Military Corner: Adam Arnold of the Royal Australian Navy Band
by Steven Maxwell
Adam Arnold was born into a musical family, beginning his performance career with a cornet for his 6th birthday. He quickly moved on to bigger and better instruments, playing the trombone and euphonium before finally settling on the tuba.
After a brief stint studying at the Victorian College of the Arts, Adam moved to Melbourne University where he graduated with Honours in Music Performance in 2004.
Adam has performed in numerous orchestras, wind bands, big bands, jazz combos, roving groups, cover bands, and pit orchestras. In addition to playing he is an accomplished arranger and conductor.
Highlights of Adam’s career to date include:
• Playing sousaphone in the opening ceremony at the Sydney Olympics
• Performing with the National Youth Show Band at Carnegie Hall, New York
• Competing in the Kanagawa Marching Band festival in Japan
• Marching in the Chinese New Year parade in Hong Kong
• Winning Open Eb tuba solo titles in Australia and New Zealand
Adam moved to Sydney in 2005 to take up a full time position as a tuba player in the Royal Australian Navy Band. As a member of the RANB he tours extensively, having played in every state in Australia as well as internationally. In 2006 he joined the Gunnedah Shire Band, current Australian champions.
Adam took a break from the Navy in 2009 to travel with his wife and lived in Paris, where he performed with Brass Band Aeolus at the European National Brass Band Championships. He also spent time in the UK, performing with the Leyland Band.
Adam now lives in Melbourne with his wife Cathy and daughter Sophie. He performs with the RANB, as a freelance musician and teacher, and runs Funk Buddies, a New Orleans style street funk band.
Steven Maxwell: Can you tell us a little about your duties as a member of the Royal Australian Navy Band?
Adam Arnold: I play tuba for our parade band, concert band, and brass quintet. We are the smaller of two detachments in Australia, so I double on a few instruments – bass trombone in big band and occasionally euphonium, tenor trombone, and bass guitar when necessary.
SM: What drew you to the military?
AA: The military was not an obvious choice to me. I studied tuba at Melbourne University and, like many, had aspirations of finding an orchestral job. As most tubists realize, this is a pretty narrow field. The military offers a full time playing job with good pay and conditions, a good alternative to practicing the same excerpts for years in the hope of winning one of the very few orchestral jobs. It offers some great opportunities of its own, including some very high profile performances.
SM: What type of touring schedule do you follow each year?
AA: For the most part, we stay local. The job does offer some tours though, either on ships or for special occasions interstate or overseas. I have done two 3 month stints at sea, visiting Asia and the Pacific Rim, and travelled to Turkey, Brunei, and Hong Kong for special events. We tour interstate more often, and I have performed several times in every state in Australia.
SM: What are some of the most memorable moments you have had as a member of the Band?
AA: The most significant day on the Australian military calendar is ANZAC day. Australian and New Zealand troops stormed a beach in Turkey in the First World War in our first major military engagement since federation. The spirit, courage, and good nature shown by those young men, the ANZACs, have never been forgotten. A commemoration service is held at dawn at that beach in Gallipoli, Turkey every year. I was lucky enough to perform in that service in 2007. It is a very moving ceremony.
SM: What other type of playing do you enjoy outside of the military band?
AA: I love variety – I play anything. Most of my efforts are directed to my band, Funk Buddies, a kind of New Orleans street funk group in the style of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (Check us out at www.funkbuddies.com.au). I also play Eb tuba with the Gunnedah Shire Band, currently Australia’s champion brass band.
SM: How has your playing evolved since you have been playing with the military band?
AA: At university, tubists study solos and orchestral excerpts in order to sound distinctive. In bands, most of the time you need to blend. Where my time at uni was spent practicing high register, Arban’s excercises, and solos, now I practice mainly low register exercises for a consistent smooth and full sound.
SM: What kinds of things have you found yourself doing differently, stylistically, playing with the ensemble?
AA: Pedals. I challenge myself to play quietly and consistently in the pedal register in slower works – the depth of sound it can add to a wind band I think is breathtaking. It is a matter of taste of course, but done successfully – soft and in tune – it doesn’t stick out, it makes the lower end of the band sound warm and beautiful.
SM: What has been your most enjoyable piece of music to play with the group?
AA: I don’t really have a favorite genre or style within the job. Any piece of music can be satisfying – it is the audience that matters. Marching down the street in front of veterans playing the same marches we always do will never get old to me, nor will playing hymns at memorial services.
SM: What advice do you have for students interested in auditioning for a military band?
AA: Don’t expect the job to satisfy your creativity. Just because it is a performance job doesn’t mean your needs will be met. Like any employer, the military bands are employing you to fulfill a role within their organization. Enjoy it for what it is – a job where you play your instrument all the time. Use the time and money you get from your job to then pursue creativity.
SM: Tell us about your early musical influences, even before you began playing the tuba. Did you hear much live music at a young age?
AA: I come from a very musical family. Both my parents are music educators and performers. I saw my first orchestral concert at the age of 11 months. I still have the program!
SM: How did you begin your musical training? At what age did you begin playing tuba?
AA: I was given a cornet for my 6th birthday and graduated to bigger and better things. My dad conducted my school band and needed a tuba player, so I obliged. I have always played a few instruments, but my heart remains with the tuba. There is something about the physicality of the sound that I find irresistible.
SM: When did you decide that you wanted to become a professional musician?
AA: I was actually in the US at the time. I toured with a youth big band as a 17 year old and thought yep, this is the life for me. I just found that musicians were the sort of people I wanted to be around.
SM: Who were some of your most inspirational teachers throughout your studies? What specifically did you learn from these teachers that helped you in the military bands?
AA: My teacher at university was Paul Gunning from the Royal Australian Air Force Band. He had a no nonsense approach that was very much centered on making a good, warm sound. We played together a lot in lessons, so I could just listen to his sound and learn from it. Too much teaching generally is based on talking – you can often learn a lot more from playing duets with a better player.
SM: You have worked with a number of great artists and conductors. Could you tell the readers about a few of them and what you may have learned from them?
AA: I have been very fortunate to have played with and under many great musicians. The best conductors and soloists have shown a remarkably intimate knowledge of the music they are performing and what they intend to say with it. Good musicianship demands a flawless progression from idea to instrument to audience, and the best performers and conductors achieve this, seemingly naturally.
SM: What instrument do you use? Mouthpiece?
AA: I own a Miraphone 1291 BBb and a Willson 3200S Eb, both with G&W stainless mouthpieces. I also have a Conn 36K sousaphone, spray painted black for my funk gigs.