Hi. For many people, today's interviewee is a well-known tuba player and teacher in the USA. For others, outside of those lands, they may not even know him and this last is something we wish to remedy.
It is a pleasure for me to be able to bring you closer to this brilliant American tuba player whom I thank for his friendship and collaboration in this interview project.
I hope and desire that you enjoy his experience as much as I do.
Without further ado, Let us begin.
· Name and surname: Jeff Baker
· What instrument / s do you use?
Tuba, Contrabass Trombone, Cimbasso, Euphonium
· That make and model are the tools you use:
Meinl Weston 2165 CC tuba
¾ Rudy Meinl CC tuba
Alexander F tuba
Adams F tuba
Meinl Weston Cimbasso
Holton Bass Trombone
Adams E1 Euphonium
· That manufacturer and model are the / s nozzle / s you use:
Stofer Geib Mouthpiece
Laskey 30H Mouthpiece
Thein MCL contrabass trombone mouthpiece
Schilke 59 bass trombone mouthpiece
Griego BB1 euphonium mouthpiece
Let's talk about your EDUCATION:
· When and where their studies or tuba euphonium started?
I joined the band program when I entered middle school (6th grade). That first year, I was in a class with other first-year trombones, euphoniums, and tubas. I also played tuba in a jazz band that rehearsed in the evenings.
· At what age?
I began playing tuba at the age of 11 and trombone at the age of 14.
· What reasons or circumstances led him to study this instrument?
One of my earliest music memories was when the Dallas Symphony Orchestra Brass Quintet came to my elementary school. The tuba player was Ev Gilmore and I knew that’s what I wanted to play. There was an after-school orchestra program at my elementary school, I began playing the cello in this program when I was 8 years old. At the age of 10, I switched to contrabass and when I was 11 and entering middle school, I switched to tuba.
· Who were your main teachers?
I have had many great teachers throughout my musical studies, but my two primary tuba instructors were Don Little and Ted Cox. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to study with students of Arnold Jacobs and Harvey Phillips.
As for his PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE:
Please leave us a little account of his experience as a soloist, a member of chamber ensembles, orchestra, band, etc.
· In Orchestra and / or Band:
I perform regularly with the Dallas Opera on tuba, cimbasso, and bass trombone. I have also performed with many of the orchestras in the area including the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestra, and the Dallas Winds.
· Metal sets:
I have very little Brass Band experience, it is not popular in this part of the country. I have performed with the Texas Star Brass Band.
· Solo concerts:
I perform recitals every year and have been a soloist with bands and orchestras in the US and Brazil.
|With the Tatuí Conservatory Orchestra. Conducting James Gourlay|
About your ORCHESTRAL EXPERIENCE:
• Tell us your experiences to access the orchestra place you currently occupy:
I played in the opera orchestra as a substitute musician for a couple of years before serving as a long-term (full-season) substitute when Don Little retired from the orchestra. Our music director retired during this time as well, and it wasn’t until the new music director’s second season that a tuba audition committee was created.
• How was the selection process?
I was fortunate that I was able to rehearse and perform with the Dallas Opera for almost 4 seasons before the audition committee was created. Through a unanimous vote among the committee and the music director, they offered me the permanent position in lieu of a traditional audition.
• What works and / or orchestral solos were there as mandatory in the tests?
There was not an audition list, but by the time the committee met to discuss my permanent acceptance, I had performed a variety of works within the orchestra, many with little or no time to prepare. I was called for Tristan und Isolde the day before the first rehearsal and I was called for Verdi’s La Traviata (on cimbasso) less than a week before the first rehearsal. We performed a number of classics and family concerts, a rarely-performed 12-tone opera by Dominick Argento, a unique chamber opera called Death and the Powers, along with a variety of other productions by Puccini and Verdi.
It was on opening night of Strauss’ Salome that the personnel manager and the audition committee met with me to let me know the position was mine. The music director was sitting on the front row for most of those rehearsals and later told me that he was listening intently to my playing during Salome to help finalize his decision.
In another sense:
• How is your current work in the orchestra?
The orchestra performs approximately 20 weeks out of the year, during those weeks, it is very busy. It is not uncommon to rehearse and perform on many different instruments within the same week. A typical week is 20 hours of rehearsals and performances.
• Do you combine it with another musical group?
I used to freelance around the metroplex and play a variety of gigs, but I don’t have the time anymore. I have a full-time teaching position at a university in the area and a young family.
• What recommendations would you give future tuba players aspiring to an orchestral position?
Listen to recordings, buy scores, and learn the music. It’s okay to practice the excerpts, but if you don’t know the music, the committee will figure that out very quickly.
• Be nice to people, it doesn’t matter how well you play if nobody likes you.
