Tribute to Gary Bird
by Zach Collins
Dr. Gary Bird’s career as Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) is marked by its longevity. Dr. Bird has performed in all corners of the country and world as a soloist and member of the Colonial Tuba Quartet, has taught thousands of students over the course of his tenure at IUP, and has contributed greatly to the tuba and euphonium community.
Gary Bird was born April 26, 1945 on a farm just north of Menomonie, Wisconsin. Music was a part of his early life as his was a musical family. Dr. Bird was the fifth of six brothers. All of the Bird youngsters played instruments. The six brothers formed a polka band that toured and performed around the state. However, Gary was not the tubist—he was the drummer.
Gary and Kaye Bird in front of their home in Spring Valley, WI
Dr. Bird later picked up the tuba when he attended high school. In 1963 he went on to Wisconsin State University-River Falls (now the University of Wisconsin-River Falls) where he earned his Bachelor of Music Education Degree in 1968. His primary teachers at River Falls were Conrad DeJong and Charles Dalkert. Dr. Bird earned his Master of Music in Tuba Performance in August of 1971 from North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas) under the tutelage of Dr. David Kuehn. While a student at North Texas, Bird also served as the principal tubist of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra from 1970–71.
Immediately after graduation from North Texas, Bird joined the faculty of Indiana University of Pennsylvania in Indiana, Pennsylvania where he worked for the next 36 years. At IUP Dr. Bird taught applied tuba and euphonium lessons and Introduction to Music. He also led the Tubaphonium Ensemble, IUP Brass Ensemble, and the pit orchestra for the IUP Musical Theater productions. During his three decades in Indiana, Dr. Bird was a member of the Hoodlebug Brass Quintet (IUP faculty quintet) and held the principal positions with the Keystone Wind Ensemble and the Johnstown and Westmoreland Symphony Orchestras. Dr. Bird also served as Director of Music at Zion Lutheran Church in Indiana, Pennsylvania for 23 years. In 1987 Dr. Bird was named “Teacher of the Year” by the Pennsylvania Music Teachers Association.
In 1990 Dr. Bird, along with Mary Ann Craig, Jay Hildebrandt, and Gregory Fritze, formed the Colonial Tuba Quartet. As a member of this ensemble, Dr. Bird performed at various festivals and conferences in Sapporo, Japan, Riva del Garda, Italy, Lexington, Kentucky, Western Europe, and Washington, D.C. The group released a CD, Spectraphonics in 1994.
Gary Bird, drummer, Bird Family Polka Band, 1962
In 1992 Gary Bird earned his doctorate from Indiana University, Bloomington, the culmination of a year of residency combined with multiple summer studies with Harvey Phillips. He published Program Notes for the Solo Tuba in 1994 through Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana. On October 11, 2007, the tuba and euphonium studio at IUP was dedicated as the “Gary Bird Studio for Tuba and Euphonium,” thanks to the generous contributions of family, friends, and colleagues. This dedication was spearheaded by the great Hollywood tubist, Jim Self, who is a graduate of IUP and a great friend to the IUP Department of Music.
Dr. Bird recently moved to Spring Valley, Wisconsin and is presently on the faculty of St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota. He performs with the Sheldon Theater Brass Band in Red Wing, Minnesota, is a member of the St. Croix Valley Symphony Orchestra, and is conducting musicals at the Mabel Tainter Theater in Menomonie, Wisconsin.
Gary Bird, fullback, Boyceville High School, 1962
Zach Collins (ZC): When did you start playing tuba?
Gary Bird (GB): My mother and father were dairy farmers in Wisconsin. They had six sons, and I was number five. As each of the boys neared high school age they began playing instruments. This eventually led to a family polka band, in which I was the drummer. I was about nine at the time. My four older brothers played sousaphone, trombone, saxophone, and accordion, and my younger brother played trumpet. We played all over Western Wisconsin at PTA meetings, Farmer’s Union meetings and dance halls with colorful names like The White Owl, Oak Inn, The Gray Goose Pavilion, The 400 Club, and the Pines Ballroom. Every weekend for about ten years my mother and dad transported the six of us from town to town and dance hall to dance hall playing polkas, waltzes, schottisches, and fox trots. We had a 1948 Chrysler eight-passenger limousine for transportation. One can only imagine the time and effort on the part of our parents to do all of this while running two dairy farms, milking cows, plowing and planting, harvesting hay, oats, and corn and of course raising six sons. Mom’s ironing was never done, and she baked about 15 loaves of bread each week from scratch.
