Beth Wiese is an award winning soloist, an accomplished orchestral player, and innovative chamber musician. A forward thinking entrepreneur, she is about to become Dr. Wiese, and takes a moment to reflect and look ahead. “The Fourth Valve” tm is proud to present Beth Wiese. Enjoy!
1. How do you conceive of the ideal tuba sound?
Ultimately, I view sound as a vehicle for musical expression. Which isn’t to say that it’s not important, but that the concept of my “ideal tuba sound” is fluid. In a great sound, what I hear is musical integrity, character, class and presence. In effect, the goal is that the sound should not undermine the musical idea. I am often influenced by the idea of the “artisan” vs. the “artist.” The “artisan” represents the technical work that goes into playing our instrument, whereas the “artist” represents the musical expression. The relationship is symbiotic, and work on one aspect often leads to improvement in the other. Ultimately, however, I want people to hear the “artist,” not the “artisan.”
With specific regard to the tuba, I think a good sound is achieved through a balance of depth and clarity; namely, tone vs. articulation. A good tuba sound should consist mostly of tone, but the articulation is what provides the clarity, brilliance, and definition to our sound. One of the most valuable lessons I learned in achieving a good sound was from Rex Martin, who always emphasized the same characteristics of depth and clarity in our minds and on the mouthpiece. This invariably led to producing a richer, better sound on the instrument.
2. What helps you be more musically expressive?
Listening. Before I started playing the tuba, I played the violin and really developed a love for string repertoire — Brahms sextets, Mendelssohn trios and octet, Borodin quartets, Ravel, Debussy, Elgar…you get the idea. Whenever I hit a musical “road block,” or simply am struggling for inspiration, that’s where I turn. In great performances of those works, the phrasing is this beautiful balance between creativity and logic; it sounds completely fresh, but also like it couldn’t possibly be played any other way. That kind of conviction is inspiring and what I think we should all aspire to in our musical endeavors.
From a practical perspective, I have a few ideas that I enjoy using in my practicing. The first is playing with recordings — whether it be whatever I’m practicing or sight-reading. This is my favorite part of the day — sticking in a pair of headphones and playing along with the CSO/Martinon Nielsen 4 recording, or the Britten/Rostropovich recording of Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata, or whatever else…it’s impossible to not be inspired musically, and to feel that musicality from such an intimate perspective is a great learning experience, in my opinion.
Lastly, thinking about music in the simplest units possible — literally note-by-note — helps me achieve an organic musical expression. I think there are only two types of notes — those that lead somewhere, or those that are arrivals. In effect, pick-ups or downbeats. Understanding how each note operates within a phrase gives it a sense of purpose, and can be a great musical exercise — especially with lyrical studies such as Bordogni-Rochut etudes, etc. As a former string player, I used to put bowings into my Conconne etudes, and that is a pretty similar idea, and a really fun exercise!
3. Who and what are your inspirations? (Musical & Non-Musical)
My teachers have been a great source of inspiration: Marty Erickson, Mike Roylance and Rex Martin. They’ve all been tremendously successful, but with very different approaches to their craft. I couldn’t have asked for better mentors in this field, personally or professionally. As tuba players, I think we’re pretty lucky to have so many genuinely good, generous and talented people at the top of our field.
Non-musically, there are all sorts of inspiring people in this world — though I might be disinherited if I didn’t say my parents first (kidding!). But I’m truly lucky to have parents that have been so supportive of me while also setting a great example of pursuing their own passions with great conviction. I’m also really into food (…said every tuba player, ever), and find the parallels between a well thought out and executed menu or the philosophy behind modern cuisine to be applicable to music, as well.
4. You have had some extraordinary experiences and are very well educated. Have different approaches to the tuba more often become false paths or different perspectives from which to choose the best?
Some combination of both, I think. Having been on the “school path” for quite some time now, I’ve worked with a number of tuba players — all of whom have been tremendously successful and have a very clear, well-thought out approach to the tuba and music in general. In some cases it’s been really helpful, inspiring and affects the way I approach music or tuba playing. In other cases, it’s been a lesson that what works for some people doesn’t work for others. Ultimately we all learn differently, but the teachers that have had the most profound effect on my playing are those that have been able to teach in the subtlest or seemingly simplest of ways. One of the greatest lessons I’ve learned over the course of studying with a number of different teachers is not to go searching for the problem, but the solution. Simply hearing a phrase in your heading, buzzing it or imitating someone else’s sound can greatly improve one’s playing without dwelling on the “problem,” in my opinion.
5. Which concepts have you been taught to achieve results in seemingly oppositional manners?
The first thing that comes to mind is the idea of improvement by “taking something great, and making it even better.” When working with a student, I believe in finding whatever it is that student did best, and then working on it until they achieve a level of excellence. From there, you can work backwards down into the most problematic areas. What is seemingly opposition, I suppose, is the fact that the collective level of everything else almost always goes up, too — a by-product of essentially “teaching” or inspiring confidence. For me, confidence has rarely been intuitive and learning this way has helped innately improve the overall level of my playing without addressing many of the most negatives aspects of it. This is also very relevant in my own practice — I make it a priority to start every day by playing something that will sound good, before moving into the weaker areas of my playing or those that need more attention on any given day.
6. With Rex Martin, you have been very close to the teachings of Arnold Jacobs. As you travel, how have you found his message afar from Chicago?
