From the Back Row by Dr. Kevin Sanders
David Fedderly of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
David T. Fedderly has held the Principal Tuba position since joining the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 1983. He has also been the substitute principal tuba with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Mr. Fedderly is currently on the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory. His previous faculty appointments have included The Juilliard School, University of Maryland, College Park, and The Catholic University of America. Before moving to Baltimore he was also a faculty member at DePaul University and Wheaton College in the Chicago area. Mr. Fedderly attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois. He had the privilege of studying for ten years with the legendary Arnold Jacobs, former Principal Tuba of the Chicago Symphony. In 1992 Mr. Fedderly opened the Baltimore Brass Co. that sells new and used brass and woodwind musical instruments.
Kevin Sanders: As a high school student, how did you get Arnold Jacobs and Northwestern University on your radar?
David Fedderly: I went to the Bemidji Music Camp in Minnesota as a high schooler and the faculty included Fred Hemke, who was the sax teacher and head of the winds and brass at Northwestern, David McCormick, who had been a tuba player in Chicago and studied with Mr. Jacobs, and John Paynter, who was the Director of Bands at Northwestern. David McCormick told me, “You’ve got to get to Chicago to Northwestern to study with Mr. Jacobs.” He talked to John Paynter and set up a meeting with Fred Hemke and me for admissions. So, one day in rehearsal we were playing Scenes from the Louvre and John Paynter asked me, “First tuba, can you play that down an octave?” We played again and he said, “Tuba player doesn’t realize it but he just took his audition for Northwestern and got in.” So that’s how I got in. I never visited the place. I knew from a friend of mine it was a terrific school. At the time, I really didn’t know who Arnold Jacobs was! (laughs) My band director had played a few of the Fritz Reiner recordings for me (Pictures at an Exhibition and all of that), but I didn’t know who he was, obviously, compared to what I was to find out! David McCormick was telling me I had to go there. Paul Walton, who had been a student of Arnold Jacobs and played in the Minnesota Orchestra for about 12 or 13 years before Toby Hanks and Ross Talbot, said, “You need to go study with Arnold Jacobs. I’d love to have you study with me at the University of Minnesota but you really need to go study with Mr. Jacobs.” That was how I ended up at Northwestern.
KS: After studying with Arnold Jacobs, are there any lessons that particularly stick out?
DF: They all did. That’s the amazing thing about his teaching. My first lesson he told me my sound wasn’t focused, and this was something I had been working on. He basically said, “You’ve over focused the sound so you have to back off on the pressure.” He also said, “The tonguing is not clean.” I’d been taught I had to tongue harder because it wasn’t clean and again he explained I was tonguing too hard. So, that was how things started. What also struck me at my first lesson was he asked me to buzz Pop Goes the Weasel. I had never buzzed my mouthpiece before so it was pretty lame what I did. He said, “That’s good, but can you make it sound a little more like this?” He had a bigger sound on his mouthpiece than I had on the tuba at that point (laughs)! It’s little things like that. I spent ten years with him on a regular basis and there was really nothing he was ever wrong about. I tested everything that he said, questioned everything in my practice room, but he was right about everything. That was pretty amazing.
KS: How long did you study with Arnold Jacobs before you first subbed in the Chicago Symphony?
DF: Well, I started with him in 1972. I was a freshman – eighteen years old. I graduated in 1976 and two weeks later came back and started with the Chicago Civic Orchestra. A week after that I played with the Chicago Symphony, so I was 22. Belshazzar‘s Feast at Ravinia was the first time I played.
KS: Obviously you had heard the orchestra throughout college but I ‘ m sure it ‘ s a different experience sitting in the back row.
DF: I actually played the off stage part for Belshazzar‘s Feast and they put us way in front where the orchestra pit is. I was off to the side, but it was interesting to hear Mr. Jacobs that much closer. The first time I actually sat next to him was in February the following year, so that was ’77. We did Shostakovich 4 with Previn and recorded it and I remember I couldn’t keep up with them. The amount of tone that they put out without missing any notes was just absolutely amazing to me. The attack that Mr. Jacobs had on the front of notes was so huge and he just didn’t miss. That was going right into my ear. Pretty amazing.
