Throughout his years with the Boston Brass, Lance LaDuke was THE standard bearer for euphonium in a traditional brass quintet. Outgoing, innovative, outspoken, and intellectual, Lance finds a a successful destination at the end of the road, and takes “The Fourth Valve” tm Along for the Ride!
1. How did your concept of sound change when switching back and forth between trombone and euphonium in Boston Brass?
My sound concept on the euphonium really didn’t change all that much. That said, I did have to clean up the “left edge” of my notes to match the rest of the group, particularly the trumpets. Otherwise, if anything, we used the euphonium to provide another color to the group and exploited the chance (when the trumpets played flugel) to go completely conical. That was a lot of fun. It wasn’t all that fun dragging both horns around the planet but the musical flexibility was great.
On the trombone, I was (and still am!) a work in progress. The story has been told quite often but I never played trombone until the 6 months leading up to joining the group. I used the euphonium early on as a way to cover for my still-developing trombone skills. The guys were great about letting me grow into the gig and I think I brought other stuff to the position (comedy, singing, business skills, etc.) that made up for my trombone “abilities.” All that being said, I do feel like I grew into the trombone and sometimes felt almost like a trombonist instead of a doubler!
Did you use different mouthpieces?
Mouthpiece questions!!! I’m generally a “plug and play” guy. I started on a 51D in 10th grade (1982) and just chalked any problems with my playing up to me, rather than the equipment. I played a 51D on both horns initially in BB. At Sam Pilafian’s suggestion, during a coaching session he did with the band, I switched to a 51 for the trombone. Now (after years of staying out of the brass arms race) I have fallen in LOVE with Parker Mouthpieces! Mike is making some amazing mouthpieces and I am having a blast making music with them now.
2. What was your first introduction to chamber music, and what chamber music paths did you follow before the BB? Which ensembles? Who were your mentors? (HS, College, Pro).
My first experience was a tuba/euph quartet in high school. I didn’t do all that much in college, mostly tuba quartets. Once I got into the Air Force Band, things really picked up and I ended up playing a lot of chamber music. We had a tuba/euph quartet (with Don Nauman, Gil Corella and Dave Porter) that rehearsed and performed regularly. We even took a couple short tours. The most fun I had, though was in a brass quartet that was the brainchild of trumpeter Bill Adcock. In the AF, we were known as Top Brass and our civilian alter ego was Nothing But Valves (Bill, lucky for me, didn’t like trombone players). Andy Wilson was the other trumpet and Sam Compton played horn. We were very busy as a group. We rehearsed and gigged a lot, I did a lot of arranging and transcribing for the group, we had pieces written for us and recorded a CD.
The quartet was an amazing learning opportunity for me in pretty much every respect. Up to that point, I had primarily played in tuba quartets and often had the melody. In NBV, I was the bass voice (we ended up changing instrumentation to two trumpets, euphonium and tuba but I preferred the original instrumentation) and had to be counted on to provide both time and intonation stability. My success at those skills remains open for debate.
The other things I learned in NBV were the nuts and bolts of running a small business that happens to be in the music making industry. Division of labor, scheduling, budget, promotion, programming, talking to audiences, negotiating contracts, interpersonal relationships, goal setting. The list is nearly endless. The foundation I learned there helped me later with Boston Brass and currently in my position at Carnegie Mellon University, where I teach classes Music Business and Marketing and Communications, am the freshman advisor and also mentor individual students and groups launch their careers.
In terms of mentors during that time, there are two that come to mind. I’ve mentioned his name already, but Sam Pilafian was incredibly helpful, supportive and inspirational. He spent untold hours with me in person and on the phone, patiently walking me through the ins and outs of the business. He continues to be a mentor and inspiration. Second is Pat Sheridan. In addition to being one of my best friends for the last 20-plus years, Pat has helped me sort out more opportunities, challenges and problems than pretty much anyone else on the planet.
Mentor questions are tough, because for every person you include, you omit many more. Ray Mase helped NBV quite a lot. JD Shaw, Andrew Hitz and David Cutler continue to be in my “inner circle” of musical co-conspirators. Actually, Andrew and I are partners in Pedal Note Media. We’ve released one album (Brass Recording Project, Vol. 1, The Arrangements of JD Shaw), will be releasing an e-book later this Spring and have three podcasts in the works. The last three guys I want to mention are Tim Lautzenheiser, Denis Colwell (my boss at CMU) and Joe Zenas, a great friend since college, now CEO of the Thinkwell Group in LA. Those three have been great sounding boards for an unending supply of crappy ideas.
3. What was your warm up like in college as opposed to being on the road?
In undergrad at Michigan State University, my “routine” wasn’t. I was much more haphazard and unfocused, despite Phil Sniders’ best efforts. I had two things going for me. Playing always came pretty easy for me and I played all the time. At one point, I was in three concert bands, the marching band (Go Green!!!) and the tuba euphonium ensemble. I was in rehearsals roughly 20 hours a week or so. That’s where I learned to read and play different styles.
In the year I spent in grad school at The University of Akron, I went in the opposite direction. I was laser-focused on getting a military band gig. My warm up was about an hour’s worth of flexibility, articulation, scale, arpeggio and interval studies. It was about learning how my brain and body worked together to make music.
