that some of the nations top orchestras are having trouble is ominous. I hope the best for these orchestras and their audiences and sincerely wish them luck in resolving their differences. I would hate to see the orchestral version of “replacement refs”.

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“Tuba or Not Tuba” Goes to the DUMBO Festival

Next week, I will be traveling to New York city to perform at the DUMBO Arts Festival . (The acronym stands for Down Under the Manhatten Bridge Overpass, a neighborhood in Brooklyn) I will be performing with dancers in “Tuba or Not Tuba (What is the question?”, which was choreographed by my colleague at the University of Iowa, Charlotte Adams. Two years ago, we performed the work in Santa Monica California at Highways Performance Space.

The work involves some improvising by myself and hornist Erin Vang. We “invade” the dancers space, blasting the dancers offstage, but the work has a surprise ending. Our performance is part of the DUMBO Dance Festival organized by White Wave Dance Company.

If you are interested in attending, the performance is at 9pm on September 29th on the Mainstage at the John Ryan Theater, 25 Jay Street (Enter on John Street) in Brooklyn.

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Tuba or not Tuba goes to DUMBO

Next week, I will be traveling to New York city to perform at the DUMBO Arts Festival . (The acronym stands for Down Under the Manhatten Bridge Overpass, a neighborhood in Brooklyn) I will be performing with dancers in “Tuba or Not Tuba (What is the question?”, which was choreographed by my colleague at the University of Iowa, Charlotte Adams. Two years ago, we performed the work in Santa Monica California at Highways Performance Space.

The work involves some improvising by myself and hornist Erin Vang. We “invade” the dancers space, blasting the dancers offstage, but the work has a surprise ending. Our performance is part of the DUMBO Dance Festival organized by White Wave Dance Company.

If you are interested in attending, the performance is at 9pm on September 29th on the Mainstage at the John Ryan Theater, 25 Jay Street (Enter on John Street) in Brooklyn.

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Random Bits

Here are a bunch of random bits:

Iowa Brass Online
This year, the University of Iowa brass area has created four new online and social media outlets: the Iowa Brass Area Website, a Facebook page, a Google+ page and a Twitter account @UIowaBrass. Check them out!

Droning On
I was recently looking for some kind of tuner app that would play pitches and I discovered these wonderful tuning drones on  Jennifer Cluff ‘s blog. They were originally created by David Valdez for saxophone players. You can download all twelve of them for free and that last for about three minutes and they sound like a combination of a didgeridoo and a sitar. They immediately inspired me to improvise to them, but both Jennifer and David have excellent suggestions on how to utilize them.

Start Making Sense
A student of mine recommended I listen to a new recording by David Byrne and St. Vincent. The recording is called Love This Giant and you can hear the album in its entirety on NPR’s First Listen. In typical Byrne fashion, it’s unique and quirky, but the best part is the horn section. The lines are funky, creative, and minimalistic – but they seem to really drive the entire album, and yes Virginia there is a tuba, and a baritone sax at the bottom of the band.

Clark’s St. Vincent cohort John Congleton, who co-produced 2009’s Actor and 2011’s Strange Mercy, programmed percussion long-distance, emailing files that the pair would pull apart and reconstruct. A few friends came in for overdubs: drummer Anthony LaMarca and percussionist Mauro Refosco, but once the horn parts, arranged mostly by Tony Finno, had been laid down, Byrne and Clark did the rest themselves. Says Byrne, “Often when we could, we didn’t use any bass. The tuba or the baritone sax would do the job of the bass and Annie and I would play guitar. I was more the rhythm guitar guy. And she was the incredible lead guitarist.”

STEW
This summer, two of my students participated in the newly-formed Southeast Tuba Euphonium Workshop (STEW). Held at the University of Georgia, the workshop consists of a week of lessons, master classes and chamber music and the faculty includes Ben Pierce, Demondrae Thurmon and David Zerkel. By all reports, it was a stellar program.

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Atlantic Brass Quintet Seminar Turns 20!

This year marks the 20th Anniversary of the Atlantic Brass Quintet Seminar, and we have just concluded our first of two weeks. We’ve held the seminar at many places; Boston Conservatory, Boston University Tanglewood Institute, University of Massachusetts Amherst, SUNY Buffalo, Boston College, Boston University, and now at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

This year we have eight quintets with students from across the country. Watch the videos below from our first performance class.