When I was in seventh grade, I started playing the trombone in the school music program. In eighth grade, the band director needed a big kid to play tuba, so I switched to tuba and have been playing it ever since. My first school horn was a King sousaphone, but as I advanced in ability I was allowed to transfer up to a new Olds sousaphone. While in high school, I also taught myself saxophone and switched from playing drums in the polka band to saxophone. I never played tuba in the family band because my oldest brother and later my cousin played tuba.
ZC: As a child did you have any other activities that you were interested in?
GB: My interests as a youngster revolved around baseball. I was fascinated by throwing, catching, and hitting a baseball. We had a large wall on the farmhouse with no windows, and I would throw the ball against the wall and catch it until the paint chipped off the wall. I was 12 years old when Warren Spahn and Lew Brudette took the Milwaukee Braves to the World Series and defeated the New York Yankees. I can still recall game seven of the series: 5-0, Milwaukee. I started playing organized baseball when I was ten and continued through high school. I was a four-year letterman in high school, participating in football, baseball, and wrestling.
ZC: As a young musician, which musicians did you look up to most?
GB: I attended college at Wisconsin State University-River Falls, now known as University of Wisconsin-River Falls. I studied tuba with Conrad DeJong and Charles Dalkert and saxophone with Robert Samarotto. I performed in all of the ensembles that needed tuba (band, brass ensemble, and brass quintet) but also played four years in the jazz bands, first on bari sax and later on tenor. Much of my spending money was made playing saxophone with a combo at the Steamboat Inn in nearby Prescott, Wisconsin.
Much of my interest during my college years centered around jazz players. Being a “wannabe saxophonist,” I admired Getz, Desmond, Coltrane, and was in awe of Sal Nistico of the 60s Woody Herman bands. Solo repertoire for tuba was limited and recordings by tuba players were not very plentiful, but I was able to hear some of Harvey
Phillips’ early records. I learned the Persichetti Serenade No. 12 and the Wilder Suite for Horn, Tuba and Piano listening to Phillips’ recordings. The New York Brass Quintet was also important in my appreciation of Harvey Phillips and his great ensemble playing. It was during my undergraduate study that I purchased my first tuba, a new Miraphone 186 CC for $750.00. The year was 1966, and I still have the instrument and play it occasionally.
Gary Bird, sousaphone, Boyceville Brass Sextet, 1963
In 1970 I entered North Texas State University to study tuba with David Kuehn. He was a great influence on me and my subsequent teaching style. He was a wonderful role model for me and one whom I credit for the preparation needed to secure my subsequent position at IUP. While a student at North Texas, I became aware of the great artistry of Roger Bobo through his album Roger Bobo Plays Tuba.
I certainly was in awe of these two giants of musicianship and tuba performance: Harvey Phillips and Roger Bobo.
ZC: What was it like to study with Harvey Phillips?
GB: Most people were and are aware of Harvey Phillips’ superb artistry as a musician and tubist. When I studied with him, I was already over 30 years old and somewhat accomplished on the instrument. His primary philosophy of performance was to bring to life the intent of the composer—to interpret a composition in such a way as to exemplify the composer’s intent. He had a special respect and admiration for composers because he understood their absolute necessity to the performer. He always focused on the musical message that would be most effective: the melody, the nuance, and the overall musical experience. In our sessions, there was much discussion concerning interpretation of musical phrases, overall compositional structure, and the pursuit of a musical and satisfying outcome.
But Harvey Phillips is much more than a consummate musician. He is the quintessential visionary, and when people are in his presence for any length of time they begin to see the myriad ideas he has. Nearly everything he does has something to do with the future of music in its totality: the improvement of literature for tuba (well over 300
commissions), improvement of literature for other less understood instruments (euphonium, double bass, bassoon, trombone, viola, for example), OcTUBAfests and TubaChristmases, each to highlight the tuba and euphonium, to mention just a few.