KS: In 1983 you took the Baltimore Symphony audition. What was your situation leading up to that and what was the audition like?
DF: I had played in St. Louis for the ’82-’83 season for a one year opening. Leonard Slatkin had asked that whoever was first call with the Chicago Symphony would be the player that they would temporarily bring in. I took the audition in St. Louis that, I think, was in May. The audition for Baltimore, I believe, was in July with the job starting basically around Labor Day. It was a three-day audition. The first day I just played the preliminary round and then the second day I think there were three or four rounds and it came down to Rex Martin and myself. My predecessor in the BSO, Danny Brown, had already left and so Rex had been playing that summer with the BSO. It was between the two of us and it was getting late and Maestro Comissiona decided that he’d hear us the next day with the orchestra. So, the next morning at the end of the BSO rehearsal (which Rex had played) we each played excerpts from Die Meistersinger, Benvenuto Cellini, and a couple of other pieces with the orchestra. At the end of that Rex and I were in the basement at the recital room and the personnel manager came in and told me I’d won the job. I actually had to get back to play a pops concert with St. Louis that night, so I hurried right back and played. And then I moved to Baltimore. I turned 30 the fall that I moved here. So, I did gigs and taught for a long time before I ever got a full time job.
KS: When did people begin to approach you for lessons as a pedagogue of Jacob ‘ s teaching?
DF: Well, I started private teaching in 1973. It was just young students at the time, but in the mid-to-late 80s, after moving to Baltimore, Mr. Jacobs told me that he was telling people that were on the East coast to come and see me instead of going to Chicago. I, on the other hand, usually recommend people go see Mr. Jacobs, because I don’t think there ever was and ever will be another teacher like him. I started getting busy because he was sending people to me and then, of course, after he passed away a lot of people started coming in my direction and its just developed from there.
KS: I think that anybody that watches you teach can tell that you have a passion for it. What about teaching excites you so much?
DF: Well, I think there are a lot of different levels to it, like meeting the individual player and how everyone is different. I also have an education degree, not a performance degree. I think the big thing with teaching is you want to help people and I seem to be fairly good at it (laughs)! I’m here to help try to bring the player to the level that I have enjoyed or higher, if possible, so that they can experience the true joy of music instead of fighting their instrument all the time. My hope is that they can really understand what playing is about and what musicianship and being a musician is about. Teaching is kind of like raising a child, seeing how they change over time and mature. I’ve got students that now have families and have very successful lives of their own. It’s fun to watch and see how each person develops and grows. The music, personalities, the launching and growth of the musician and the person are a lot of fun. Those are the things that are a real kick to me.
KS: Your reputation as a teacher goes far beyond the title of “ tuba teacher “ and I know you frequently work with other wind instrumentalists at Peabody in your Respiratory Functions class. You ‘ ve done residencies at other institutions, working with string players and entire band programs. Do you have a teaching situation that is most enjoyable to you?
DF: As Mr. Jacobs used to say, no matter what you do, whether you’re a singer or a string, woodwind, or brass player, you’re after a product. Whatever that product is, it requires me to have an idea in my head of what really great players on each instrument need to sound like. What’s probably the hardest thing to do, teaching-wise, is five or six straight hours of tuba (laughs)! Working with different players on different instruments makes it very easy for me to do six or seven hours of teaching in a day. It isn’t that the tuba bores me, but it’s generally the same music or type of music in a lot of situations. With other instruments and vocalists, often there are challenges beyond just the music. Of course, a lot of times, they have very interesting music (laughs)! I don’t have a favorite; I just love to teach.
KS: I thought you ‘ d say that! You ‘ ve had the opportunity to teach at several great schools – Juilliard, Peabody, DePaul, Catholic University – what would you say are some important ingredients to creating a healthy artistic environment for students to grow?
DF: I think it’s always good if you can have good players around you, good students. I think that it’s the job of the teacher to challenge the students, but not so much that they can’t be successful. I like competition within the studio, but I also like my students to be colleagues of each other. Competition has gotten a bad name, but it’s really the most important thing we do. We all know if we were going to take an audition, even the people that I consider really good friends are going to try to beat me (and I was going to try to beat them) for that job! (laughs) That’s just a given and there’s nothing wrong with that. So, that’s what I like to see-players challenged by the music and by the other players in the studio to get to the top. I think that creates a really healthy environment because that’s what happens on stage too. Your colleagues challenge you. In other words, they play something really great and you want to play it just as well. It has much more to do with modeling your playing than anything else.