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Gene Pokorny Reinvigorates the Vaughan Williams

ImageLast week, Gene Pokorny, principal tubist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, performed the Concerto for Bass Tuba by Ralph Vaughan Williams. In fact, he performed it on four separate concerts; Tuesday, May 15th, Wednesday May 16th, Thursday May 17th, and Saturday May 19th.

Due to the disruption of traffic and security for the NATO Summit in Chicago, the CSO’s Saturday performance took place at the Wentz Concert Hall on the campus of North Central College in Naperville, IL. Getting to hear the CSO is a rare treat for me, although it shouldn’t be, as I live four hours from Chicago. But, getting to hear the Vaughan Williams played by Gene Pokorny – on his CC Contrabass Tuba is possibly a once in a lifetime occurrence.

As luck would have it, the only performance of the four that I could have possibly attended was Saturday’s. I was able to get a seat in the front row, just a few feet from the conductor and where Mr. Pokorny would sit for the concerto. Predictably, it was a fantastic performance, but I was not prepared for how overwhelming and jaw-dropping the concert would be. The Chicago Symphony is arguably one of the finest orchestras in the world, and the conductor for the series, Jaap van Zweden gave a brilliant and fiery performance.

The program commenced with Shostakovich’s moving Chamber Symphony for strings, the Vaughan Williams and on the second half, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. To sit that close to such virtuosic ensemble playing is exhillarating, and when Gene Pokorny took his place in front of me, I felt as if I was about to be launched into outer-space.

The Wentz Concert Hall is an acoustical work of art. Designed by the Talaske Group, and built in 2008, this 617-seat hall looks as gorgeous as it sounds. Since the stage is relatively low, and I was seated in Row A, I almost felt as if I were onstage. My eyeline was level with the principal cellists shins. After the concert, I was even able to grab one of the cellists broken bow hairs he discarded onto the stage floor.

There were several remarkable aspects of Mr. Pokorny’s performance, not the least of which was the fact that he played on the CSO’s large, York CC Contrabass Tuba. He remarked in this interview that he only recently decided to use the York. Although it is the instrument he uses 99% of the time in the orchestra, most performers opt to play on a Basstuba in F or E-flat. Unsurprisingly, his tone was dark, controlled, and rich – but it was never overly loud or so soft that it was unclear. For a man capable of such volume in the context of the entire brass section, Pokorny showed incredible sensitivity and tenderness. Beyond all of this, however, his unique and innovative interpretation to the concerto was what really blew my mind.

Even though all of us tuba players have studied and listened to this work our entire lives, Gene was able to inject a fresh and daring approach to the work. He often used rubato, especially at the very beginning of entrances and endings of phrases. He hinted in his interview that he would be making some octave changes, but I only expected that he would take some of the higher passages down an octave to make them more “user-friendly” on the contrabass tuba. Not only did he generally play the higher octave, but, in some cases, played a few measures up a written octave from the original! On his cadenzas, he actually deviated from the written cadenzas – a tradition generally reserved for classical horn and trumpet concertos. They were tasteful, impressive, and appropriate – and above all patient. He took advantage of the silence, allowed the high notes to resonate in the beautiful hall, and made everyone take notice.

What often separates great brass players from good brass players is the ability to control tone, pitch and response in the softest passages. Pokorny, as I mentioned before, never overplayed a note and always kept a perfect balance between his own sound and the orchestra’s, often fading into the texture when releasing for an orchestral passage. Even the brass section – famous for their ability to play louder than any other – tastefully and artistically executed the most turbulent of entrances.

If they are not already planning on doing so in the near future, the Chicago Symphony should plan on recording this amazing interpretation and preserving it for posterity. It was truly an inspirational and miraculous performance.

UPDATE:
This is an excerpt from a review by Lawrence A. Johnson of the Chicago Classical Review:

The evening’s centerpiece was Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Tuba Concerto. Not played by the orchestra in 34 years, it offered a rare solo opportunity for CSO tubist Gene Pokorny. A member of the orchestra since 1989, Pokorny has long provided yeoman duty in a low-profile role, with an instrument whose presence is felt as often as it is heard.

The 12-minute concerto showcases the tuba’s bumptious and lyrical elements and Pokorny conveyed both delightfully, from his rounded, subterranean low notes to his jazz-like swagger in the cadenza and nimble agility in the finale. The central Romanza is one of VW’s most heart-easing inspirations — a virtual emblem of the English pastoral school— and Pokorny’s playing was as nuanced and expressive as any top-flight violinist or opera singer. The soloist received a hearty, well-deserved ovation from his colleagues as well as the audience. (And any musician who puts in his official bio that he is a card-carrying member of the Three Stooges Fan Club deserves applause.)