We don’t get many opportunities in life, you must be prepared to step into a position and immediately be successful. If you wait until the opportunity and then begin preparing, it’s too late. I spent years studying opera music and preparing for an opportunity like the one I had. I bought a cimbasso mouthpiece and practiced Verdi excerpts on my F tuba long before I ever had a chance to play in the opera orchestra, I went to orchestra and opera concerts regularly, I practiced excerpts on bass trombone, and I took every band and orchestra audition that I could.
|With my partners of the Dallas Opera Orchestra.|
Treating OTHER TOPICS OF INTEREST.
Here in Spain, in some centers the Euphonium is considered to be an instrument that should have its own specialization and, on the other hand, some believe that, as an instrumentalist, one should know and master the Tuba and Euphonium.
• Could you give us your opinion on this and how you would approach this topic in the interest of education and training adapted to the necessary specialization that is currently required worldwide?
I think there must be a balance. If a school has the students and the finances to support both a tuba and euphonium teacher, that’s great, but that’s very rare. I have always played multiple instruments, so I feel I have a unique perspective when it comes to teaching and I encourage my students to study multiple instruments for this reason. While tuba and euphonium are similar, a teacher will be more effective if they understand the nuances of both instruments through their own personal experiences. I am happy that I can teach and play both instruments at my university.
• How do you see the tuba and euphonium teaching today and with a view to the future?
In the USA, there are more tuba and euphonium jobs now than ever. In the Dallas area, it is possible to make your entire living from teaching tuba and euphonium private lessons. I think this is wonderful, we’re also seeing many musicians challenging composers to write more difficult repertoire. Sergio Carolino and Roland Szentpali come to mind, these musicians have created a paradigm shift that ultimately raises the level for all musicians.
Let's talk about your EXPERIENCE IN TEACHING:
· Tell us in which learning centers you have taught classes (visiting teacher, courses, master classes, etc.)
I have been a faculty member at Texas A&M University-Commerce, Cameron University, and the University of North Texas. I have taught masterclasses throughout the USA and Brazil and online as well.
· How do you organize your classes and the topic in general?
Regarding masterclasses, this all depends on where I am teaching, who I will be teaching, and how much time we have. I focus on fundamentals, mainly tone, breathing, and ear training. I have also presented clinics on college preparation, audition preparation, and performance anxiety.
· How long are your classes?
Private lessons are one hour in length, masterclasses are usually two hours in length. If a student that I don’t work with on a regular basis wants a lesson, we will usually go a little longer than a standard lesson.
· Do you think it is important for a student to make public presentations during their years of study? If so, how many times do you consider it appropriate and at what age or grade? Elementary, Professional, Superior?
Absolutely. We are performers and many people are not comfortable with sitting in the spotlight. Only through experience can we master our doubts and fears. I encourage my students to perform early in their career and often. I like for my performance majors to perform a recital each year they are in school. My music education majors are required to perform one recital before graduation, but I encourage them to do more.
An important part of the course curriculum is standardized and based on the idea that the student masters the repertoire alone, sometimes to the detriment of the large group repertoire (Orchestra and Band), when in fact the majority of Tuba students and Bombardino are going to be teachers and / or members of a band and, to a lesser extent, of an orchestra in the case of the Tubas.
· In your opinion, how should this problem be addressed? How important do you think it is to include learning and mastery of the orchestral repertoire as part of the course curriculum?
I encounter students that only want to work on excerpts. Harvey Phillips and Arnold Jacobs both believed that if a tubist only practices band and orchestra music, they will be limited as a musician. We must study all great musicians and aspire to perform all types of music at a high level.
I think if we only practice solo literature, we will also be limited as a musician and the reality is most tuba players do not earn their living as a soloist. There needs to be a balance and the student should be willing to learn as much music as they can from many styles and genres.
· If I had to choose as a student (in a hypothetical situation), would you have a preference between a Tuba student and a Euphonium student?
No, I have no preference, they are both musicians and the goals are the same. An ideal student for me is curious, hard-working, and willing to try new approaches.
|With the Contrabass Trombone|
About your DAILY WORK.
· What type of repertoire do you mainly work in?
My repertoire varies throughout the year. During months where I perform with the opera orchestra, I am focused on what we will be performing. If I am preparing for a recital, I may not play my 6/4 CC tuba and spend extra time on bass trombone and F tuba.
I have a variety of etudes and solos on my music stand at home, this is the type of music that will help force you to maintain a high-level of playing.
· What warm-up exercises do you use?
I play different instruments every day, I don’t always warm up on my 6/4 CC, in fact, I haven’t played it in a while! Regardless of the instrument that is in my hands, I am trying to create a consistent sound throughout the low, middle and high range, and I am trying to ensure that I am in tune in all keys. I play a lot of flow studies and songs in all key signatures.