KS: Let me shift gears here and talk about Baltimore Brass. Can you tell me what some of your motivations were behind starting BBC up?
DF: Well, there were several. Part of it is where I grew up-a tiny town in northern Minnesota, not too far from Canada, right on Lake Superior, called Silver Bay. It was a company town and you either worked at the company or you were in that town because of the school system or the other stores that were there because of the company. When the steel industry went down the town also went down and all of those people were out of work. I swore I would never have all of my eggs in one basket. So, for about ten years I pieced together a living-a good enough living to be able to buy a house in Evanston, IL while I was there. I was also used to selling things – I sold things as a kid. I was selling a tuba here or there and I thought I might be able to generate something somewhat steady. So, in 1992 I started Baltimore Brass Company out of my house and then, in 2001, moved to where we are now. It’s just kind of gotten bigger and bigger. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a good thing! (laughs) So that’s why. I didn’t want to have everything in one basket. I find it interesting and it’s a blast to meet players from literally all over the world. It’s just a kick for me to be able to deal with all the different people that we see and talk to-it’s fun!
KS: You have a relatively new business venture for injured musicians. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
DF: I had the reputation of helping players that were injured, which kind of lead to the trio that I work with, which is Craig Vander Kolk, a plastic surgeon, and David Shulman, a board certified physical therapist, and myself. People can come and be diagnosed by Dr. Vander Kolk if they have a tear that actually needs a surgical repair or see David Shulman if they just have an injury, whether it’s bruising or a micro-tear. The two of them were working together and some of the people were tending to plateau, so they brought me in because they were curious and had heard I was working with injured players. We all just kind of hit it off. The biggest thing we like to do, like I did in Memphis and Eugene, is work with people before they get injured. To do things in a healthy way so they never injure themselves. We would much rather see you before you injure yourself, rather than after. We try to work with people from a distance so they do not constantly have to come back. I can do a lot of work over the phone and David Shulman will try to work with physical therapists in the area of the country where the person is from. We have some people from New York, California, Texas, Louisiana, Washington D.C., and we’ve had some people come in from Europe. They’re really spread out everywhere. I try to do long distance and it seems to work pretty well for most players.
KS: Is there one specific injury that you see over and over again?
DF: I think that the biggest thing we find is the upper left quadrant on trumpet players. That’s what’s getting torn and really damaged. That left hand really seems to pull that trumpet into their faces. I’m surprised we don’t see more horn issues but I think because of how the horn is held they don’t develop as much pulling pressure on the embouchure as the trumpet does. And of course there’s the higher thoracic pressure that trumpet, especially high trumpet, players use. A general one that we see is over use, where players are practicing too much. It’s when they’re practicing too much and they’re spending too much time on just high playing or really loud playing. They’re spending four or five hours a day practicing and then they’ve got weeks on end of performances and rehearsals and the muscles tire and they don’t recoup, especially as we age. Younger players can get away with a lot of abuse to their faces depending on their anatomy make up, but we need to learn to play the correct way from the start. That’s the trick.
KS: Having playing injuries is one of the dirty secrets of our business. It ‘ s fairly common, but for obvious reasons people don ‘ t want to talk about it.
DF: Yes. I never talk about anyone who comes to see me for that very reason because people don’t want other people knowing. I do a lot of teaching in my store and my employees know that one of the ways to get fired is if they start spreading around who’s coming into my office to take a session with me. It’s confidential. It has to be. It’s an interesting thing. I know that the trumpet player Denver Dill, who’s been through surgery and plays in the West Point band, talks about if you were injured as an athlete and pulled a hamstring everybody goes, “Okay, they pulled a hamstring, they have to rehab,” but nobody wants to talk about that in music. We’re talking about embouchures, but there’s also the overuse and strain in the arms and shoulders, in the voice and the larynx and all of that, which David Shulman deals with.