 

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Byan Carter Quintet

I recently returned from a very busy period of touring and performing, including trips to Wisconsin, California, Missouri and Kansas. After performing at Truman State, I had the great pleasure of hearing the Bryan Carter Quintet. It was a stellar performance, and it’s always a joy to witness great jazz. All chamber musicians should aspire to that level of communication, balance and expression. Bryan’s talent runs in his family, his father is the legendary jazz bassist Ron Carter.

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Argentina – with Photos

This gallery contains 9 photos.

The 2012 Isla Verde Bronces Festival was a success, and the trip was an adventure. There were over 100 students, and I was honored to be working alongside some amazing faculty. I also made a lot of new friends, learned … Continue reading

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Thomas Leleu, Tubist, Wins the French Grammy

I have to hand it to the French, they are often first. In fashion, food, art, culture, and now the tuba. Thomas Leleu, a 23-year-old tubist from Lille just won the French equivalent to the Grammy’s (Victoires de la Musique Classique 2012) The award was “ Révélation soliste instrumental de l’année ” (which I think means Best New Instrumental Soloist of the Year), and it’s the first time it has been awarded to a tubist. Click here to view a clip from the show, including a performance of the first movement of Convergences by Jean-Phillipe Vanbeselaere. Félicitations Thomas!

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One Month from Argentina

One month from today I will be in Argentina, teaching and performing at the Isla Verde Bronces Festival. I am very excited about the festival, and my first trip ever to South America.

Coincidentally, Bueneos Aires was featured this morning on Rudy Maxa’s World, a travel show on PBS. I always new Buenos Aires was one of the world’s largest cities, but I was surprised to hear it referred to as the “most European city in the Western Hemisphere”. The show also detailed the economic troubles that Argentina faced in the 90’s, and I was pleased to hear that counter-intuitively, the arts not only thrived during that time, but boomed despite, and perhaps in reaction to the country’s economic and political woes. Perhaps this is a lesson for the rest of the world?

Since 2007, the small town of Isla Verde – about 5 hours from Buenos Aires – has hosted this festival. From their website, here are the festival’s aims:

• To offer training, motivation and direction to every person, especially children and young people, that wants to pursue the study of a brass instrument.

• To gain national and international recognition for Isla Verde as annual meeting point for brass musicians, by providing location and artistic resources suitable for training and improvement.

• To promote artistic exchange between the participants of this event.

• To continue organizing this International Brass Festival Isla Verde Bronces as an activity that gives identity to our town.

• To enrich the cultural activities in our town and surrounding areas.

The most exciting aspect, for me, will be performing a brand new work I commissioned from the noted Argentine composer, Roberto Pintos. You can hear some of his compositions on YouTube, including this one, Algo insoluble, featuring Adam Frey on euphonium and Patricio Consentino.

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Tubas in the News – December 2011

New York Times photojournalist Andrea Bruce feature “Portraits of Iraqi Pride“, including this shot of Isra Saadi.

A rash of tuba thefts at Southland high schools from the LA Times.

No record for Disney Tuba Christmas but still fun from the Orange County Register.

Nice article and some good photos from Akron’s Tuba Christmas from Akron.com.

Ben Thomson appointed Principal Tuba of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, from 4barsrest.

University of Iowa’s Holiday Tubas 2011 clip on YouTube and a audio slideshow – it was cold this year!

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Himie Voxman (1912-2011)

Last week, the music world learned of the loss of Himie Voxman, who passed away on November 22nd at the age of 99. For those of you that aren’t familiar with Mr. Voxman, he was a music educator, performer, editor, administrator, and benefactor. He was a major force in the music world, a driving force in the University of Iowa School of Music, and a great friend to musicians everywhere. He has influenced countless musicians and his contributions will be felt for generations. He will be sorely missed. The excerpt below is an excerpt from the Iowa City Press Citizen:

In 1929, Himie enrolled in the University of Iowa chemical engineering program and continued his study of the clarinet, playing in the University band and symphony orchestra and giving private lessons. In 1933, he received a B.S. degree with High Distinction in Chemical Engineering and then began graduate work in the psychology of music under Carl E. Seashore. After completing this M.A program in Psychology, Himie taught music in the Iowa City public schools, including Iowa City High School where he met and married Lois Wilcox, who was the string instrument teacher there. He encouraged his friend Pearl West, who taught woodwinds in Centerville, to move to Iowa City where West subsequently founded West Music, Inc.

