The following was my analysis of ITEA as a vice president in October 2021. The vision outlined further down this document is my current road map.
Two years later, as president I am pleased to say that although we have a long way to go, many of the changes are in place. The staff, the board and the many volunteers are full of enthusiasm and we are moving steadily towards an even better organization.
How has the world of tuba/euphonium changed since TUBA was founded in 1972?
We still have the love for our instruments that ties us together, but our declining membership numbers suggest that this glue itself is not strong enough to justify being a member of ITEA.
Below are my analyses based on my own experiences, countless hours of talks with colleagues as well as historical data.
Before we start, keep in mind that the founder of the organization, Robert Ryker (Montreal Symphony Orchestra), envisioned a professional fraternity for tuba and euphonium players.
Later in 1972, the Executive Board redefined the goal significantly, to include all performers.
Let’s take a look at the current article III of the by-laws, PURPOSES AND POWERS. The text below is cut directly from article 3.1:
“The Organization is organized and will be operated exclusively for the charitable and educational purposes.
Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, the Organization is a worldwide organization of musicians whose purpose is to maintain a liaison among those who take a significant interest in the instruments of the tuba and euphonium family, and to further the development and understanding of instruments, literature, pedagogy, and performance through conferences, journals, music publications and all forms of membership communication.”
Personally I think this stands well today – and should work as a base for a future vision/mission statement. (I crafted a new Mission Statement in 2022. See https://iteaonline.org/about-itea/)
Immediately after this paragraph in the by-laws comes a list of The specific objectives and purposes of the Organization.
Let’s take a closer look at how the premises for some of these “specific objectives and purposes” have changed over the years, and how well ITEA is coping with change.
“Pedagogy and the exchange of information”
As some of you will remember, finding and reaching out to good teachers used to be quite a bit of work. As a student in the early 80s I reached out to players such as Michael Lind and John Fletcher for lessons. I’d seen their names on LPs and wanted to learn how to play like them. Just getting in touch with Michael Lind meant locating the official Swedish address book at a local library in Trondheim, getting his address (the phone number wasn’t listed), writing a letter, waiting for a couple of months for a reply that included his phone number, call to agree on time and place and then finally have a lesson. I repeated the same procedure with John Fletcher and several other pros.
This hassle wasn’t made a lot easier in Europe by ITEA, but internal member lists on paper must have helped members in the US reach each other more easily.
Then you have articles about playing. I read my first TUBA Journal in 1981. Again, what a revelation when I realized that there were geeks like me in other countries too! I would say that the Journal used to play an absolutely crucial role in sharing new ideas about playing, history, and pedagogy.
I never went to an international ITEC until around 2000, but I imagine that the first ones must have been a revolutionary opportunity to learn and exchange ideas.
Thanks to the internet, email, and messaging, you can get in touch with pretty much any teacher/performer on the planet in hours, not months. Needless to say, the role of ITEA and the Journal as an exclusive source of information is now minuscule compared to the massive amount of free information online. A Google search for “tuba tutorial” returns over ten million hits. On top of that you have online Forums and free discussion groups on Facebook, in addition to a plethora of commercial online resources.
My conclusion on this topic: ITEA was important, but not anymore. We can however increase our relevance significantly by adapting to the current information landscape.
“To maintain a liaison among us”. The comradeship
It used to be hard to find and meet colleagues. Maintaining a membership list and facilitating meetings through the ITECs made it a lot easier. This still might be the main reason for pros to be part of the organization.
First of all, the internet has made it so much easier to connect and exchange with colleagues. Forums, FB groups etc. Secondly, there are countless other low brass conferences and festivals all over the world to choose from. All of which are not hosted by ITEA.
My conclusion on this topic: I would say that ITEA still plays a role, but much smaller than before. At least the way we operate now.
“To encourage tuba-euphonium workshops and conferences”
The ITECs has in my view been one of ITEA’s strongest sides.
It is good that ITEA has expanded to do regionals and super regionals. This should be further expanded. I do have some concerns about the main ITECs though:
- The program tends to be too packed, and with too many program posts, some of which are barely visited by an audience.
