Just for the Fun Of It Ron Knoener, Associate Editor for Amateurs
An Admirable Trio: A Look at three ways of making music part of your life by Neal Corwell, Associate Editor for Euphonium
Throughout the years, I’ve read and enjoyed many articles about well-known professionals (soloists, college professors, and members of professional bands and orchestras) who have, through their extraordinary musicianship, done much to promote our beloved tubas and euphoniums. The praise and accolades showered on such people is well deserved, but there are other musicians among us who are also deserving of recognition. I am speaking of the many amateur members of TUBA who contribute so much to the world of music, even if they are not currently making a living as “professional” musicians. These people love music enough to devote many hours of their valuable spare time to practice, teaching, ensemble rehearsal and other musical endeavors. Even though they may not derive their primary income from music, they certainly are musicians in the truest sense of the word, and their contributions are invaluable. I would like to salute all the musicians that fit into this category (clearly the majority within the TUBA organization) by highlighting the contributions of a few. In particular, I have chosen to introduce to the readership of TUBA the following individuals: Sue Alt, David Silden, and Lee Dummer. Sue, Dave, and Lee are three people who I admire very much, and who I am fortunate to have as friends. I certainly realize that many other people within the ranks of TUBA also have compelling stories about how they’ve made music an important part of their lives, and I wish I could’ve written about all of you. However, a project of such Herculean proportions would have been beyond my means. (Please keep our Associate Editor for Amateurs, Ron Knoener informed of your activities!) Instead, I’ve limited myself to telling you about three people that I believe represent a good cross section of our membership. I chose this trio because of what they have in common, and also because of their differences. They differ in their musical backgrounds and the ways they have made music a part of their daily lives, but all three are euphonium players, are members of TUBA, and devote much time to their instrument despite busy schedules in careers other than music performance. It is my hope that their thoughts on music and its place in our lives will echo many of our members’ experiences and philosophies, and that their stories will provide inspiration and encouragement to everyone.
Sue Alt was raised in a musical family and is now passing that heritage on, not only to her offspring, but also to many other children who reside in her Findlay, Ohio neighborhood. Sue recalls tagging along as a small child when her father played piano in a dance band (something he still does at the age of 801), and before long she was honking away on a clarinet. In high school she took up trumpet, and eventually trombone, in order to play in the all-brass marching band. Before graduation, she had already toured with a folk-singing group (playing guitar and banjo) and played trombone in a rock band. It wasn’t until her senior year in college, when the Ohio Northern University concert band and brass ensemble required someone to play euphonium, that she finally began playing that noble conical instrument. She immediately loved the euphonium (who wouldn’t?) and signed up to perform all over Europe with an “all-American student band” during the summer following graduation. Her euphonium resided in a closet for the next several years, but when she moved to Findlay in 1992 she dusted it off to join the local community band and church brass ensemble. To improve her playing skills. Sue began studying privately with a couple of fellow TUBA members: Dave Saygers, and Joel Pugh. She now plays euphonium and baritone with the Heidelburg Brass Band, is a tubist with the Findlay Chamber Brass, and frequently performs solos with those organizations and at other community functions when the opportunity presents itself.
In addition to her performance activities, Mrs. Alt teaches private music lessons to about 25 children per week, is a full-time home-school teacher to her own children (A.J. and Lauren), and is the director of a fledgling home-school band program. The band presented three concerts during its first year, and now, only in its second year, the group has been divided into two contingents: one for beginners, and another for the “seasoned” players. In addition to conducting the ensembles. Sue also does some arranging for the groups. Her teaching activities have provided the impetus for yet another musical project: the writing of a progressive theory course suitable for both young and older students. Sue, along with another area music teacher, Sheila Umbs, is in the process of creating a new series of methods designed to make navigating the labyrinths of music theory a fun and exciting experience. As if this weren’t enough to keep her busy, she also coaches a basketball team and does custom computer programming from her home. Sue tells me she tries to impress upon her students (and their parents) that “musical training is something that can be enjoyed throughout one’s lifetime.” She’s heard countless regrets from adults who wished they had worked harder at developing their musical skills, but says “1 have never heard any adult tell me that they wish they hadn’t spent so much time with music lessons when they were younger.” Sue believes that all of us are “musical beings, as evidenced by our voices and even the beat of our hearts.” The following statement is certainly a testament to the reverence she holds for music:
“Music is something that cannot be touched, but can be felt, and used to touch others; it can be heard, but no two people hear it exactly the same way; it can be seen, yet is invisible; and once you learn to experience its delightful fragrance and savor its sweetness, you have sensed one of the greatest gifts of an Almighty God.”
