Just for the Fun of It Ron Knoener, Associate Editor for Amateurs
Building Your Local Tuba-Euphonium Ensemble and Other Thoughts
My first trip to a TubaChristmas prompted a discussion with another amateur player, soon to become a T.U.B.A. life member. The conversation went something like this:
“Man, that was a great time last Saturday.”
“Boy, I’ll say, that was some fun bad we can’t do that year round; what a great sound.”
“Why can’t we? All we have to do is find some music, some players and a place to rehearse.”
At that instant, the Twin City Tuba Band was conceived. The two of us started buying, begging, borrowing and otherwise obtaining tuba quartet music. Finding musicians that wanted to play in a small ensemble never seemed to be much of a problem. In fact, they seemed to coming out of the woodwork. We both were in enough community bands that we have never had any trouble getting players. Finding directors is a separate issue. It is difficult to find directors for a euphonium-tuba ensemble since any self respecting euphonium or tuba player wants to play in and not direct said ensemble. And, the converse is that hardly any director that isn’t a low brass player wants to direct a tuba ensemble because of stereotypes and the like. One of the other things I’ve noticed about tuba ensembles is how easily they will attract professional players. This is both good and bad. A word of caution learned through more than a few years experience; do not count on the following in this order:
1. Professional players – they make their living playing a hom or teaching and that always comes first (as it should).
2. High School players – they are as unpredictable as the weather or their summer job.
3. College Players – they are around for 4 years at the most and then are gone forever.
4. Disruptive players – There is no place in any group for these people and you must not let them influence the group – no matter how good they are or think they are. You, the organizer, must be like a Master-At-Arms and you must control them.
Once the group is operational, the organizer needs to keep it going. This involves a whole lot of administrative tasks. We are now getting into the philosophy of group organization according to Bart. These are outlined as follows:
1. Make and keep updated a group roster. This is the lifeline to all members.
2. Make, stuff and keep up with music folders for all of the members. TTiis is the most daunting and frustrating task because, in general, most people are not super organized or super neat and the music does not belong to them. There is AIWAYS music missing. There is always wrinkled, folded or torn music. There are always LOST or MISSING folders that need to be replaced.
3. Make and maintain a call chain list in larger groups to make it easier to contact everyone quickly.
All of these items should not be the director’s or organizer’s responsibility. The director’s responsibilities should be for the music in the folders and to conduct meaningful rehearsals. Do not allow the director to pick all o|f the music. Ask the members which pieces they like to play and want in the folders. Let me digress to say what I believe the members’ responsibilities to be. They include having their folder, getting gigs for the group, and bringing in new members to maintain or grow the group.
Now that you’ve gotten your euphonium – tuba ensemble up and running, take a step back, smile to yourself, and pat yourself on the back for your meaningful accomplishment (because no one else will). This effort works for brass quartets and quintets as well as other ensembles, except that the instruments look real funny and you are forced to deal with “soprano tuba” player egos.
Going to workshops and ITEC conventions is another way I have greatly expanded my sphere of knowledge about music, playing, and our instrument. An ITEC convention will open your eyes to the tuba and euphonium world like throwing ice water in your face. There is so much to see, hear, and do that the first one can be overwhelming. My first ITEC was in 1992, and I’ve been to 3 others since. All were great but for different reason which might surprise you. Another great way to get your feet wet so to speak is to attend the United States Army Band’s Tuba Euphonium Conference held every year in the last week of January at Fort Meyer, Virginia, If you = can’t beat the cost (attendance is free) since all you have to pay for is lodging and food, – unless, like a friend of mine, you buy a tuba every time you go. All of the conferences have all the vendors you would ever want to visit. You can buy horns, accessories, music CDs, sheet music and more.
In closing, a little philosophy about taking lessons from a professional as an amateur player. Always remember that you are paying the bills and you are responsible for what you want to leam. I had quite a time convincing all of my professional instructors that I did not need to be proficient in 5, 6, and 7 sharps. I do not play in an orchestra. If I ever do, I’ll leam orchestra keys then. You also probably don’t need to be able to triple tongue The Flight of the Bumblebee, play an octave above middle C or an octave below a pedal C. The late, great John Fletcher had a philosophy of leaming to which I subscribe; wait until you really need it – you leam faster under pressure. Also, it helps to have an idea of what proficiencies you want or need help with before the first lesson. Do not let them “kill” you by assigning more material than you have time to practice. You are most likely working fiill time and cannot possibly practice as much as the professional’s full time students can. If you can’t dedicate 2 to 3 hours of practice each week, your lessons should be every other week or once a month. One last item: if you are not prepared for a particular lesson, cancel it and save the money. Why go to it unprepared and not do well? If you must go, take some duet books and ask if the instructor will play duets with you. It is great ear training and sight reading experience. You can reschedule the material for the next lesson.
About the author… Bart Collins, who lives in North Carolina, is an amateur player and co-host of ITEC 2002 which will focus on concerns of amateur euphoniumists and tubists.