From the Back Row by Carol Jantsch with Benjamin Pierce
Carol Jantsch of the Philadelphia Orchestra
Carol Jantsch grew up in Ohio and attended the Interlochen Arts Academy from age 14 before enrolling at The University of Michigan for her undergraduate degree in performance. While at Michigan she won the principal tuba position in the Philadelphia Orchestra, which she has held since 2006. I spoke a bit with Ms. Jantsch about her professional life in and out of the Orchestra.
Benjamin Pierce: Was it your dream to be an orchestral tubist?
Carol Jantsch: I’m not sure my “dream” was always that specific. I knew I wanted to do the music thing when I was pretty young, but I think my aim was more just to be the best I could be. Playing in my orchestra is definitely like a dream come true though.
BP: Do you have a favorite style period that you enjoy performing within the orchestra? Favorite composer, or pieces?
CJ: It doesn’t get much better than Prokofiev 5. So much fun to play!
BP: Which Mahler symphony is your favorite?
CJ: That’s a tough one… Mahler 4 gives me the week off so that’s nice… I’ve always had a thing for the 6th but haven’t gotten to play it in the Orchestra yet. I’ve been in the group seven years now so it’s about time it came up.
BP: Mahler 1: CC or F on the solo?
CJ: F for auditions, CC in the band. Same with Petrushka.
BP: Do you and the other brass players work much in sectionals outside of full orchestra rehearsals?
CJ: Usually we’ll get together as a low brass section when there’s something big coming up.
BP: I know you’ve been doing some solo tours in recent years. Can you talk a bit about your travels, and why you have been going out to play solo?
CJ: Because it’s fun! My musical activities outside of the orchestra (solos, master classes, teaching) help balance my work life. I choose to do all these extra things because I enjoy them, and because doing so keeps me engaged. Each of these career elements comes with its own set of challenges, and each also enhances the rest-it makes me better.
BP: Where have you gone recently?
CJ: This past month I spent a week in Miami to coach the New World Symphony, then I did a residency and recording project with the Syracuse University Wind Ensemble in upstate NY.
BP: I imagine there are challenges that arise from having achieved such a great position at a very young age. Do you have any trouble thinking about “what’s next”?
CJ: The “what next” question certainly has come up! It was pretty daunting at first to face the-rest-of-your-life at 21. It took a few seasons to figure out my work/life balance, but now I can say I’m incredibly happy with my career. I get to play in an amazing orchestra, teach a few awesome students, and do some solos and master classes here and there-it’s pretty perfect. I’m just going to keep giving my best at everything I do, and I guess we’ll see what’s next.
BP: Is there a certain kind of concert that’s the most rewarding for you to play with the Orchestra? (pops vs. classics, outreach, etc.)
CJ: Like I said, playing with this Orchestra is always awesome, but I do enjoy playing concerts for people who wouldn’t normally come hear us. Pops, student, outreach, neighborhood-sometimes I call them “gateway concerts.” Whether it’s the draw of fireworks or free tickets that gets them there, I think it’s great when the non-regulars can leave our show saying, “That was fun! Maybe the orchestra isn’t just for stuffy old people after all!” There’s a special energy to that newly-converted enthusiasm.
BP: Do you have any big ambitions? Anything you would love to do that represents a real challenge for you at this point?
CJ: Inversions. I can do a forearm stand against the wall but I’m still working toward the elusive handstand… but you probably mean tuba stuff, not yoga. As far as the next big project goes, I guess we’ll have to see… Did I mention yet that I’m playing Michael Daugherty’s new concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra in March of 2015? It’s pretty exciting since this will be the first tuba concerto the PO has ever done in the entire history of its existence.
When I play an excerpt, my primary goal is to make the piece come alive for the listener. This can prove exceedingly difficult playing only the tuba part, given the typical lack of melodic content and having only a brief window of time. If you’re not fully immersed in the style for the first notes you play, the excerpt may be half over before you get fully immersed. I have some tips that will help you play with conviction from the first notes every time, even under pressure.
Everything has to start with knowing the piece really well so that you have a strong concept of what you want to convey. This means exhaustive study: listening to multiple recordings of the piece, studying the score, learning the other instruments’ parts, etc. Then you’ll be able to sculpt an appropriate and compelling interpretation of the tuba part in your mind. The more specific you can be with this, the better. Include stylistic decisions as well as perfect time, intonation, and other techniques in this vivid mental image of how you think the excerpt should go. Crowding your head space with positive cues is the best way to maintain focus and keep negative thoughts out.
The extra challenge is achieving this convincing interpretation from the first notes you play, especially in a stressful performance situation where there are plenty of distractions and worries to drain your focus. I find it helpful to have a plan for what you’re going to think about before you play each excerpt in order to ensure that you’re in the appropriate mental state. Here’s what you do:
Choose a distinctive part of the piece (typically something melodic, rhythmic, and characteristic of the desired style) to play in your head. This may or may not be material that happens directly before the given excerpt in the full orchestra version. For example, a good mental cue for the excerpt at letter J in Die Meistersinger overture is the trombone melody that comes directly beforehand. For “Hungarian March,” however, I prefer to hear the fanfare and melody from the beginning of the piece, since this section is more stylistically evocative than what happens just prior to the tuba entrance. To prepare for the excerpt from the battle scene of Ein Heldenleben, I like to hear the melody from the E-flat trumpet part that comes up throughout that scene, starting after rehearsal 49.
See how long it takes to immerse yourself into the style when singing this cue in your head. If it takes eight bars, for example, then practice starting the excerpt directly at the beginning of the ninth bar. This way, by the time you start playing, there is no question of when or how to play, since the tempo and style have already been established-you’re merely finishing a thought you’ve already started. Practice this consistently and you should be able to make the transition from not playing to playing seamlessly. Having a plan like this for each excerpt will put you in a good position to play your opening notes with conviction and confidence.