Looking Back: by Brian Bowman
Profile: Leonard Falcone
The following interview is reprinted from its original publication in 1978.
Leonard Falcone is Professor Emeritus of Music at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan. He retired as Director of Bands in 1967, but has continued to teach euphonium and tuba to the present time. Throughout his long career, Mr. Falcone has been recognized as a distinguished conductor, adjudicator, clinician, euphonium soloist and teacher. His three albums of euphonium solo literature have been an aid to euphonists everywhere. He has published numerous articles in music journals and magazines relative to the euphonium. He has done transcriptions and special arrangements for euphonium and co-authored a beginning method, in addition to his many arrangements for the concert band. His many solo appearances with high school and college bands, in addition to his records, have greatly promoted the euphonium.
Brian Bowman: How did you start playing euphonium? Was it your first instrument?
Leonard Falcone: I’ll have to go back a good deal of my years in order to explain how I became interested in music. First of all, I was born in Roseto, Italy, which is located between Rome and Naples. We had a very fine municipal band and all the youngsters were interested in becoming musicians so they could play in the band. I began to study at the age of nine. I started on the alto horn and played in the band for three years and then switched to valve trombone. I played this from 1911 until 1915 at which time I came to the United States carrying the valve trombone with me. I came to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where my oldest brother was living and gradually, as I began to learn the language, started playing in the theatres in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and other nearby towns. At this time I began to think seriously of my career in music and became very interested in violin. I enrolled in the school of music at the University of Michigan and graduated in 1926 as a violinist. In the meantime, I played the valve trombone and occasionally the euphonium, and made my living playing for dances. After I graduated in 1926, the position director of bands at Michigan State University (Michigan State College at that time) became available and, to make a long story short, I was chosen for that job. This gives you my basic background.
BB: When did you actually become interested in the euphonium and did you study euphonium with anyone?
LF: My educational background had been in strings and all my brass training had been on the alto horn and trombone, so I actually have not studied the euphonium with anyone in particular. In truth, I chose the euphonium because I liked the music that was
Falcone in 1963 written for the instrument, both in original band compositions from the standpoint of my interest in cello literature and the way the cello sounded in the orchestra.
BB: Has this cello-euphonium relationship affected your concept of the euphonium?
LF: I feel that my style of playing the euphonium has been unconsciously influenced by my interest in string music. Automatically, I try to imitate the cello in the orchestra, both in terms of techniques, tone quality and expression. When I study a piece of music, if it is a lyrical type of composition, I think of the cello and try to inject the same expression the cellist would. For example, if I were to play the “Swan Song” (Carnival of Animals by Saint-Saens) on the euphonium, I would try to assimilate my performance to the way a cellist would play it because it was written for cello originally. That is why my style is somewhat different from the general concept of euphonium playing. I like a very expressive sound, a very expressive tone and at the same time, if it’s a technical type of music, I would like to make it as brilliant and exciting as possible.
BB: You continue to teach euphonium and tuba at Michigan State University even past regular retirement. Have you always taught these instruments there?
LF: When I first came to East Lansing, the department was very small. I had to teach all the brass instruments besides conducting the marching and concert bands and administering the department of bands; I was very busy. I didn’t practice euphonium very much, not because I didn’t want to, but because I never had the time. Therefore, I practiced what I felt was needed most. Eventually the department grew and the last 25 or 30 years we have had a specialist in each instrument. I was relieved of the cornets, trumpets, French horns and trombones but I continued to teach the euphoniums and tubas, and still do.
With wife Beryl, 1984
BB: Do you feel that one of the advantages of studying euphonium with someone who plays the instrument is that the student can more easily grasp the concepts of tone quality and style?
LF: That’s very true. I know that the famous teacher at the Eastman School of Music, the late Emory Remington-I never met the gentleman-never played a note for his students. He was able to explain what he wanted to the students orally. I wish I could do that.
BB: I understand that he used to sing to and with his students in their lessons.
LF: Perhaps that was his extra ability. At times, in my case, I run out of explanations and out of patience, and finally demonstrate the desired effect on the instrument. If I couldn’t do that I don’t think I could teach effectively. I like to explain as much as I can, but if the student is still not receiving a clear idea of what I’m trying to tell him, then I have to demonstrate on the horn.
BB: Looking at the large variety of solos that you have recorded on your three record albums, could you give us an idea of what literature you think the euphonium performer should play?
At the Interlochen Arts Academy, 1930
LF: Unfortunately, the euphonium is not understood by most serious composers. Since the euphonium is not part of the symphony orchestra, serious composers on the whole know nothing about the instrument. We have been denied a solo literature that we would have had if this had not been the case. Consequently we have to rely upon the trombone solo literature and also into cello, cornet, and saxophone solos. It is a handicap in a sense that many of the solos that we play are not written particularly for our instrument. However, if we play a solo written for trombone and play it on the euphonium with equal musical effect as is done by the trombonist, there’s no reason why we can’t accept it as part of the euphonium solo literature. Just recently, we have been getting a few serious composers to write specifically for our instrument.