Gary Bird, bari sax, River Falls Jazz Band
ZC: How did his teaching influence your teaching?
We are all products of the many teachers we have had in our lifetime. During my first lesson with Conrad DeJong at Wisconsin State University in 1963, he told me to play the tuba like a flute. I often remember that statement when I start playing too heavy and ponderous. The metaphor works. Charles Dalkert helped me with my breathing, even touching on yoga from time to time; David Kuehn encouraged musical preparation and responsibility. I also took several lessons from Ron Bishop of the Cleveland Orchestra and Arnold Jacobs of the Chicago Symphony; each helped me with the performance and interpretation of orchestral repertoire.
Harvey Phillips had a major impact on my teaching. He encouraged me to constantly work to present music, which sends a message, music that conveys, to the best of one’s ability, the intent of the composer and by all means play the melody and play it with expression and confidence. He also made me realize the importance of pride in being a tubist and to express that pride through one’s performance and dialogue. After my first year of study with Harvey, I invited him to our campus for a couple of days. His visit was one of the most exciting and memorable times for my students.
Gary Bird and Harvey Phillips, graduation from Indiana University, 1992
ZC: What interested you in writing Program Notes for the Solo Tuba?
This was the suggestion of Harvey. He felt that too often program notes were being written by people whose notes were lacking some of the most important aspects of a piece. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the composers write their own program notes? In the Foreword of the book, Harvey states, “These notes will inspire tubists to more definitive interpretations and give audiences a better understanding and enjoyment of the music performed.” Having composers write their own notes would greatly improve accuracy. When did you write it, what was the impetus, who was it written for, etcetera? This was an idea that Harvey put in my ear. Initially, I tried to use this as my final document to finish my doctorate, but it was turned down by the committee, so I went ahead with the project on my own and eventually was able to have it published.
ZC: How did you go about compiling the information in the book?
GB: It wasn’t very sophisticated. I simply chose those pieces that I felt were most important to the literature and wrote to the composers with a set of questions. The composers did the rest. Some of them did not respond, yet others were very happy to do so. In the case of deceased composers, such as Alec Wilder, Vincent Persichetti, Paul Hindemith, Halsey Stevens, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, I contacted people that Harvey and I felt would have insight into the composer’s works and would also feel a sense of honor in being asked to submit program notes about these distinguished composers’ works. I contacted people such as Philip Catelinet for the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto (Phil was the first to perform this great work in June 1954) and pianist Steven Harlos, who performed so many Wilder pieces with Harvey Phillips. From time to time I was able to find analysis and program information from other sources, such as premiere performances or scholarly articles.
The Composer Profiles at the end of the book was particularly gratifying. Scholars such as Gunther Schuller, Morten Lauridsen, David Neumeyer, Paul Borg, and the Staff at Theodore Presser Company contributed insightful articles about five very important composers for our instrument.
Gary Bird with his 186-4U CC, 1967, cost: $750
ZC: How did the Colonial Tuba Quartet come about?
Harvey Phillips was somewhat responsible for the beginning of the Colonial Tuba Quartet, although he did not know it at the time. The four members of the group, Mary Ann Craig (euphonium), Jay Hildebrandt (euphonium), Gregory Fritze (E-flat tuba), and myself (F tuba) all studied with Harvey but never at the same time. We did not know each other until Harvey organized several performances in New York City at Carnegie Hall and invited some of his students from the past to participate. The four of us were performers at these events and became acquainted with each other, usually over a few beers and pizza following the performances. In 1990, the International TUBA Conference was held in Sapporo, Japan. The conference was hoping for a good representation from America, so Mary Ann and Greg discussed the possibility of forming a quartet for this conference. They asked Jay Hildebrandt and me to join them, and that was the beginning. We performed concerts for about ten years, performing at TUBA (now ITEA) conferences in Sapporo, Japan, Riva del Garda, Italy, Lexington, Kentucky, U.S. Army Band Conference in Washington, D.C., two European Tours, and hundreds of schools, primarily for elementary students.