David Silden spent 27 years teaching music in public schools. He directed bands and orchestras, taught everything from general music to vocal music, and worked at the elementary, middle (school), and high school levels. Although he had been a dedicated student of the euphonium during his undergraduate college years at Central Michigan, his teaching schedule didn’t allow as much time for practice as he would have liked. However, now that he is retired from teaching, he’s had time to re-acquaint himself with the instrument. Not that it doesn’t require some effort to fit practice sessions into his daily routine. He currently has a full-time job as the educational representative for “MARS” (Music and Recording Superstore) in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dave usually arises around 6 a.m. so that he can practice before going to work, and then he slips home at lunchtime to get in some more playing time. Most evenings he has a brass rehearsal or performance to attend. Many of those rehearsals are with the St. Andrew’s Brass, a group he founded, and has been directing since 1987. The ensemble size is varied from 8 to 45 members, depending upon what is needed for the literature to be performed, and every year the group sponsors a large brass festival which is held at St. Andrew’s United Methodist Church in Charlotte. Dave also performs locally as principal euphonium with The Queen City Brass Band.
His renewed interest in playing has resulted in several solo opportunities during recent years, in addition to his regular appearances as soloist with local ensembles and at his church. In 1995 he was guest soloist on the Charlotte Guild of Organii summer recital series, and in 1997 he pet formed on an alumni recital at the Inter- lochen Center for the Arts in Interlochei Michigan (an event dedicated to the memory of Rex Conner). In April of this year, Dave presented his first full-length solo recital since his graduation from college thirty-two years ago. It was such a positive experience, he’s planning on presenting one every year from now on. He also hopes to start up a tuba quartet in the Charlotte area whenever he can dmm up enough interest.
Dave is very enthusiastic about playing his horn again, and insists that his attitude was shaped by the many talented teachers he had over the years. He says they gave him a “full plate of things to consider when playing the euphonium,” and he very much would like to share what each of them did for him. Dave tells us that James Hewitt (Marine City, Michigan) “opened the door to my pleasure and enjoyment of the euphonium when he told me he needed a baritone player in his high school band and not another frustrated trumpet player who couldn’t play above the staff.” Robert Jones (Detroit Symphony Orchestra) “showed me that the way to a better performance was through quality practice time.” William Rivard (Central Michigan University) “taught me what proper technique really was and how to achieve it.” Rex Conner (Interlochen Center for the Arts) “showed me how to tmly enjoy playing the euphonium. He introduced me to some exciting literature which gave me the push to explore more and newer music than I had known up to that point in my musical life, a journey I am still on.” And his last teacher, Leslie Varner (Ball State University) “demonstrated and encouraged musical finesse, which I still strive for today.”
In addition to his current quest to seek out and learn new music for the euphonium, Mr. Silden has also had a hand in the creation of some of the newer literature in this genre. Ken Snoeck, Dave’s college roommate, wrote an unaccompanied work for him in 1966 titled Auf Wiedersehen, and in 1999, Dave commissioned Ron Follas to write a new composition featuring he euphonium. The resultant work, as yet unpublished, is Prayer for solo euphonium with organ. As to his future plans, Dave is looking forward with great antic- f ipation to the 2001 ITEC Conference in i; Lahti, Finland. He plans to travel there with his wife Sally and perform with at least one of the tuba/euphonium ensemble groups. The visit will hold special significance for Dave, because his father’s family came from Finland. He feels it will be a thrill to perform in his father’s country of origin.