I never met Arnold Jacobs, so I can really only speak to the things I’ve learned from his students (mainly Rex Martin) as well as that I’ve learned second-hand from books, recordings, etc. That being said, it’s pretty amazing how far that message has traveled, and how it has meant different things to different people — especially non-tuba players. Being a student at Northwestern, we were sort of indoctrinated into this idea of the “Chicago” style — an idea centered around the playing and pedagogy of legends like Jacobs, Herseth, Cichowicz and the like. As we move into a new generation of brass players, and become further removed from this prior generation, it will be interesting to see if and how that message — and that specifically of Arnold Jacobs — might change.
7. What has the New World Symphony experience meant to you as a musician, a person and an entrepreneur?
The approach to learning at the New World Symphony is very “hands-on”, and reinforces the concept of the 21st century musician as a truly multi-faceted individual. What inspires me at New World is the fact that everyone embraces this idea of reinvigorating and inspiring a new generation of audiences and performers alike. The collaborative atmosphere is inspiring and safe at the same time — as a musician, I feel inspired to work hard, but also comfortable enough to take risks. I couldn’t ask for more; however, a free apartment on Miami Beach isn’t bad, either…
As a musician, one huge benefit of the New World Symphony is the guest coaches they bring in on a weekly basis. These coaches work with us for a couple of days at a time — teaching lessons, leading studio classes and sitting in on orchestra rehearsals. Unlike a school environment, the feeling is more “collegial” — personally, these experiences have taught me how to target what I can learn from each artist in the short amount of time they’re here, what I can glean from their personal experiences, and how I can use their teaching and experiences to my benefit and that of our section.
8. Tuba is incredibly strong and influential in a supportive role, but the setting has to be right for it to capture the listener’s ear with concurrent timbres.
Good point, and the question I think we have to ask our egos sometimes is, “should we be heard?” What does it mean to “capture the listener’s ear”? Sometimes our goal is exactly that — to be the center of attention, I guess. But sometimes, I think that means turning the listener’s ear subtly towards somewhere else. It reminds me a bit of being in front of a soundboard in the way one adjusts the balance by turning one knob up, one down, etc.
9. The topic for Seraph Brass seems to be well thought out, refreshing, and salient. Can you take us through it?
Seraph Brass started sometime back in 2013/14 with the idea of finding like-minded women who wanted to form a brass quintet. I talked about it with a few friends, and then was contacted by Mary Bowden, a trumpeter who lives in Naples, FL and spear-headed the meeting of the five of us. Forming a group with women from — literally — around the country was a leap of faith, but couldn’t have turned out better.
Looking at the direction that classical music is headed, having a great product is no longer enough in this industry. In addition to being great performers, groups need to have a clear purpose and salient message in mind when reaching out to their audiences. Seraph’s mission is to bring a fresh perspective to a wide range of quintet repertoire, including a number of arrangements we’ve procured and commissions in the works. Personally, I don’t often feel comfortable drawing attention to the fact that I’m a female tuba player in a mostly male-dominated field. However, as female brass players, I think we do have a different perspective that is worth sharing. Moreover, if putting ourselves out there as a group can inspire other female brass players to feel more confident or inspire other young girls to take up the instrument, I’m all for it — and that is really the core of our group mission.
10. How have the impressive non-musical skills of Seraph’s members influenced its course?
Starting a group like Seraph Brass from scratch has been a great lesson in business savvy and real-world skills. You begin with this lofty, exciting goal of starting a chamber group with people who are equally as excited as you are, then try to balance that with the practical realities of time, logistics, money (!), opportunities, ideas, opinions and whatever else might crop up. Cyclists often talk about training in terms of finding their “sweet spot,” which is the optimal balance of intensity and volume to achieve maximum power, or results. I see many similarities here — the goal is to find a balance of resources that work best for us as a group and will yield the best results. With Seraph Brass, I’m very fortunate that each of us brings a different strength to the group, and shares those skills so selflessly and with the best interest of the group in mind.
11. What is the best tuba playing you have ever heard?
Great tuba playing has meant a lot of different things to me at different times in my life. I’ll always love the first tuba CD I ever bought — Eugene Dowling’s “The English Tuba” — the one and only tuba CD I ever found in a store in Davenport, Iowa. I tried to emulate everything on that CD, from the repertoire to the phrasing and evening the breathing. Other great recordings that come to mind are the CSO/Martinon recording of Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony, Michael Lind’s “Virtuoso Tuba,” anything with John Fletcher and the Phillip Jones Brass Ensemble, John Fletcher’s recording of the Vaughan Williams Concerto with André Previn, Roger Bobo’s recording of the Galliard and Madsen Sonatas, Stephane Labeyrie’s CD “Recital,” and many, many, many others.
12. Any thoughts on European as compared with American approaches to music with the tuba?
I think the divide between “European” and “American” styles of brass playing is slowly closing, especially as the Internet brings this generation of musicians closer than ever. With things like the Berlin Philharmonic’s Digital Concert Hall, or the Met broadcasts, we can listen to many of the same recordings. Having played only a little bit in Europe, I notice a few small things — like instrument choice — but otherwise the concepts and approaches to the tuba seem very familiar and universal, I think.
c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. davidbrubeck.com
Interested in more “The Fourth Valve” tm Interviews?
John Van Houten
R. Winston Morris