The name, The Colonial Tuba Quartet, came about because we were all teaching in states that were among the first thirteen colonies: Mary Ann Craig at College of St. Rose in Albany, N.Y., Jay Hildebrandt at University of Delaware, Gregory Fritze at Berklee College of Music in Boston, and me at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
River Falls Brass Quintet with Conrad DeJong and Charles Dalkert
ZC: One of the main stated goals of the CTQ is to commission new works for tuba quartet. What advice can you provide for musicians desiring to commission new works from composers?
The act of commissioning is similar to the above-mentioned approach to composers and program notes. Composers are always in search of commissions and especially those composers who are not yet well known. Since all of us were college professors at the time, we knew composers within our own area, and they, in turn, knew other composers, so it was just a matter of making contact. Occasionally the cost would be prohibitive, but generally composers were intrigued by the challenge of this instrumental combination. Usually we could promise several performances at major events; this helped to solidify
In all, we commissioned over a dozen works for tuba-euphonium quartet including works by Gregory Fritze, Jack Stamp, David Baker, David Uber, Stephen Melillo, Arthur Frackenpohl, and others.
ZC: Of all of the playing work that you do—solo, chamber, orchestral—which is the most rewarding for you?
GB: The most rewarding is the brass quintet. I love playing all kinds of music and rarely turn down the opportunity to play; however, the intimacy of quintet playing, the teamwork, the camaraderie seems to rise to the top of my preferences. As a member of the IUP Brass Quintet (Hoodlebug Brass), I played in a terrific quintet for many years. The members of that quintet were not only great players but good friends who helped create lasting musical memories.
I also had great musical experiences performing with orchestras. I was principal tubist of the Johnstown Symphony for 36 years and principal tubist of the Westmoreland Symphony for 29 years. This not only gave me wonderful musical memories and rewards but also kept me abreast of orchestral playing which transferred directly to my own
students at IUP.
Colonial Tuba Quartet
ZC: You retired from IUP in May of 2007. What are you doing now?
After retirement, my wife Kaye and I moved to Western Wisconsin, about 45 minutes from downtown St. Paul, Minneapolis. We both grew up in this area and wanted to move back to our roots. We bought a Cedar Home on 20 acres of land with about 12 acres in woods complete with walking paths and wild animals as well as a field for corn and soybeans. There is a 72’ by 42’ shed on the property that is now housing a farm tractor and some implements as well as a woodworking shop.
I have joined the Sheldon Theater Brass Band in Red Wing, Minnesota (playing E-flat tuba parts on F), and I teach one day a week at St. Cloud State University. In February I conducted 10 performances of Little Shop of Horrors in a local theater and am starting a new brass quintet with some professionals from the Twin Cities area. In June I joined the UW-River Falls Band on a trip to Prague; there are a number of other events on the horizon.
Kaye and I have three wonderful children. All of them are teachers: Kelly in Colorado, Christopher in Iowa, and Anna in Ohio. We now have four grandchildren, and we are constantly planning trips to visit them.
Hoodlebug Brass Quintet
ZC: You have retired from IUP, but you haven’t really retired from teaching or making music. Do you think you will ever truly retire?
I am not a very good self-motivator. Deadlines and expectancies are necessary for me to be happy and productive. Having a one-day-a-week teaching schedule and a set schedule for brass band and quintet rehearsals and performances keeps me active and motivated. I do not see complete retirement in the near future and. frankly, that does not appeal to me. The schedule I now have allows for much freedom to travel, play golf, do woodworking, and enjoy my children and grandchildren.
Gary Bird and Jim Self, 2002
Carol joins me in sending to you and Kay our love and congratulations on your retirement from IUP. May you both stay in good health for a long life together with many opportunities to enjoy your children and grandchildren. In sending this congratulatory note Carol and I brought to memory many pleasant and happy times shared with you over the past 40 years…would you believe that? Forty years! Let’s shoot for another 40 years, but let’s reserve some time for reminiscing events we enjoyed in the first 40. I’ll provide the pizza…unless Kay insists on providing it…either at your beautiful home in Northern Wisconsin or at TubaRanch, here in Bloomington, with best wishes always,
~Carol & Harvey Phillips, August 30, 2008
It indeed was an honor to have had you as the studio teacher of tuba and euphonium during a large part of my tenure as Director of Bands at IUP. Your first year on our staff, I was away at the University of Michigan working on my DMA. I first met you at my home when you were picking up one of my daughters to baby-sit for you and Kay while I was at home for a weekend. I remember we had a discussion around a pool table in my basement, and I was very impressed with the depth of your commitment to teaching, ensemble participation, and other very important elements involving your students. It was obvious that we had made an excellent choice for the replacement of Mr. Peter Popiel. He was rather successful in building a solid studio, but we had no idea of what was in store as you continued and raised the level of that studio to a professional level!