The road provided the biggest challenge since no two days were the same. In general, I developed a set of exercises, about 20 minute’s worth, that ensured I hit all the usual suspects. It’s much more about being efficient and working on the stuff that needs to be worked on. Simple to understand. Hard to remember.
4. What do you look for in a euphonium? In a trombone?
As I mentioned, I’m not much of a gear guy. Jupiter Band Instruments, particularly the XO series of pro horns, are the horns I play now. The folks at Jupiter are amazing. They are as passionate about music education as I am and I would stack their horns up against anyone. Get Banded!!!
5. Which avenues in music and chamber music in particular are ripe for exploration by euphonium players?
In the US, brass quartets are probably the biggest “traditional” opportunity. There is a ton of great music that is underplayed. And from a biz standpoint, there is one fewer mouth to feed. I tried to show that the euphonium has a place in quintets. I don’t think it works 100% of the time, but neither do flugel horns. Outside of that, I’d say the biggest opportunity is wherever the player’s mind will take them. Three of my former students have done amazing, unexpected and wonderful things. Matthew Murchison has had a couple of bands, Mainspring and The Matthew Murchison Mutiny. The instrumentation is non-traditional and the music is great! Koichiro Suzuki’s Cuidado is a tango band with euphonium as one of the primary voices. Fernando Deddos had a choro band here in Pittsburgh while he was here, again with euphonium as one of the main voices. I try to encourage my students (and anyone else who will listen, and some who never will) to go where their musical ear takes them. I’ve never been a big supporter of traditional models, I think there’s a bit of laziness there, creatively. Ooooh. Controversy.
6. Name two types of inspirations
I’m not quite sure where to go here. Here’s a Top 10 list of things that I’m currently paying attention to:
1. Anything by Seth Godin.
2. The stuff Jack Conte is doing with Pomplamoose and Patreon.
3. Chef Jamie Oliver is on a mission to change the world and makes me think I am not thinking big enough.
4. Tim Ferris’ obsession with learning, maximizing performance is key to one of my next projects.
5. Zoe Keating’s willingness to be open as a musician trying to navigate these new waters.
6. Tim Lautzenheiser’s drive, devotion and commitment to music education.
7. Gordon Ramsay’s passion and honesty (he kind of reminds me of my Dad).
8. Louis CK. Honest. Hilarious. Fearless.
9. Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars” series is always both funny and interesting to me.
10. This last one sounds like an inspirational poster, but the students I get to work with are amazing. None of us knows where this industry is headed, but with those folks creating it, I’m excited and optimistic.
8. What types of projects are you working on now?
Besides the Pedal Note Media stuff with Andrew, I’m looking to expand on my book, Music Practice Coach. I have some more materials in development. I’m trying to get it out to as many teachers and students as I can. While I’m at it, anyone can get a free copy of that book by filling out the contact page at lanceladuke.com.
The other thing I am launching later this year is a crazy idea I have been knocking around for a few years. It’s called “Lance Learns to Play.” I’m going to learn to play every instrument on the planet. Really. It’s a cross between “Dirty Jobs” and “Man Vs.Food.” It’ll primarily exist as a YouTube channel but there will be supplementary materials released as well. The hope is that by making a fool of myself, other folks may pick up an instrument for the first time or will continue to play with a greater appreciation of why. I’m hoping that you’ll learn something you didn’t know about each instrument and have a greater appreciation for both the music that is made and the people who make it, whether as a hobby or as a profession. What could possibly go wrong?
9. What is some of the best euphonium playing you have ever heard?
The best playing of any instrument I have heard has less to do with the instrument and more with the musician. I think we often get into this sense of “Music Olympics” where the only thing that is appreciated is finger/tongue speed, high (or low) range and histrionics. Heaven knows I was a victim of that approach. Heck, it’s fun! That being said, one of the reasons I don’t play much “euphonium music” is that I don’t hear all that much that I want to tackle. I want to feel like the music-making is worth the technical effort and not just stuff to show off to other euphonium players. General audiences don’t care. We want to be treated as a “serious” instrument and some think that if the notes per second ratio is high enough, that will automatically happen. I disagree. Pat Sheridan told me years ago that he stopped playing “Hailstorm” for general audiences, because they simply didn’t understand that the triple tonguing he was doing was difficult. They just thought something was up with his sound. Then he plays a Brahms song or “Deep River” and musicians and non-musicians alike are moved. There’s a take-away there for musicians who are paying attention. I don’t suspect this opinion will make me terribly popular in some circles but there you are.
10. What is the best euphonium playing you have ever done?
I did have this beautiful D-flat one time that still gives me shivers. I think it was in the late ’90s.
11. What was it like to be in the Boston Brass? Do you have any favorite personal or musical memories? Did you feel as though you were charting new territory as a euphonium player?
I am an incredibly lucky person. I have had the opportunity to play with amazing musicians, in spectacular halls for great audiences and students all over the world. This is not just the case for my time in Boston Brass but with The USAF Band, NBV, River City Brass Band, Brass Band of Battle Creek, and on and on. Lucky, lucky, lucky. The great memories are too numerous to list. Plus some of them are not out of the statute of limitations.
I have never thought I was charting new territory per se. I have tried (and sometimes failed) to be as prepared as I can be for whatever opportunity arises, follow my gut (even when it’s scary, and it usually is), be easy to work with (failed at that plenty), and use every challenge, limitation or setback as an opportunity to be creative (isn’t that the point?).
c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. davidbrubeck.com
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