Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee
Member of the Nashville Symphony since 1978
What led you to become a musician?
I was pretty much doomed from the start because both of my parents were musicians. My mom was a choir director, organist, jazz singer, and opera singer, and my dad was principal flute of the Nashville Symphony for 20-plus years — he retired two or three years before I joined the orchestra.
My dad also played with Glenn Miller Band, led a big band of his own, and was a top-call studio player, so there were instruments all over the place. He formed a group called The Clubmen, and my mom was the singer. They played all the different country clubs, and I would go and help set up the equipment. I was very involved in music — it was around all the time.
How did you wind up playing the tuba?
I started playing guitar in a rock group when I was in fifth grade. I wanted to play drums, but my dad, being a bandleader, said no drums in the house. So when it came time to pick an instrument for school, I had to pick the trumpet. I played it for a few years and absolutely hated it. Then we moved to West Meade, and I went to Hillwood High School, where they didn’t have a tuba player. So I wound up picking the tuba, and upon playing the first few notes, I fell in love with it and have never looked back since.
How do you describe the tuba’s role in the orchestra?
I relate the tuba to the subwoofer that everyone cherishes and wishes they had. It’s more of an impact instrument — it can add warmth, volume, or precision.
Which composers write the best music for tuba?
Shostakovich, Prokofiev, the Russian composers are great with the tuba. They understand what it can do, what impact it can have. They also understand that the tuba can be used melodically.
What’s been your most memorable experience with the Nashville Symphony?
The most emotional experience I remember is when we played Barber’s Adagio for Strings right before the shutdown of the orchestra in 1985, and we didn’t know if we were coming back or not. I think we were all scared, musicians and the audience. It was a very emotional moment for the orchestra and this community.
We have been a through a lot, and even though the shutdown was a painful experience, it was also part of our growth and why we are one of the top orchestras in the country today. There were some hard feelings, although I think most of that has healed, and we all have a better understanding of where we’re going and why we’re here. I don’t think we would have Schermerhorn Symphony Center had it not been for the shutdown and the strike. We had to go there to get here.
What’s the most unusual thing that’s happened to you onstage?
Probably my best moment was dropping a mute during a concert. Composers sometimes don’t understand that it takes a little time to get a mute out of your tuba and get it situated so you can get back to playing…and tuba mutes have the ability to roll. So I set it down and went back to playing, and out of the corner of my eye, I could see my mute rolling down one platform, then another platform, and then onto the floor, and there’s not much you can do about it. I could see some of my colleagues’ heads wiggling with laughter as we played, but everyone was professional and continued on their way.
What performing have you done outside of your work with the orchestra?
I was involved in starting Tuba Christmas with G.R. Davis and Nancy Holland some 35 years ago. But I’m rarely able to participate in it these days because we’re busy doing Nutcracker or other holiday shows. That was my first experience playing with a large numbers of tubas, and it’s a completely different feeling than playing with other brass ensembles, because all of the sonorities are the same.
In the early days of putting together Tuba Christmas, I called up Opryland and asked them about playing in one of the atriums. They got back to me and said, “We don’t think it’s going to work because there’s way too much glass here.” I don’t know what they thought we were going to do with the glass!
I also played in the Nashville Contemporary Brass Quintet for about 15 years, and now I’ve got a new group called Tri-Star Brass, which consists of members from three faculty brass quintets: Belmont University, Blair School of Music, and Middle Tennessee State University. We all have a common goal, which is education and promoting brass playing. There’s not much music written for triple brass ensembles, so we get local arrangers and writers to write for us, and we’ve come up with some wonderful music.
What would you most like audiences to know about the music you’re playing onstage?
Audiences should be open to a wide variety of music, not just stuff they’re comfortable with. Music creates an emotion, and sometimes those emotions are not very pleasant. When I performed with the Nashville Contemporary Brass Quintet, we would play music that at times was very angry, and people would get up and leave. We took that as a compliment, as we represented or honored the music and the composers’ wishes. Everything can’t be feel-good music. Sometimes you have to have the ability to experience new things, acquire new tastes. You’ve got to push your envelope because you’ll never know until you try something whether you like it not. You may not like it, but at least experience it.
It started so young, I have no idea!
First record you ever owned?
The Beatles or Herman’s Hermits
Favorite piece of music?
Favorite tuba player?
Michael Lind, Warren Deck, Dan Parentoni
Favorite venue (other than the Schermerhorn)?
McAfee Auditorium at Belmont University, Turner Recital Hall and Ingram Hall at Blair School of Music.
All of it!