As the Director of University Bands, I was very dependent upon the studio teachers for any successes within the ensembles. I can truly say that your work during my last 18 years made it possible to excel each year. You were always interested in the university bands, and you made sure your students acquired the necessary professional attitudes! You made my work very easy, and I appreciated your efforts.
Be that as it may, at the same time, you were a perfect colleague and your enthusiasm towards the Music Department made you a wonderful asset to the staff. Also I must add that your approach to your church and family attest to the qualities that made you a great person, which in turn made for a better department. You made us all love you and your students, and you will be missed.
Thank you Gary for a job so well done. Enjoy your retirement and hopefully we will have the opportunity to soon spend some time together.
~Dr. Daniel Di Cicco, Distinguished Alumni and Retired Director of Bands
I went to IUP in the early sixties. We had no tuba specialist as a teacher. Shortly after my time there they hired Pete Popiel who remained a few years before moving to SUNY Potsdam’s Crane School. His replacement was Gary Bird who began 36 years of distinguished teaching. Through those years I watched Gary (from afar) and was aware that he was building a great career and class of students. In the 1980s band director Dan DiCicco invited me back to be a soloist, and I became much more interested in my alma mater and in the things that Gary was doing. We began a close friendship that kept me involved at IUP as a returning soloist and active supporter of the Music Department. Teaching at a school like IUP takes a lot more than being a good tuba teacher. You need to teach other classes, conduct, organize, publish, and recruit. Gary became a very successful leader of the tuba-euphonium ensemble, the jazz program, conducted musicals and managed to get a DMA at Indiana University with (my teacher) Harvey Phillips. He also kept an active career as a soloist, as a quintet member, Colonial Tuba Quartet member, and symphony player. He traveled the world and brought the world back to IUP. He was busy. As a long time university teacher myself, active in ITEA and observer of the profession myself, I think Gary stands out as that complete musician so valuable in our business. He is a successful and well-loved man, and I am lucky to have him as my friend. When we established the Gary Bird Tuba-Euphonium Studio naming fund, people all over the world, former students, friends from his church, and colleagues donated—because they loved and respected him. His name on that studio will forever be a reminder of the important things he did there.
~Jim Self, Freelance Musician, Los Angeles
My reminiscences of Gary Bird span countries from Japan to Russia to Holland and many in between. The memories include Gary carrying his tuba up eleven flights of stairs to the guest artist apartment in a Russian city to his running through a Japanese airport while carrying his tuba, his suitcases, along with those of his wife, because Kaye had been whisked off to take a different plane back to the USA. Other memories include presenting the Colonial Tuba Quartet tuba-euphonium recruitment skits at multiple elementary schools in the USA, as well as at a birthday party in Germany for a prominent organist in
Dusseldorf. It was here where we attempted to present our skit in German, and Gary’s mispronunciation of the German word for “exhaust system in a motorcycle,” turned that word into one that instead meant “a house of ill repute!”
My professional experiences with Gary range from performances on stage with him as a member of the Colonial Tuba Quartet to a duet performance with him at IUP, when he had donned a skirt and a babushka! Further, I had the privilege of conducting him as soloist in Russia and later in Hungary with the Hungarian Central Army Band in performing Greg Fritze’s Concertino for Tuba in the drenching 100 degree Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest.
Through my twenty years of professional association with Gary, I have known him to be the consummate professional. I admire him as a musician and as a pedagogue. These are demonstrated by Gary’s devotion to his art and his students, as well as his artistry on the tuba and the consistently high level of performance by his students. Personally, Gary is a man of character, devoted to his family and friends, and a person, whom I am very proud to call my friend.