- I suggest looking at the Horn Society’s model. The conference invites between 5-9 professional performers to perform, teach, and lecture as featured artists throughout the week. The selection is made by the organization and the organizer, and the artists receive travel, accommodation, and a flat $100 fee per working day. This is paid for by the organizer/horn society. They have a quarantine rule that prevents the same artists from being invited more than every second conference on average. The advantage of this system is that you can get artists who have no sponsorship but are musically/pedagogically valuable to the conference. Perhaps a hybrid with some sponsorship is possible.
- I also feel that ITECs should reach out more to the general public with select concerts. This can be a confidence booster for our members and create a feeling that we’re not in a bubble, but a valuable part of the musical society.
- ITEA should also create much clearer criteria for the programming at ITECs, to make sure that it reflects the diversity of players worldwide.
- We must make sure to have a program that appeals to ALL member groups.
- Finally, we must have a clear definition of success. What is a successful ITEC to ITEA? Is it having lots of participants? Not losing money? Having a super packed program? Or is it something else?
My conclusion is that ITECs are a very valuable part of the organization, but we must rethink which way we want them to go.
“To generate new compositions”
ITEA was instrumental in commissioning new repertoire for our instruments. The TEP (Tuba, Euphonium Press) helped distribute it.
Most of the important commissioning happens outside of ITEA. Others also distribute music better and more effectively, so it was a natural choice for ITEA to sell the TEP press.
My conclusion: I think it is safe to say that ITEA has played an important role, but is no longer very relevant. This can change in the future if we choose to.
“To promote activity in new instrument design”
There is no data to support that ITEA has ever played any role in helping the development of instruments. Other than writing about what manufacturers working with artists were doing. An article by Robert Tucci was published in the Journal in 1982. Until 2013, this was the only article ever published by ITEA’s instrument-design coordinator.
Instrument makers globally have access to professionals all over the world to help with design and development. Except for occasional articles referring to instrument design in the journal, ITEA is not involved in this topic. It would be a stretch to claim that ITEA helps instrument design by selling ads and exhibition space to manufacturers.
My conclusion: ITEA is not, and has never contributed to the development of instruments. Individual members have though.
“To enhance the image and role of tuba-euphonium family instruments and performers”
It’s hard to know if the founders thought of an external or internal image enhancement.
To enhance the image internally means to raise awareness amongst those who ALREADY play tuba/euphonium about the instrument’s possibilities. To inspire and to instill pride within the ranks. For example by pointing to role models and their achievements.
Here I think ITEA has done a questionable job. The diversity of musical styles and the representation of ethnic and geographical variety has been very limited. Whether featured at conferences or in the Journal.
To enhance the image externally would mean to try to shape the opinion of those that do not play tuba and euphonium and that still think we play really dull instruments, based on common stereotypes.
If this was the founder’s intention, ITEA has failed miserably. As far as I can see, the organization is doing nothing to enhance our instrument’s image publicly. On top of that, when our image is deliberately damaged – we sit back and do nothing. For example, where on earth was ITEA when the shoe manufacturer Nike ran their worldwide ad with the infamous slogan: “When your son plays tuba, nobody wins”? Really?! This should have caused an immediate reaction from ITEA. In the form of public statements, the demand for an apology from Nike, or even a lawsuit for defamation.
The same is true for countless cases of instrument discrimination in pop culture, such as in movies and TV shows where our instruments are often portrayed in a non-flattering way.
Those that really enhance the public image of our instruments today are individuals and groups. Most of them are not members of ITEA. They don’t come to our conferences. Most of them do not live in the USA and most of them do not play the Hindemith Sonata.
My conclusion: Currently, individual musicians enhance the image of our instruments, internally and externally. ITEA does not.
“To expand performance and employment opportunities”
Has ITEA had any success in expanding performance and employment opportunities?
Let’s look at some of the areas where you can make a living playing tuba or euphonium.
Symphony orchestra-, military orchestra- and freelance-players
I think it is safe to say that ITEA has not directly expanded performance or employment opportunities in orchestras.
Soloists and chamber musicians
The ITECs themselves have created some performance opportunities for individual soloists and chamber groups. Some have been able to use this as an opportunity to become better known in the community.
This is the one area where the organization has really meant a difference. Perhaps not always in the intended way, but nevertheless. There is no doubt that the possibility of publishing in the Journal and performing at ITECs have helped numerous professional US educators achieve promotion and tenure. The ITECs have also served as a good environment to nurture professional connections.
