Ten years at Interlochen, and one can see (and more importantly), hear a great deal. From colleagues to visiting artists, from students to the stirrings of your own soul and sound. Double down on that as two time editor of the tuba journal. Composer and Educator Jerry Young has taken his tuba from Wisconsin all around the world, and managed to make beautiful music with his favorite people. Settle down by the fire, and let the tale of a musical life well lived weave dreams with smoke. “The Fourth Valve” tm is pleased to present Jerry Young…..Enjoy!
1. What are your favorite chamber music settings with tuba and why?
I have to make this a two-part response…
Making music with my wife, Barbara Young, is the most rewarding chamber music experience I’ve ever had. (And, no, I’m not saying that because she might read this at some point!) Making quality chamber music is all about sharing of ideas (both musical and intellectual). Having the opportunity to experience all kinds of music together over (literally) an entire career/lifetime is one that very few musicians have been able to enjoy. Being able to choose repertoire together and rehearse “at will” is pretty special.
To Barbara’s credit, she has performed with many of the world’s low brass luminaries including Harvey Phillips, Dan Perantoni, Roger Bobo, Brian Bowman, Steven Mead, David Werden (and I could make a long, long list of others), as well as other brass, woodwind, string, and vocal artists. She is simply an outstanding chamber musician. Anyone who has performed in this medium for any time at all can tell you that playing with others who are really attentive and sensitive to where you’re going musically paired with your ability to do the same is what makes the magic happen.
Outside the arena of repertoire with piano, my favorite setting is brass quintet, hands down.
It’s the repertoire.
As a brass quintet player, I inherited the repertoire that either came to light or was composed in the 1950s and 1960s. The Ewald quintets, the transcriptions by folks like Robert Nagel and Robert King, the compositions inspired by the New York Brass Quintet (such as the Bozza “Sonatine”), the Malcolm Arnold “Quintet,” and so on. The first professional brass quintet I heard was on a recording by the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble, featuring the late John Fletcher on tuba, and the recording did indeed feature the “first” Ewald quintet and the Malcolm Arnold. I was inspired both by the repertoire and John’s virtuoso performance.
In the early 1970s the Eastman Brass Quintet (Cherry Beauregard on tuba) came to my university – that was the first live performance I heard by a professional group. I immediately bought their record album and learned all the tuba parts. Hearing that group led to the formation of a student brass quintet and my own first experience. After that time, I have been associated with a brass quintet of some description throughout most of my life. And the repertoire has continued to grow – there is always more there, both in terms of the basic instrumentation and exploration of the basic instrumentation with additions. In the most active years of my career, new works from Jan Bach and Eric Ewazen were extremely exciting for me (and others, too). The satisfying musical possibilities seem to be almost infinite – witness the adventures of the Dallas Brass and the Mnozil Brass. This is not to mention the vast contributions to the repertoire of the Canadian Brass. None of us will ever be able to perform all of the top-drawer repertoire that is available.
I currently play in a community band in Traverse City, Michigan that is loaded with folks who are music teachers (as well as representatives of a variety of other professions) who are serious players. And this is one of TWO bands in a basically rural area of Northwest Lower Michigan! Not to mention a symphony orchestra (I know – only one tuba, but…) and two brass bands in our region of Michigan.
I play in a euphonium/tuba quartet (rehearses weekly) with three other retired musicians, and my wife and I play in a ragtime quartet, too! And there are multiple brass quintets, woodwind quintets, string ensembles, vocal groups.
I believe that there are musicians all around us who really want to continue to make music, but in the course of their busy lives, no one has asked them to play. One can feed one’s musical soul by finding and motivating other musicians to play with them. If one is SO isolated that there simply is no one around to share the performance experience, there is a lot of great music (regardless of one’s instrumental voice) for solo instruments waiting to be played – even if it is for oneself. That’s another option along with intent and involved listening to the vast musical offerings on the airwaves and digitally.
3. Which live performances of music have inspired you the most?
This is a “killer” question… With over fifty years invested in intense listening and performing, I’ve experienced a lot of inspiring moments. To humor the question, I’ll describe just a few “great performances” briefly:
• The Beaux Arts Trio – I heard this group in the early 1980s in Kansas City. Listening to and watching Mr. Pressler at the piano was an amazing lesson in expressive legato playing that has affected my own playing ever since.
• A live performance by Harvey Phillips in 1978 with my wife at the piano. They performed Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.” There was not a dry eye in the house by the time the performance ended. Musical/emotional communication at its very best.
