Bright, energetic, poised, creative and virtuosic, Sergeant Lauren Curran is the Social Media Manager for the US Army Field Band. The Field Band’s tweet defending the honor of marching band members worldwide went viral just as as national sports entertainment shock-jock Jim Rome had conceded an apology over his inappropriate remarks. Noted now for both her courage and her poise as well as her virtuosity on the euphonium, Sgt. Curran visits “The Fourth Valve” tm and we salute her!
1. Please discuss your quintet performances. Which part/instruments do you play? What was your journey to chamber music like? (Particularly as a euphonium player).I am a member of The United States Army Field Band Brass Quintet-although that’s sort of a misnomer, as there are actually 7 members. The core of the group is a standard brass quintet, (2 tpts, horn, tbn, tuba). I join in on euphonium throughout our program, and we also have a drummer for many tunes.
I’m primarily featured as a soloist, and we are developing a library of original arrangements for sextet. Although I don’t play on every piece, I contribute to the group in other ways, such as photography, narration, and auxiliary percussion—I have been known to play a bit of tambourine.
As a euphonium player, you have to be flexible and open-minded when it comes to chamber music opportunities.
In college, I was thrown into a few brass quintets because they were “incomplete,” usually missing a trombone or tuba player. Replacing one of those instruments with euphonium drastically changes the sound of the group. It forces everyone to open their ears a bit and try to find music to fit with that conical tenor voice. If the euphonium replaces the tuba it’s a different problem than when it replaces the trombone. Some music works and some definitely doesn’t. For me, it was a great chance to adapt, learn some standard brass quintet rep, and convince disgruntled trumpet players that quintet could still sound cool with euph.
At the Army Field Band, I was initially attached to the Brass Quintet as a soloist, and was gradually incorporated into more of the program. It’s been one of the most rewarding parts of my job. There are so many ways chamber music develops your playing…and your interpersonal skills!
2. Which non-musical skills have served you the best in your career? How did you become such a facile and charming writer?
For me, being comfortable with public speaking has been a huge asset.
The media is everywhere, and sometimes I’m asked to give interviews or speak in front of a crowd on short notice. The ability to address an audience, put them at ease, communicate ideas, get them to laugh at my jokes, stay on message…it’s not easy! I don’t claim to be an expert, but I’m naturally talkative and have done a fair amount of public speaking.
Thank you for the kind words about my writing! I’ve been writing most of my life, from absolutely terrible teenage poetry to Army Field Band publications, to my personal blog. I like to read, and that helps inform my writing, of course. I read a lot of blogs and non-fiction at this point in my life, but my true love will always be fantasy and science fiction. Writing is just like playing an instrument though—the more you do it, the better you get. I need to do more of it!
3. How has your awareness of the importance of social media changed over the past 10 years? What do you see on the horizon in the next 10 years?
I love Social Media, I came of age during the advent of instant messenger, Myspace and Facebook. I live thousands of miles away from my hometown and family, so Social Media is a major way I stay connected to loved ones.
For musicians, it’s pretty much a requirement to represent yourself online and on Social Media. That’s were people are discovering new music and figuring out what they love. I don’t think anything can ever replace a live show, but Social Media can be a glimpse backstage, a dialogue between audience and performer, a communication tool.
As far as where we’re headed, it’s hard to guess. I think a lot about whether it’s worth it to record albums anymore. That’s always been a big goal of mine, but when you weigh the enormous cost versus the reality that people are using YouTube to listen to music…I just don’t know if it makes sense for a musician like me.
On the other hand, there can be a lot of value in creating an album. People still ask for CD’s and it’s a professional investment. There are huge benefits to working out a project that asks you to organize musical ideas and record them at a high level. Ideally an album is more than just a collection of random tunes, but a statement, or a story. It’s just not likely to be a good fiscal investment. People have to know about your CD and be willing to buy it, even though they probably don’t put discs in their car any more. I just bought a new computer, and it didn’t even come with a CD drive.
On the other hand, let’s say you record YouTube videos. That’s definitely not making you any money, at least not directly. And artists should be paid for their work. So what’s the answer? These are the things I think about. I think the evolution of how we consume music makes live performances more important than ever. Music has always been an escape, a transformative thing. The more we listen to music by staring at a screen with earbuds shoved down our canals, the more we will also need to get out and go hear a show. We crave that live experience on a human level. We just have to remember to put down our phones and enjoy it…
4. How do you conceive of and execute vibrato? Is it different as an ensemble player as opposed to as a soloist? When do you play without vibrato?
I guess I think of vibrato as an expressive voice within my sound. I usually try to emulate a vocalist in the way I use it. And in the same way a vocalist wouldn’t use vibrato for certain group or solo settings, I take it completely out of the sound when needed. One of the biggest adjustments I had to make when I joined the Army Field Band was my use of vibrato. The performance practice of that ensemble was for the euphonium section to use little to no vibrato in the band. Especially when playing unison with horns or trombones, they prefer a completely straight tone. Sometimes euphonium players rely too much on vibrato to color the sound and it becomes a crutch. It’s important to have a warm, rich sound that still has direction and nuance, even without vibrato. It takes practice to take it out effectively!