Lee Dummer is a graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College and has done graduate work in euphonium performance at both Catholic University of America and the Eastman School of Music, where he performed with the famous Eastman Wind Ensemble. He won a position with The United States Army Band (Pershing’s Own) of Washington, D.C. in 1976 and served that organization as a eupho- niumist and soloist for six years. During his stay in the nation’s capitol, he performed with The National Concert Band of America (alongside Arthur Lehman and Harold Brasch) and served as editor of the journal Euphonia (a journal for eupho- niumists). In addition to these musical activities, Lee also began studying computer technology, and in 1982 moved back to his home state of Minnesota to begin his current career as a computer specialist.
Lee soon made fresh musical contacts in this new locale and became section leader and euphonium soloist with the Medalist Concert Band, a position he has held for the last sixteen years. He has also performed with the Minnesota Orchestra and as a euphonium soloist on the nationally aired Prairie Home Companion show, as well as with several other instrumental ensembles in the Twin Cities area and throughout the Midwest, including the American Brass Revue, the Calvary Brass Ensemble, the Exultate Chamber Choir and Orchestra, the Classic Brass Quintet, The Minneapolis and Plymouth Trombone Choirs, the Minneapolis Brass Ensemble, and the Minneapolis Tuba/Euphonium Quartet. In addition to his performance activities, he also collects out-of-print music featuring solo euphonium, trombone, and comet. A t last count, his library included over 250 solos/duos/trios with band accompaniment, cUid another 150 or so with brassband. Lee currently resides in Crystal,Minnesota with his wife Marijane (also a musician who makes her living in computer-related work) and his daughter Laura. Lee strongly believes “that everyone can succeed as a musician at his or her own level of competence. Opportunities are available for everyone to perform, and if the opportunity is not there, the individual should take the initiative and create their own opportunities.” In addition to performing in traditional venues with the many organizations of which he is currently a member, he has also performed “in churches, libraries, school lyceums, and shopping malls.” Lee feels that one of the first hurdles one must overcome in seeking out performance opportunities is the fear that audiences won’t respond because so few people are familiar with the euphonium. Instead of worrying about such things, his advice is to focus on the many advantages the instmment has to offer, such as the fact that it “is so adaptable to many different ensembles, and blends well with organ and the human voice.” Lee also has some ready-made advice for all the audience members who approach him after concerts telling him that they used to play baritone or euphonium. His response invariably is: “It is not too late to start again.”
Like the three euphoniumists that are the subject of this article, I too devote a good portion of my time to a “day job” that does not involve music performance. I therefore feel that it is appropriate that I also share some of my personal views about music and the role it can play in our lives, even if we’re involved in a career that is far removed from the musical sphere. In my case, although my primary income is generated from music performance and composition, I devote much of my time and energy to a nonmusical vocation: farming. There are certainly those who think that time spent in non-musical activities detracts from one’s musicianship, but I do not believe that to be true. In fact, in the case of farming versus music, I find the two to be complimentary. I feel that I’m a better musician because of the perspective on life and the inspiration that I gain from working outdoors, taking care of animals, and so forth. Likewise, the more mundane aspects of farm life are more than made up for by all the challenges and joys music has to offer. I am NOT suggesting that all musicians should take up farming as a second career. However, I am suggesting that exposure to the realities of life outside of the music world gives one a keener perspective on life itself. As musicians, we can then channel this deeper understanding and appreciation into our music. We benefit, as do our audiences, so this is one of those great situations where everyone wins.
To all of you out there making music, professional or amateur, I applaud you. Keep up the good work!
Dr. Neal Coruiell is a former adjunct college professor and euphonium soloist with The US Army Band (Pershing’s Own) in Washington DC. He has a DMA degree in euphonium performance and pedagogy and currently makes his living as a free-lance brass soloist/clinician/composer while working with his father on their family farm in Clear Spring, Maryland.