My conclusion: ITEA is offering some non-paid performance opportunities through ITEC, but does not play a significant role in expanding employment opportunities.
“To publish a journal”
The Journal was a unique newsletter with ideas and information not found elsewhere.
The Journal’s role as the only and most important source of tuba/euphonium-related information is over. It now competes with a vast ocean of similar and sometimes better material easily available for free on the internet. It tends to be more of an outlet for academic publishing as well as a collectors item.
My conclusion: I strongly suggest that we re-examine the role and content of the Journal. Here are some suggestions:
- Survey what content is most popular and useful amongst the different member constituencies and fill the journal with more of this.
- Have more of the content created by professional writers.
The actual needs of tuba/euphonium people in 2023
Besides our obvious love for our instruments, it is clear that our needs are very diverse. After talking to people from the many different constituencies, here is how I interpret some of the differences:
Performing professionals in orchestras and bands
Most of these get very little out of a membership. The original idea of a tuba guild seems to have faded. Ideas are now easily exchangeable on other platforms. Appearing on ITECs can be fun and social, and of course, help maintain visibility in the community, which in turn can help promote your future non-orchestral activities, such as recordings, masterclasses and recitals.
The Journal doesn’t offer much professional value for a pro. Your employment rights are taken care of by the union, and you find job openings listed in other places.
I’ve also spoken to many professionals outside of the US and it seems that this is a universal view. For most pros, a membership does not currently have much value outside of just “being a member”.
Freelancing soloists and groups
For this group ITEA serves mainly as a tool for self promotion and making connections. I know from my own experience that this can be useful. However, most independent freelancers don’t view ITEA as something for them. They might play in a musical style that ITEA historically has not cared much about. There is currently nothing of value for them in the journal, and if you don’t happen to have an instrument sponsor it doesn’t make any financial sense to take a week off, and then pay your own hard earned money to attend an ITEC.
This is one of the groups that you would expect to benefit the most from being members. For example, ITEA has a vast library of articles on the web page and an incredible amount of downloads. However, the material is not easy to find, and it is of variable quality. Free and commercial sources on the Internet are far easier to search and access. At the time being, students can obviously learn a lot, and tie bonds during ITECs.
Amateurs and enthusiasts
This is the group that potentially could benefit the most from ITEA. A lot of them have money and time to spare, and let’s face it, they are often the largest bringers of enthusiasm.
This group needs everything, from basic playing advice, social activities, playing opportunities to tips on instrument care.
Note: the German equivalent of ITEA, the Deutsches Tuba Forum has almost entirely amateur members and few professional members. Pros are hired to teach and play at the DTF conferences.
Even for the instrument manufacturers the enthusiasts are one of the most attractive customer groups.
It would be a financial misstep as well as a violation of ITEA’s by-laws not to cater heavily to this group. Currently we have very few amateur members.
What do these people get out of being members? I have not seen any official survey among educators, but it is obvious that the ITEA Journal and ITECs serve as an important academic outlet for this group.
In addition to the exchange of information and establishing important working relationships, it is beyond doubt that voluntary work for the organization can have a real-world career impact for educators.
My estimation above can of course be wrong, but if further studies support this, we will end up with an ITEA that is purely a career/tenure vessel for educators.
It might also possibly attract hardcore enthusiasts and amateurs who are willing to sign up for anything with the word tuba or euphonium in it.
The way forward
It is urgent
If ITEA continues on the current path, the membership curves forecast a slow death.
We must stop focusing on things that don’t work, and that very few need. We must instead do more of what actually works and what we are good at.
Personally, when faced with the choice of taking on this or that musical challenge, I ask myself two questions:
- Can I do this better than any other person, or in a new, hopefully, interesting way? If yes, I’ll do it.
- Is this something that someone else could have done equally well, or better? If yes, I will not do it.
For ITEA, I believe that we should ask the same questions about what we CAN and SHOULD do. And only focus only on those areas that we can do better than others.
This includes getting rid of mission statement items where we currently achieve nothing, such as instrument design, image, employment opportunity etc. It also means filling the Journal with unique and useful content.
