Tim Buzbee is busy playing orchestral tuba, full time, on his fourth continent. A native Texan, Buzbee was a student of Ed Jones, Matt Good, Jimmy Clark, and Dave Kirk before going on to study with Gene Pokorny in Chicago. He has held the tuba seat in the Chicago Civic Orchestra, Acapulco Symphony (Mexico), Singapore Symphony, Gävle Symphony (Sweden), Iceland Symphony, and now the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, Australia. Buzbee’s sounds can be heard on over twenty orchestral CDs and his solo career has taken off as well; he has released three solo CDs and, recently, a recording titled Eruptions, on which he performs orchestral excerpts with trombonists including his wife, Jessica, and members of the Iceland Symphony. I was happy to spend some time chatting with Tim about his career.
Benjamin Pierce: You’ve been employed as a tuba player all over the world. Was living in so many different places part of your plan?
Tim Buzbee: No way! I didn’t have many plans at the beginning. I had no clue what I wanted or which way I wanted to go with music. In fact, I fought being a tuba player for many years, until I was almost 21. I was lying in bed after a great party and heard a live broadcast of Chicago playing Mahler 6. I was floored!! I got out of bed and went [to the] music building and practiced all night. That was when I started to make plans. I wanted to play for a living, period!
BP: Ok, since that party, you’ve won a bunch of auditions. Could you talk about your preparation for auditions?
Buzbee posing with wife, Jessica, and Darth Vader after a John Williams concert in Iceland
TB: At the beginning, I prepare probably like most people. I sit and break the excerpts apart and then put them back together, record myself, play in different rooms, play for people, etc… But for the last ten years I have prepared differently. I now focus mainly on the mental preparation of the audition. I run almost every day, and if I am preparing for an audition or a concert I will go through the entire process in my head while I run- from waking up in the morning to the proctor walking into the room and announcing me as the winner. The last part never changes; I always win. Also, I spend a lot of time thinking about the music and the emotional aspect of each excerpt.
BP: You’re a successful orchestral tubist with an exciting solo career. That combination seems a bit rare. Do you have any thoughts on balancing those two things? And perhaps also on balancing them with your big family?
TB: Well, with five kids I have learned that life is about balance! Early in my career I was very focused on the orchestral side of tuba playing and really didn’t make time for solos. I think this is much easier to do in the States, with much of the focus being on excerpts. After playing in an orchestra for several years, I started to realize that it could get very old very fast if I didn’t look at other musical avenues. I was also very influenced by my wife, Jessica, who is an amazing trombone soloist. I noticed that in Europe it tends to be the opposite, where most of the time is spent on solos, not orchestral excerpts. As far as balancing a family and career, when I first started to play the tuba seriously I would spend eight hours in a practice room. Now, because I am practicing much more efficiently, I can get just as much done in one hour as I could then in eight.
BP: You are known for, besides being a fantastic player in general, having a huge low register. Readers might check out “Anger” from Six Pack by James Meador. Would you say that the low register comes easily to you, or have you worked especially hard at that?
TB: I think for the most part it came easy for me. I realized early that I was really good in that register and I just tried to make it better, and then refine it, and then maintain it!
Buzbee with his first teacher, Ed Jones
BP: How did the Eruptions project come together?
TB: After my two solo CDs did well, Albany Records asked me if I had other projects in mind, so I mentioned that I had always wanted to record an orchestral CD. They didn’t like the idea but I talked them into it. The concept changed many times. The first idea was to make it a DVD with players switching equipment and doing each excerpt several times. The regional DVD code issue stopped that idea. My second idea was to have a “minus one” type CD, with each member of the section taking a turn not playing so students could play the missing part with the CD. Crazy. Then finally I thought, ok, let’s just do a CD with great players, and do a lot of excerpts.
As far as the players, I had heard of Lee Rogers (National Symphony Orchestra) for many years and had never meet him, but thought I would ask him, having been told how great he is. He loved the idea. Jessica was keen from the beginning. David [Bobroff] was my right hand man for a few seasons already in Iceland, so of course that was an easy sale. Javi [Colomer] was a good friend of Jessica’s and mine for several years.
BP: Eruptions is certainly a great addition- it’s been a long time since Gene Pokorny’s excerpt CD. And not much since then, in that vein.
TB: Yeah, I didn’t want just to record excerpts by myself and be compared to Gene- scary!!!
BP: Do you do much teaching?
Buzz buzzing in Iceland
TB: I teach more and more these days. I have just started to teach here in Melbourne at the Conservatory. I really enjoy going to different schools and spending time with students and just trying to inspire them. That is all most of these students need- just to be inspired.
BP: If you don’t mind talking about it, a decade ago you lost a tremendous amount of weight. How did you find the motivation to do that? Did you feel like it helped your playing?
TB: Yes, I was very overweight. We were thinking of having our first child and I walked into a gym one day and looked at the treadmill. I decided I wanted to live a long time for this kid that I was thinking of making! I started to run, or try to at that point, every day. Little steps. You can walk; as long as you keep going, you will finish. That is what I always told myself. It helped my playing tremendously! So much that now, if a student comes to me overweight, I will help them lose weight, and it always helps them too.
BP: Isn’t it difficult to talk to students about their weight?
TB: No, not for me. I guess when you have been there it is easier to know how to talk about it. Most of them know that I was in their shoes.
BP: What equipment are you using nowadays?
On the Great Ocean Road, Australia, with son William
TB: Well, I am actually supposed to pick up a Yamayork today! I have many tubas. In fact, I have used a different tuba on every CD I have recorded so far. On Buzzed I used a MW 2182 F, handmade Baer, and Nirschl York. For Raw Emotions I used a PT 10, a very old one. For Eruptions I used a MW 2265/2 and a borrowed Alexander F. On my new CD Angels and Demons (available Jan. 2012) I used a Willson 3200F, Willson Eb, and Willson 3050. In the orchestra I normally use the 2265/2. As far as mouthpieces, I use my own which are made by Toni Romera.
BP: What’s on your plate right now?
TB: Well, I will soon finish my trial with the Melbourne Symphony, and it should be fine. I will start on a new CD project with Ken Friedrich to record many of his works. And I will soon start to record volume 2 of Eruptions with a different group of players and more excerpts! I will play a solo with my Alma Mater Queen City High School at TMEA in February, 2012.
At the beach in Melbourne with little Murphy
BP: Anything else you want people to know?
TB: If students today will start spending some time thinking about how things make them feel, then apply it to what they are doing every day in the practice room, they will get much further. I really try to talk about this when I am out and about. It’s not enough anymore to play what is on the page. Players have to connect at a deeper level to their audience!