Himie was the principal clarinetist in the Quad City Symphony for many years. In 1939 he joined the University of Iowa School of Music and served as its Director from 1954 until his retirement in 1980. During World War II, in addition to his music faculty duties, he taught mathematics in the V-12 US Naval Officer Candidate Program based in the South Quadrangle at the University of Iowa. Following World War II Himie’s substantial archival research in European libraries, sometimes in conjunction with his great friend Charles Eble, brought to light an extensive, invaluable list of previously unpublished 18th and 19th century wind solo and chamber music works, serving as the basis for many of his widely used publications. Selling in the millions, his various publications have met the instructional and professional needs of countless aspiring and professional musicians, young and old.

Voxman has received innumerable awards, citations, and honorary doctorates. Among them are the American Bandmasters Association’s Edwin Frank Goldman Memorial Citation, the University’s Distinguished Alumni Award for Achievement and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

In 1995 the University of Iowa School of Music building was renamed the Voxman Music Building in recognition of Himie’s vast influence in the field of music education.

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Tubas in the News – November 2011 Edition

There have been several news articles about tubas in the news recently. Here are the latest:

• A wonderful feature in the L.A. Times about the popularity of tuba players in Mexican party music. Make sure to check out the included video.

• New York Times article about singer Andrea Marcovicci that mentions the song “When Yuba Plays the Rhumba on the Tuba”

• A story from the Chattanooga Times Free Press about 13-year-old tuba player, Hanna Eitzen.

• A review of Dave Douglas (and tuba player Marcus Rojas’s) new recording of their group Brass Ecstasy.

• An article in the LA Times about Ben Jaffee, of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

• An article from Henley on Thames entitled “Playing the tuba, or how to blow a big rasberry”.

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Dance Gala 2011


I have been collaborating with the Dance department here at the University of Iowa for several years, including providing improvised music for dancers, to performing live music onstage with the dancers. Last year, my colleague Charlotte Adams, choreographed a work that included horn and tuba improvising onstage in a work called “Tuba or Not Tuba”. It was a lot of fun, and challenging in that it was difficult to catch physical clues from dancers while my creative brain was busy improvising. We spent a week in Los Angeles and performed the work several times at Highways Performance Space in Santa Monica.

This year, Charlotte proposed a new collaboration project for the University’s annual Dance Gala, which is a very popular event on campus and showcases the entire Dance department. Charlotte’s new work, “Catch” is a touching and personal expression of her feelings about the loss of her father, and the transition from child to caregiver. Presented in reverse chronological order, the opening scene is meant to convey represent death, and each scene progresses backwards, until the final scene represents a father comforting a crying infant. Other scenes depict catching (both the parent catching the child, and eventually the child catching the parent, both physically and metaphorically); stumbling, and joyful catching.

When we set out to help create the music for this work, we decided to employ more pre-composed and pre-recorded music, and kept improvisation to tonal and blues oriented styles. My partner on horn, Erin Vang, is a multi-talented musician, writer and consultant. One of her current projects is Kaddish in Two Part Harmony. Kaddish is the Jewish mourners prayer, often said each day for a year following the death of a loved one. When Charlotte was looking for something somber and mournful, it was only natural that Erin suggest the Kaddish. The dance begins in pitch black, with Erin lying on her back and playing the Kaddish. The lights slowly rise to reveal the dancers lying down on stage, positioned how they might be in a cemetery. The scene is rudely interrupted with blast of synthesized horns, and a dancer runs and steals the horn from Erin. The dancers commence running backwards in a circle, swarming and accelerating, as a recording of a musical backdrop I composed plays with clock-like ticking and a blend of disorienting beats and synthesized moods. Above that, Erin and I slowly start short scale-like patterns in opposing directions, based on the mode of the Kaddish.

The dancers converge and then dissipate, to reveal just two dancers playfully swinging their arms. For rehearsals and choreography, Charlotte used a recording of Randy Newman’s Harps and Angels, which is a bluesy, tongue in cheek ramble about a near death experience, and an ominous warning to “keep your business clean”. This music was so perfect, we improvised in the same key and tempo of the original with just tuba and horn.

Continuing with the death theme, we use the traditional spiritual “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” for the next scene. The dancers begin moving and crawling slowly, as we play a very slow version of the song, with very little elaboration. As the dance gets faster and more joyous, our tempos and style of the song adjust. This section ends in a frenzy, and one dancer climbing a human step-ladder and falling off into the arms of another.