In my view, the current financial challenges and declining memberships are not mainly due to lack of donations and promotion. Neither is it a result of the recent pandemic. The problems stem from the fact that we don’t have a good enough product. We are not doing for the members what we can do best.
A paradigm shift
From grassroots to professional
When this organization was founded, our common love for the instruments was a glue strong enough to keep us together. Also, ITEA was the only meeting place. This is not true anymore. We need to move from an organization that is purely based on idealism to an organization that focuses on serving paying members with what they really need. This includes all members, of all colors, all countries, and of all musical styles. If you read the by-laws, ITEA was NOT intended to be an organization mainly for professional educators and with a narrow musical style.
The ITEC effect
We need member services that are so attractive and solid that tuba/euphonium players choose to be members even between ITECs.
Social Outreach / Charity
In addition to serving paying members, we must reach out to those in need. Talented players in all corners of the globe who don’t have the means to get proper instruments and education.
I also think that the membership fees should cover the basic running costs and member services and that donor contributions should cover other activities, such as charity, conferences, commissions, competition prices etc. In other words, we should not have to rely on donations for daily operational expenses.
What is good about ITEA today?
- We are global. Let’s use that to our advantage.
- We are, still, “the official tuba/euph club”, we’re non profit and we’re 50 years old. That hopefully means people can trust us. This also means we have the chance to receive support from larger international donors within the UN and EU system if they like what we do for tuba/euph players and the general music scene around the world.
- We have first-hand access to the best players in the world for world-class musical and editorial content
- The interest in tuba/euphonium is growing globally
- We have several employees who collectively should be able to maintain great services on a daily basis
- We are organizing festivals and conferences
- We have thousands of followers on Facebook. This is a good start!
What CAN ITEA do better than others?
Here is a list of topics where I think ITEA can be really useful, and do it better than anyone else. This is so far a collection of ideas.
The objective is to serve members with what they need, and can’t get anywhere else.
- Conferences. Both international, regionals, and super regionals.
- Maintain a strong online presence
- More online conferences, teaching resources and virtual competitions.
- An indexed and edited database of the best tutorials and articles from past Journals
- Possibility to search based on topic (breathing, articulation, register, solo, orchestra etc)
- Possibility to search based on author as well as free text
- Maintain a searchable online list of orchestral excerpts including free download of the scores as well as a variety of recordings of the excerpt. This is helpful for aspiring orchestra musicians.
- Maintain an updated event calendar of international competitions and repertoire (This was implemented in 2022 and is now open for entries)
- Maintain an updated, global list of job openings
- Maintain a global, searchable list of instrument dealers, local clubs, teachers, repair techs, sheet music dealers etc (This was implemented in 2022 and is now open for entries)
- Offer members globally to add their upcoming performances directly to an online, searchable calendar. For example, let’s say I feel like listening to a euphonium recital nearby where I live next week. Plot those criteria and you’ll get all recitals/concerts that apply. Or simply browse a map.
There should also be a possibility to subscribe to new entries in the calendar based on your search criteria as well as subscribing to the calendar on your personal device. (This was implemented in 2022 and is now open for entries)
- Work actively on helping talented players with grants and scholarships. Either based on ITEA competition results or via dedicated applications.
- Work to donate or lend out instruments and knowledge to underprivileged talents internationally
- Set aside a fund to be able to invite great talents to ITECs.
- Facilitate meetings between those who seek instruction and those who give instruction. Worldwide. This can for example be done by creating a searchable portal online where instructors can register themselves with name, qualifications and location. If you look for an instructor you can search by region and skills.
If this becomes a success I figure that ITEA can even charge a small amount to the instructors to be part of the index.
- Maintain an online tuba/euphonium music database with links to purchase the sheet music and/or recordings. This can be maintained directly by artists and publishers. For example, if you search for Hindemith Sonata, you will be able to find details about the piece as well as links to a variety of recordings and performances of the music. Again, this will be maintained mainly by the artists themselves and will of course generate traffic for them, as well as possible sales of recordings.
- Further develop the Sponsored Member Fund and other funds.
Back in the 90’s I used to program websites between my tuba gigs. Both regular sites and web stores. Later I’ve been managing the development process for several sites – such as: lowbrassmusic.com, and miraphone.de, using external programmers.