~Dr. Mary Ann Craig, Past President of ITEA, Professor, Montclair State University, New Jersey, Honored Professor, Moscow State University of Culture and Arts
Gary Bird is not only an excellent musician playing tuba, coaching chamber music or conducting, but he also is one of the greatest “people persons” I have had the pleasure of knowing. Everybody likes to work with him. His warm caring personality always makes the gig better. I remember at his OcTUBAfest recital in 2005, every Indiana University of Pennsylvania faculty member who was a private teacher (about twenty-five) volunteered to play in the concert band for his solo—even the double bass teacher! I also remember that everybody seems to know and like Gary. One time when the Colonial Tuba Quartet was traveling on one of our European tours, we arrived in the Netherlands a day early, not knowing if our host would be able to house us that night. As we were walking into the Conservatory in Utrecht we heard a young student yell out “Hello Dr. Bird!” It turned out to be a student who had played in Gary’s big band the year before at IUP. I’ve worked with Gary for over 30 years and I increasingly appreciate his musicianship and sense of humor. He is one of my very best friends.
~Gregory Fritze, Berklee College of Music, Composition Department, Chair
It still feels really strange not to call you Mr. Bird or just “Bird.” I’m hoping that you are enjoying your retirement and the new place in Wisconsin. Damn I miss that place! I remember you telling me stories of when you had lived there as a kid. At the time the place seemed like something out of Lavern and Shirley. It seems strange to me that I ended up in the same area and am now missing it so much.
I did a recital last Monday night at Messiah College and your presence was still visible even 3 hours away from IUP. The biggest turn out of tubists were from IUP. It was nice to see all of your guys there, but in a way, it was sad. I say this because any time I’ve returned to play at or around IUP, it always felt like coming home. It was always very comforting knowing that you were around and supportive of what I was doing. Seeing the studio there brought back so many memories from being at IUP. I remember as a student at IUP, the students would go back and forth with their favorite “Bird Quote” from their lessons. Everything from, “If you put s___ in the mouthpiece, s___ comes out the bell” to “Al, you got to make ‘em wet in their seat”—one of my personal favorites. It’s funny how many times over the years that I’ve remembered those words when I’m on stage. It still makes me smile.
Even though I was only with you for two years at IUP, I still feel that you were teaching me lessons for years afterwards. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all your support over the years. There are so many opportunities that you’ve given me, that the only way I know how to repay you is to go on doing what you’ve taught me, and to then pass on your knowledge to my students.
The folks in Wisconsin don’t realize what they’ve gained in a teacher and player, but we all know what we’re missing around here.
Take care and don’t be a stranger!
~Alan Baer, Principal Tubist, New York Philharmonic
I have known Gary Bird for over thirty-five years. I first met him his second year as a faculty member at IUP and my first as a freshman music major. Many years ago, the great American composer William Schuman referred to Vincent Persichetti as a “complete musician.” That is my belief about Gary Bird. His musicianship runs so deep and is so solid that he can surmount any musical challenge presented to him. Whether it was applied brass, brass class, brass ensemble, intro to music, wind ensemble, or jazz ensemble, Gary brings success to every one of his musical endeavors, no matter how diverse. His exemplary leadership skills coupled with his musicianship made him one of the most valued faculty to have ever taught in our department. He is a world-class musician, a world-class teacher, and a world-class friend.
~Jack Stamp, Director of Bands, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
I had the unique opportunity to view Gary from two different perspectives: as a student and as a colleague. He treats students and fellow faculty the same; he gives everyone a hard time! Gary’s humor, his way of picking on someone, and his “Heh-heh-heh” laugh kept the mood light and made for some interesting rehearsals! I hope that he enjoys his well-deserved retirement.
~Dr. Kevin E. Eisensmith, Professor of Trumpet, IUP, Vice President/President-elect, International Trumpet Guild
It was my pleasure to work with Dr. Gary Bird as Principal Tuba of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra over twenty years. It was a truly professional and satisfactory relationship. He possesses an exceptional talent and musicianship. He was a caring leader and a dedicated artist. He has a pleasing personality and was very easy to work with. His appearance as soloist with the orchestra was a huge success resulting in a standing ovation from the audience. In addition I had the pleasure to experience how outstanding a teacher he was. Throughout the years he provided us with some brilliant young students of his when we needed extra players.The only regret I have is that all those years I never could beat him at racket ball!