BB: You’ve had several solos written for you by friends and former students, haven’t you?
LF: I believe there are two or three. One was the Recitative, Arioso, and Polonaise by Carl Busch (published by Belwin) who was a well-known composer and conductor in Kansas City. He was a guest conductor at the National Music Camp in the mid-thirties when I happened to be there as a soloist. He liked the instrument, so he wrote the solo and dedicated it to me. Just recently, one of my former students has written a Rhapsody for euphonium and band. Somehow, I hope that you younger people will find some way of attracting the serious composer to write for the euphonium.
BB: The records which you made were certainly not recorded in your youth. How did they come about?
last known photo, fall 1984
LF: I was asked by Golden Crest if I would be interested in making some records for them. I had no idea that anyone would be interested in recording euphonium solos. I said that I would be glad to do so and in the early 1960’s, they came to our campus and recorded the tapes in the small auditorium in our music building. I was 63 or 64 at the time and I continued to perform publicly until just about two years ago.
BB: From your vast experience in the band field we would very much like to hear your thoughts about the role of the euphonium in the band.
LF: I’m very unhappy about the type of music that is written for band by most of our contemporary composers. For some unknown reason they are not paying much attention to the contribution the euphonium can make to their compositions. I think one reason is that the compositions being written today are primarily rhythmic and percussive. There are some works that the entirely devoid of any lyricism or song type music. As a consequence, the euphonium, which is essentially a warm lyrical instrument, has no place in the modern music that is being written for band. They use the instrument as a supplement to the tubas and trombones and are not exploiting the instrument for what it is essentially built to represent. It is a lyrical instrument and to me it is a great satisfaction when I hear a new composition that has some lyrical passages. I think that the tone quality of the band instruments is not being used properly. These newer works are many times not as lasting or satisfying because of the lack of contrast. I agree with the composers that they should try something new but to go so far as to eliminate all music of a lyrical nature is a mistake, I think. Because of this trend in contemporary compositions, (relying upon the rhythmic and percussive type of effects) the role that the euphonium should play in the band has been practically eliminated. I think the composers are trying to evolve something new and we’re in the period of experimentation. I also think there is a relationship between playing the euphonium artistically and the role it should occupy in the band. Let me go a bit further on this. My string background and orchestral training have affected, unconsciously, my concept of how the band should play. I always try to have the band play as smoothly as possible if we’re playing an orchestral transcription. I feel that it is very important to assimilate (I don’t know that we should imitate) the orchestral texture and style. If the music is lyrical, we must express it in the same manner as the string instruments by our use of vibrato and style. I don’t feel that the band should play like an orchestra, but it should assimilate itself artistically and musically comparably to the orchestra. Not using the euphonium properly in the band would be like having an orchestra without celli. I don’t think the orchestra would have a full range of expression without the cello section; the band would have same problem without the euphonium section. Some day, more composers of band music are going to recognize the necessity of giving important parts, especially lyrical types of music, to the euphonium in the band. It expands the range of expression, there’s no question in my mind about that. Several composers are already doing this. I can think of one right now.
I am a great admirer of Reed’s writing because he uses the band instrumentation to great advantage. He recognizes the euphonium as a very expressive instrument. He is writing a symphony for the Michigan State University Band and told me yesterday that he is keeping the euphonium very much in mind as he is writing. I’m looking forward to hearing it. We have to talk to the composers and make them understand how we feel about the unsatisfactory use of the euphonium in the band medium. At my school I frequently talk with our composers about the necessity of using the instrument more than they have in the past. I hope that the day will come when the instrument will regain its natural role in the band.
BB: What advice would you give to the young euphonium player?
LF: As long as we have bands, we’ll need the euphonium. While there are not many professional bands there are many opportunities for the euphonium performer to appear as a soloist. To my knowledge, whenever there’s a fine euphonium soloist, he’s always well-liked. I always encourage my students to continue studying the euphonium.
Actually, in all the years I’ve been teaching I know of only one or two cases where a student has changed from euphonium to trombone. If the instrument is played well with its full range of expression and the brilliant technique which can be developed, it is the most beautiful instrument I know. I like the French horn, trumpet and other brasses, but there’s something about the euphonium that is distinctive to me. While I may be prejudiced, I consider it the most beautiful instrument in the whole family. I say to the aspiring young euphonium players that your knowledge and skill attained in mastering the instrument with artistry will help you be a better musician and band conductor. You will also have the satisfaction of playing a beautiful instrument for your own enjoyment, performing for the general public, and perhaps inspiring the development of other fine euphonium performers.
Brief Bio (reprinted from 1978)
Brian Bowman is a member of the United States Air Force Band and is Euphonium
Coordinator for T.U.B.A. This interview was recorded on December 15, 1977, at the Mid-West National Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago, Illinois.
Current Brief Bio
Brian Bowman is a euphonium professor, performer and recording artist notable for having sat lead euphonium in the premier bands of both the United States Navy and the United States Air Force as well as having performed the first euphonium recital at Carnegie Hall.