The below list of functionality I believe must be integrated into ITEA’s new website.
I have the utmost respect for Jason and the work he has done on the page. I know how much work it is. Therefore I have also researched together with him what we can expect from a new website. Here is a list of realistic features:
- A modern, interactive website with top-of-the-line design and functionality. (This was implemented in 2022 and is now open for entries)
- The website should be fully integrated with the membership database and payment systems to allow for minimum manual data updates. (This was implemented in 2022)
- The possibility to make and manage group/corporate memberships. Such as student chapters and group memberships from sister organizations abroad. Also here, no manual labor from our side.
- Possibility to offer drip content. For example for online courses.
- Create the website in such a way that volunteers, contributors, editors, artists, and educators can submit the content themselves – with the webmaster as facilitator and maintenance person. This is a job that doesn’t require a PHD in computer science.
- We need a website editor with the responsibility of looking through and approving content for spelling etc. Same as the Journal editor?
- The site needs to be mobile-friendly. (This was implemented in 2022)
- The Donor platform must be fully integrated into the site. There are several really good options around $300 a year. (This was implemented in 2022 and is now open for donations)
- Most of the content should be restricted to members only, but with public teasers/ingresses and a call to become a member. (This was implemented in 2022)
- A dedicated amateur/enthusiast section with a separate editor
- An automatic email system that sends out updates to members automatically. For example reminders of membership renewals, news, competitions etc. The members should be able to edit their preferences in their dashboard. (This was implemented in 2022)
- Accommodate registration and scheduling systems for regional conferences if needed (This was implemented in 2022)
- The website should have a moderated forum (This was implemented in 2022)
- The articles should be possible to comment
- The site must be multi-lingual with a fallback to English, or automatic translation if no translation exists.
- We assign volunteer translators who can work directly on the site without the help of the webmaster
- I’d like to run a targeted FB ad globally with an intriguing ingress, every time we have new must-read content to offer online. By clicking the visitor gets to see a part of the content and must register to see the rest. (Will be implemented)
- We currently have a free Google for non-profit account which allows us to spend $10.000 in Google ads each month without paying. (Will be implemented)
- Freebies, so-called lead magnets, for visitors who are not yet members. The freebie can be a PDF with playing tips, a before-concert checklist, or even access to a restricted recording. They will have to register with their email to receive the freebie, and will subsequently receive a series of relevant, useful tips on follow-up emails. Finally with a pitch for membership.
The freebies can be marketed on FB, Instagram or on other platforms. This is a classic online marketing strategy and should suit us well. (This was implemented in 2022)
- We also need good old paper pamphlets with key benefits of membership.
- Sponsor YouTubers. Get influential people to write about the organization.
(Now, it almost seems a trend to be criticizing ITEA)
- Affiliate program. Refer a member and get a commission if the member signs up.
- Possibility to subscribe to an ITEA newsletter without being a member. Again, the teaser effect. (This was implemented in 2022)
- Should be able to log in and manage their own dashboard where they can:
- Update addresses and phone numbers. (In place)
- Update their membership (In place)
- Purchase a gift- or sponsored membership
- Update payment method (In place)
- Change payment periods (In place)
- Download tax invoices as PDFs (In place)
- Vote in elections (In place)
- Answer polls and surveys
- Add their own concert program entries (In place)
- Subscribe to event calendar (In place)
- Add their own recordings and tie them to the global repertoire list.
- Add to the teacher’s index for promotion (In place)
- Search for an instructor/teacher nearby (In place)
- With the right membership system, it is very easy to also offer monthly subscriptions. Who knows, perhaps some find it easier to pay $5 a month than $49 a year? I know, 5×12 is 60… (In place)
- More discounts and deals. The goal should be to offer discounts that surpass the membership fee. Instrument stores, sheet music stores, insurance etc etc.
ITEA needs a merch store with cool designs. Hats, sweaters, bags, pens. You name it. These items are obviously purchasable for all, but can also be part of membership perks. For example, refer a new member, get a free hat. Refer two, get a sweater. They can also be used as thank-you gifts to donors. By the way, such stores can be free to set up and maintain. They are operated by companies such as Teespring.
Trondheim, Norway October 2021