5. Of the six major vocal registers, (soprano, mezzo, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass), which 2 or 3 are the euphoniums greatest strength? Why?
If you’re asking which music we can most effectively steal, I would have to say the tenor range is so perfect for euphonium. A great tenor sound is the perfect balance between lightness and weight, darkness and agility. I think those are strengths of the euphonium. Sort of a male register but with a feminine range? Tenor music tends to sit on those “money” notes above the staff too. I do like to play mezzo and soprano arias though, because if I’m trying to get into a character, I just relate to the female roles more. The music of Nessun Dorma may be universal and lovely, but I don’t see myself as a traveling prince. Maybe a travelling princess…
6. What is the best euphonium playing you have ever done?
I had a recital tour where I played the same program six times.
Things really solidified after the 2nd or 3rd go, and I felt extremely confident and secure by the last performance. I’d love to do more of that. It’s just difficult to simulate a performance 100% in the practice room. One of the benefits of playing a solo with the Army Field Band is that you typically get to play the solo 6-7 times on a tour. It gives you the chance to really settle in with the music; nerves become less of a factor.
I’d say any opportunity to get multiple performances of a piece would certainly be some of the most enjoyable playing I’ve done, if not the best. When I have a one-off performance coming up, I often try to find an opportunity to perform the program ahead of time. That’s really the ultimate way to put the final touches on preparation for a big gig.
7. What is the best euphonium playing you have ever heard?
I recently heard Japanese euphoniumist Mitsuru Saito perform the David Gillingham Euphonium Concerto at the Army Tuba Euphonium Workshop, and I think that’s some of the best playing I’ve heard to date. His sound, musicality, accuracy…it was all there. It is a joy to experience that level of playing.
The euphonium playing that moved me the most was listening to Dr. Bowman play the Gustav Cords Romanze after dedicating the performance to his wife. He then proceeded to play so musically, so beautifully, so achingly…if your eyes didn’t spring a leak at some point during that performance, go get your pulse checked.
8. How did you develop your communication skills, and what was it like to be at the middle of the Rome marching band comment controversy?
I’m a lot like my Dad, who never met a stranger, and I love talking to people. I was always in trouble in school over it. I’ve had several East coast people call me the fastest talking Texan they’ve ever heard. Seriously, ask my husband about the talking. So, I guess I’ve just had lots of practice communicating.
When the Jim Rome controversy happened and the Army Field Band Twitter response went viral, Fox News requested an interview. Our Public Affairs Officer prepped me for the interview and helped me go over how to best respond to possible questions. I had to keep in mind that I was not only representing myself and the Army Field Band, but also the entire U.S. Army. (You don’t want to piss off those guys!)
I was on a plane 20 minutes after we got called to do the interview. I spent the flight writing out notes, guessing possible questions, typing out responses, reading over things, editing, and memorizing the message I wanted to convey. When we landed, I had to immediately call in to Fox and Friends and speak to a producer for a pre-interview. That gave me a good sense of what might be asked, and the tone of the piece.
The next morning, I was at the Fox News DC building, going live before I knew what was happening. I was alone in a small studio room, looking at a blank screen. I couldn’t see who was interviewing me or what I looked like, and my only connection to the outside world was through an earpiece. It’s hard to act naturally when you can’t see the person asking you questions. Thankfully the preparation and focus on my flight gave me the confidence I needed to not put my foot in my mouth.
The aftermath of the whole brouhaha has been very positive. So many people from across the country got in touch to say “thank you” for standing up for marching bands, for speaking out on a national platform on behalf of these hard working kids.
Just the other night, I had a band director came up to me after an Army Field Band concert to talk about it. I think the whole incident shows how much positive power the music community has when we come together on an issue.
9. What do you look for in a euphonium?
I’m not a big equipment junkie, I’ve been playing on the same horn (Willson 2900) for 15 years. Does it play in tune, can I get the sound I want, does it project from within the band? Is it comfortable to hold? Some horns are more ergonomic for smaller hands than others.
10. How has becoming a parent informed your humanity and musicality?
Becoming a parent is pretty much all-consuming in the beginning. Giving birth is this incredibly physical event, and for me it was both magical and traumatic. I did not play my instrument for almost six weeks as I struggled to master breastfeeding, allowed my body to heal, and dedicated my energy toward sustaining this new life that was 100% dependent on me for survival.
After six weeks, the fog began to lift and I was able to think about the euphonium again. That was convenient, because I had to return to work at six weeks as well. Finding a balance between my music career and my family has been a process of growth. I’ve had to make choices, identify priorities, and become more efficient.
Before I was a mother, I would probably say I was most proud of the fact that I serve my country through music, that I am able to make people’s lives better with my instrument. Now, that purpose exists alongside this beautiful calling of motherhood.
The biggest way that has informed my musicality is that being a mother has given me a new level of confidence, particularly of what my body is capable. My body made and sustained a human life. My son literally grew from a single cell to a 20 lb, 6-month-old hunk of human from nothing but the nourishment of my body. My body is powerful! That confidence of self can’t help but translate to performance.
c. 2015 David William Brubeck All Rights Reserved. davidbrubeck.com
Images courtesy of www.robmciverphoto.com