• My first performance as a member of the faculty at the National Music Camp (now the Interlochen Arts Camp). I found myself performing Gabrieli canzoni with former principal trumpet of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Gilbert Johnson, and with former principal trombone of Philadelphia, Henry Charles Smith (sitting next to me) on euphonium. After all the years of listening to “The Brass of Three Great Orchestras,” I felt somewhat out of place, but what an exciting and inspiring moment.
4. What do you look for in an instrument, and how has it changed?
At last… An easy question!
I have been playing EXACTLY the same horns for a long time.
I have played the same F tuba (Alexander) since 1978 and the same CC tuba (Hirsbrunner HB1) since 1986.
Recently I acquired a very nice Miraphone 186 CC tuba, but it was a gift from a friend. My taste in “what I look for” is embodied in those instruments, and it hasn’t changed. While I certainly have “tried on” most of the standard instruments available over that long period of time and helped my students to choose instruments, I’m happy with my long-time friends.
My Alexander is simply a unique voice. It is quite a lot smaller than “modern” F tubas and is lighter in character. The intonation idiosyncracies are certainly present, however, time and practice have made them manageable. Most readers of this interview who are tuba players are familiar with the special sound of the Hirsbrunner. It has good center and such a warm, dark-ish sound. It is also very easy to control in almost any circumstance.
5. Which orchestral composer had the clearest window into the soul of the tuba, in your estimation?
With some admitted prejudice, I think probably Gustav Mahler, although Richard Strauss would be a close second. It seems to me that Mahler had a firm concept of the expressive capabilities of the voice and how to use that expressive import in almost any role that the tuba plays in his works, whether it serves as a foundation for any of the various ensembles within the orchestra (full brass choir, trombone choir, horn choir, etc.) or in other roles, including as a solo voice. It was more than just a “utility bass instrument” for Mahler.
6. How do you achieve such consistency throughout all the registers?
Oh, my… I have never imagined myself as being all that consistent, although perhaps I was MORE consistent when I was younger. Trust me, for ordinary mortals such as myself, as we get older things do become less consistent. People like Arnold Jacobs, Dan Perantoni, and Jim Self (some of my heroes and not in the “ordinary mortal” category) have always amazed me with their consistency as life has moved on. I think the key to consistency of sound in all registers, as well as all aspects of playing (and this is a no-brainer), is consistent, well-designed practice. I always made a point to practice – a lot – in all registers every single day.
If you don’t use it, you lose it!
And one must have a clear concept of the desired sound in any register – without clear concept all is lost from the get-go. Who EVER wants to sound bad in any register? The best stated “how to do it” philosophy I ever heard came from the lips of Arnold Jacobs. At a workshop, one of my students asked this question of Mr. Jacobs: “I don’t think I sound very good in my lower register. What can I do to improve it?” Mr. Jacobs’ response was as follows: “Well, young man, where DO you think you sound good?” The student’s response was “My mid-register is pretty good.” Mr Jacobs then said: “Then do exactly the same thing in your lower register as you you’re doing in your mid-register.” That may seem overly simplistic to some readers, but I would encourage you to think about it. It’s a great insight.
7. What applications of the tuba have most intrigued you with the possibility of future development?
I’m not sure that I can come up with a specific answer to that question. And the possibilities are so many.
As I witness some of the recent experimentation with the microtonal tuba and the profoundly interesting experimentation with manipulation of the instrument’s sound in varied environments and electronically by folks like Jon Sass and my Norwegian grand-student, Kristoffer Lo, I am dumbfounded by the things these creative minds and ears are doing – far beyond my meager capabilities. I look forward to seeing where they continue to go on their journeys. Jim Self once said in a lecture given at an ITEC back in 1992 that he decided early on in his career that his operative word was going to be “change.” And by sticking to that motto, he has been able to accomplish a lot. Regardless of your instrument, be looking for and trying to anticipate change, not only relative to applications for your instrument, but in the larger musical soundscape. How do you envision your artistic voice adapting and developing with the changing world around you?
Consider the voice of [late night Colbert tuba player] in “Stay Human.” He made a place for himself in an ensemble wherein most of us would NOT feel at home – and is a versatile musician, much more than “just a tuba player. The intrigue for me lies in seeing how we, as a cadre of musicians who play the tuba, can find our way into ALL genres of music as an expressive voice. In order to do that, we have to be more than players of notes – we have to be complete musicians who UNDERSTAND and can actively participate in a variety of genres and be a PART of future development.
Few things worthwhile have ever been easy. We have to lose our prejudices and engage composers and fellow performers on their turf – and be prepared with every bit of skilled musicianship and imagination we can muster to meet the challenges presented.
Interested in more “The Fourth Valve” tm Interviews?
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