KS: One of the aspects of your career that I really admire is how many “ irons you have in the fire. “ You perform with the BSO, travel the country as a teacher frequently, working with a range of players from 6th grade to some of the best brass players on the planet, and you ‘ re a successful business owner. You talked about not putting all of your eggs in one basket, but was having this kind of diversity in your life always a goal or did you more or less stumble upon it?
DF: The instrument sales part I kind of stumbled into a little bit, but even in high school, I wanted to play in an orchestra, teach students, and do quintets and solos (thinking about Mr. Bobo and his work). The solo and quintet “thing” ended up not being a big joy to me. Teaching was and so that’s the direction I went. I really enjoy, like I said, meeting people. Sometimes I even talk people out of buying an instrument because they don’t need a hardware fix. They need a software fix, so I recommend they go study with somebody. That’s probably the biggest part of the business-helping people find a tool that’s going to help them and that’s the fun part. I’m still helping people and that’s my goal.
KS: In closing, do you have any thoughts or advice for young tubists on the audition circuit or job market?
DF: The job market has actually changed since, I would say, 2008. I tell players if they can get into the premier service bands (the Washington D.C. bands or the Naval Academy or West Point band), that those are in some ways probably the best jobs today. The benefits are fantastic. There are some issues there with budgets and everything with the government, but compared to what’s happening in the orchestra world it’s excellent job stability. If you can get into one of the really major orchestras I think you’re going to be safe, but you don’t know what’s going to happen as time goes on and we’ve lost so many orchestras, like Syracuse and New Mexico. They’re kind of coming back, but there are a lot of orchestras having trouble. With service bands you can do 20 years and then retire. They help you with your schooling while you’re there and you’re surrounded by great players. That’s certainly one thing I would pay more attention to than a lot of players do. I think service bands are great jobs. I think music is still a great vocation if you’re lucky enough to get an orchestra job. My son is a computer programmer and in some ways studying music is a lot like becoming a computer programmer. In high school, students like computers-they like using computers and playing games on computers. Then they go to college and realize that computers is sitting in front of a screen, for eight to ten hours a day, looking at something that looks like The Matrix (laughs), studying code, and trying to find commas and things like that. That’s not so much fun for a lot of people. I think you have to realize that, up through high school, music is a social activity, but after high school, music becomes almost an anti-social activity because of the hours you’re going to spend alone and the decisions you’ll make like, “I can’t do that because I have to finish my practicing today.” If you can find that kind of discipline then you can have a chance of getting a job. If you can’t do that then that just says that there’s something else that you really love more and you have to figure out what that is. Like anything, you’ve got to love it enough that you can have the discipline that it’s going to take to be successful.
Dr. Kevin Sanders is Assistant Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at the University of Memphis. He has performed with the New Mexico Symphony, Macau Orchestra (China), Memphis Symphony, Chicago Civic Orchestra, Spoleto USA Festival, and the American Brass Quintet. Dr. Sanders is a graduate of Michigan State University, The Juilliard School, Indiana University, and the Interlochen Arts Academy.
Tips from David Fedderly
Practicing Excerpts for Auditions and Performances
The opening through high D (figure 1) is marked molto tenuto. A very slight accent on every note with a full follow-through is called for here.
Letter J (figure 2) (the solo, as we like to think) is really a soli with the basses and bassoons. Marked molto marcato, it needs a larger accent than the opening of the Overture and the notes should be connected. Marcato means marked or accented. It says nothing about spacing notes. It sounds fairly march-like and is most often played mp up to the printed mf.
Letter K is marked forte and molto legato. Try to have a full, warm tone and sing like a great cellist would. You can increase intensity a bit at the piu f marking.
The Ride of the Valkyries (figure 3)
The two most common issues in this excerpt are:
#1) Wrong rhythm. If you break each bar down into three bars of ¾ time, the correct rhythm becomes very clear (figure 4).
#2) I hear many players say “Now is my chance to show how loudly I can play!” Trust that the committee does not want to hear that, and with woodwind and string players on audition committees for brass openings, it isn’t something you want to volunteer. The first part is only marked forte. Later, in the ff, try to think of the tone having a bit more weight and mass. In the ff section, the low F’s and E’s lend themselves to this idea.
Remember, quality tone, clear articulation, good intonation, good rhythm, and great musicianship will end up first at the auditions and earn the respect of your colleagues.