Long tones are always beneficial, so are scales and arpeggios. I used to play a specific routine, the same exercises every day in the same order. While I believe that is useful for younger musicians, I now play what I feel I need for each day. If my connections are not smooth in my flow studies, I play more lip slurs or possibly switch to a different instrument that requires more attention in the area I am trying to fix. I do this a lot with tuba and cimbasso because the cimbasso requires much more air and control. I will often play ear training exercises on bass trombone which will help my intonation on euphonium.
TALKING ABOUT TECHNICAL ISSUES:
· Could you give us your opinion on the different concepts of sound and what characteristics define it, the articulation, the types of instruments, the literature, if the influence of language and musical tradition on sound is considered important and how to play?
Regarding sound, I believe that a student must have a strong idea of what they want to sound like. We model or mimic others, in the same way that babies learn to talk from hearing their parents. Depending on the instrument, ensemble and the repertoire, my ideal sound models are Michael Lind, Warren Deck, Floyd Cooley, and Brian Bowman.
I’m fortunate to perform with singers, I try to take a singing approach in my own studies and it is the cornerstone of how I teach musicians. We have to communicate with the audience, like a great singer.
The influence of language is something I also discuss with my students, we perform German, Italian, and English songs and often discuss how the text relates to our articulation and breathing. We should mimic singers in articulation and phrasing. We should be creative and expressive storytellers.
· Tell us a bit about the manufacture of Tubas and / or Euphoniums and mouthpieces and tell us about your experiences and tastes of a particular manufacturer and why?
My first CC tuba was an Alexander and that influenced me in many ways. There is no other sound like an Alex, it’s beautiful and despite its 4/4 size, a well-played Alex can be heard easily inside any ensemble. Handmade instruments like Alexander, Rudy Meinl, and Adams use thinner metal since there are not any machines used to form the parts. I think this thinner metal allows the instrument to respond better, it also allows me to play softer with more control, which is much more difficult than playing loud.
I have a variety of equipment that allows me to adjust my sound and presence depending on the repertoire. For example, my trombone colleagues prefer that I play bass trombone on La Boheme, but for other works by Puccini, I use cimbasso.
I use medium-sized mouthpieces on all my instruments, I feel that I have more control, more endurance, better intonation, and it requires less air to create an ideal sound.
You are a recognized interpreter in you country.
Please tell us something about the history of our instruments in your land.
The tuba sound in the United States has changed over the last 30 years. Americans used to perform on 4/4 rotary tubas, much like Roger Bobo, Chester Schmitz, and Ron Bishop. Large 6/4 piston tubas became popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s primarily due to the success of Arnold Jacobs and Gene Pokorny in the Chicago Symphony. My Meinl Weston 2165 is a copy of a 6/4 Holton, like the one Floyd Cooley used in the San Francisco Symphony. It was made famous by Warren Deck in the New York Philharmonic and now there are numerous versions of 6/4 piston CC tubas available. I don’t know that this is good or bad, it’s mainly just a change in what tuba players wanted which led to many new models and styles.
In the United States, beginner tuba students learn BBb tuba first. I encourage all of my university students to learn CC tuba, I feel this makes them a more effective musician and teacher if they understand BBb and CC. I do not requre them to own a CC tuba and if they prefer BBb, I am happy to support them. There are some fantastic BBb tubas available and many of the top tuba players in Europe don’t own a CC tuba. I do believe that CC tuba responds better than BBb, probably due to the shorter length of tubing, moreover, currently in the United States, there are more professional-level CC tubas available.
· In your experience, do you think the diversity of performers, instruments and the opportunity to train in various specialized schools is homogenizing in interpretive centers already established? (Example: Russian, American, German, English, French).
Of course, how could it not be? Music education in Germany is quite different than in the United States, the same could be said for most countries. If you are not from Germany but travel there to study, you must do what they tell you in the style they tell you. Politics, history, economics, and how the arts are valued at a national level all affect these varied styles of pedagogy and performance.
In our lifetime, I think we have seen, and will continue to see, more diversity and acceptance due to a more interconnected world created by the internet. Youtube videos, zoom lessons, digital concert subscriptions, this is all wonderful and allows for a wider acceptance of ideas. This can also be a way to educate our students on different approaches to music. When I am working on Berlioz excerpts with a student, I encourage them to find recordings of French orchestras and French conductors. There are many fine recordings by the Montreal Symphony with Charles Dutoit conducting, these sound very different than the Chicago Symphony. When we are preparing Wagner excerpts, my students must listen to German recordings, Bayreuth sounds very different than the New York Philharmonic.
Jeff, it´s a big pleasure and an honor to count on your experience, collaboration in this series of interviews and friendship.
Thank you very much and my best wishes.
A big hug.
Thank you for inviting me to participate Harold, stay safe and I look forward to seeing you when we can all get together again!