For the next and final section, Charlotte nicknamed “Lullaby”, as it was to depict the dancers holding each other in pairs and conveying a soothing and calming mood – much like how Charlotte as a baby would only stop crying when she was placed on her father’s belly. For this, I chose to compose a simple, but touching melody recorded on my studio piano (Charlotte’s father played the piano) accompanied by synthesized strings and the sound of crickets. I called the composition “Daddy’s Home”.

“Catch” ends with Erin and I moving downstage, improvising on the lullaby, and after I lie down on the floor, a dancer rolls onto to my belly while Erin continues to improvise on the melody and the lights fade to black.

If you are interested, we have four more performances planned for this week. All of the pieces in the 2011 Dance Gala are fantastic. I am continually impressed and enlightened by our talented faculty and students. For more information on Dance Gala, click here or here.

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William Bell Tuba Day

This just in from the Annual Willam Bell Memorial Tuba and Euphonium Day:

To All Area Tubists and Friends:

Come join us for the 33rd Annual William Bell Memorial Tuba and Euphonium Day!

WHEN: 1:00 PM,  Saturday, Nov. 5th, 2011
WHERE:  Perry United Methodist Church, Third and Willis, Perry, IA
REGISTRATION FEES:  $10 Student/$15 Adult  (All registration fees will be collected on site Nov. 7th, 2009.)
FEATURED GUEST: Mitchell Lutch, Asst. Professor of Music and Director of Bands at Central College, Pella

Mitchell Lutch is Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Bands at Central College in Pella, Iowa and also serves as conductor of the Central Iowa Wind Ensemble. He received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree in instrumental conducting at the University of Washington where he served as teaching assistant for Professor Timothy Salzman. He earned his Master of Music degree from New England Conservatory where he studied with Frank Battisti serving as the graduate assistant for the NEC Wind Ensemble and assistant conductor of the Massachusetts Wind Ensemble. His Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education is from the University of Lowell. Artists he has collaborated with in his teaching career include Donald Hunsburger, Eric Ewazen, Dana Wilson, Ellis Marsalis, Frank Foster, Slide Hampton and Marian McPartland. Mr. Lutch is Past President of the New York State Band Directors Association and has been a guest speaker at several educational institutions including New England Conservatory and Shenandoah Conservatory. Conducting appearances and research presentations include concerts and conferences throughout the United States, Quebec, London, Japan, The People’s Republic of China, the former Soviet Union, and Luxembourg.

SCHEDULE:
1:00-1:30       Registration
1:30-  3:30     Tuba/Euphonium Ensemble Rehearsal (Please bring a music stand)
3:30 – 4:00     Break/Socializing
4:00-5:00       Concert (Free To Public, at Perry United Methodist Church)
5:30-5:45       Memorial Performance at Mr. Bell’s Gravesite
6:00 – ????     Socializing and Planning for 2012

ADDITIONAL NOTES:
Feel free to forward this e-mail to friends and colleagues who may be interested.  An invitation is open to all. We’re also “Facebooking” – visit our page at:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/William-Bell-Tuba-Day/149881746829

Please RSVP or address questions to:
Chad Thompson
4420 73rd Pl.
Urbandale, IA 50322

e-mail: chad_thompson@mac.com
Telephone (515) 999-0268.

All registration fees will be collected on site November 5th, 2011.

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Military Musicians

20111016-184023.jpgThe Atlantic Brass quintet recently spent several days working with the brass players of the 399th U.S. Army Band. We coached their two brass quintets, held a roundtable discussion, had some open rehearsals, observed their ceremonial band, and gave a recital. Over the years, we have worked with numerous military musicians at our seminars, but it was especially meaningful to me, since I was a military musician myself. I was a Staff Sergeant in the Air Force Band of the Golden Gate from 1986 to 1989. During that time, I grew to appreciate the unique challenges of being a bandsman. Not only do you have the typical musical challenges of any large musical ensemble, you also have to navigate the regulations and command structure of the military.

I was fortunate to be in a fairly large and talented band, and enjoyed playing in the brass quintet, and toured the Western US on a regular basis. The best part for me was taking lessons with Floyd Cooley and getting to live in Northern California.

When I was in college. I had dreams of being an orchestral musician and never imagined that I would enlist in the military. Looking back, I am really glad I made that choice, it was definitely a good experience.

These days, military bands are often being asked to do more with less, so bandsmen must be versatile, professional, and prepared for anything. Not a bad skill set to develop for any musician.

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