~Istvan Jaray, Music Director, Johnstown Symphony Orchestra
Gary Bird joined the Westmoreland Symphony shortly after I became Music Director. We shared the stage for almost 30 years until he retired. During those years we shared many wonderful performances together. Despite my asking Gary and other brass players to “play softer” and “blend with the double basses,” we had a wonderful relation. We teased each other and had fun together but the most important thing is that we made music together. Gary was a wonderful musician and a very sensitive and warm human being. He always put his heart in his playing. He took pride in being our tuba player; he always worked hard to perform well. He collaborated with the other musicians and with me with a positive spirit. He was a real team player, and he took a lot of pride in his playing. I really miss Gary, musically and personally.
~Kypros Markou, Music Director, Westmoreland Symphony Orchestra
Gary Bird moved to the St. Croix Valley upon retirement of an illustrious and wonderful career at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. His return to the UW-River Falls community, where he completed his undergraduate work, has been calm, yet powerful as he brings a multitude of experiences to the area along with his musical talent.
Gary Bird first contacted me three summers ago asking if he could sit in with my community band summer concert series as he would be in the area visiting relatives. He introduced himself as a colleague of Dr. Jack Stamp (IUPU) who had been my guest at a summer conducting symposium the prior year. Of course, Dr. Bird’s reputation preceded him, and this introduction was not necessary! He was a well-known UWRF alumna. Dr. Bird came that summer and sat in the tuba section as an unassuming, section-enhancing tuba player.This was the beginning of a friendship that I cherish today.
The following spring Dr. Bird came as a guest soloist to perform a concerto written by composer and fellow tuba player Dr. Gregory Fritz. We arranged the details, set the date, chose the repertoire, and prepared for the special event. Dr. Bird called one afternoon and asked if it would be already if Dr. Fritz come along during the residency. What an honor to host 2 of the greatest musicians at the same time. The experience was positive for everyone involved. Being around these close friends was something I will never forget. Gregory Fritz gave a session that ended with “music is about relationships. Everything is about relationships.” I am thrilled to have shared a piece of their friendship and talents.
Gary has been found in the area at local musicals, concerts, plays, churches, or any other artistic venue. He continues to perform, direct musicals, and lead his new quintet “Borderline Brass.” This summer Gary traveled to the Czech Republic as a guest soloist for the St. Croix Valley Community Band. Gary was exceptional in every respect.
Mr. Bird has brought his quiet, strong visions, and musical richness to the Mid-West where he continues to make a difference in the lives of many, many people. I am honored to call Dr. Gary Bird, my friend.
~Kris Tjornehoj, Director of St. Croix Valley Community Band
That first semester I was there [IUP] in the Fall 1991, Gary went back to IU in Bloomington to give his final doctoral recital. He and his accompanist and several other faculty traveled with him for his performance. He was only gone for one day, which is incredible. His recital was in the evening (around 7:30 or 8) and do you know that, although they got back into town around 3 or 4 in the morning, Gary was there in his studio teaching lessons the very next morning and day. Most or many other people would have taken that following day off just as a rest day for something so emotionally, mentally, and physically taxing, but not Gary.
One other thing about Gary and his doctorate—there are not a lot of people in this world that, at that time in his experience and he had tenure at IUP, would someone decide to go back to school and obtain their performance doctorate. This truly shows the discipline and dedication and always striving for excellence that Gary has in him and puts in his students who learn from him.
All of these years as a founding member of Keystone Winds, I was always honored to play right beside Gary in the sessions. Several years ago when I was working on my doctorate and wasn’t playing that regularly (though I did practice and get my chops up for the session), after playing and recording a fairly long solo passage on a piece, Gary leans over to me and asks me “are you taking lessons?” I told him no, I just didn’t have the time then. I asked him why he asked that, and he said, “Because you sound great!” Those words from him still resound inside me, because although Gary is a gentle giant and always stated positive things, hearing these words from him in person was like being told or learning that you had just won the lottery.
The player (and person) I am today has a lot to do with the influence of Gary Bird. If I had never come in contact with him, I know that I would never be the type of player that I am today. I can never thank him enough for all that he did and continues to do.
Director of Bands, East Tennessee State University
Dr. Zach Collins is currently Assistant Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.