Several weeks ago I had the privilege of presenting a masterclass at Arizona State University for Deanna Swaboda and the Tuba-Euphonium Students. I had a great time and hope to get to see many of those students in the future (I know I’ll get to see a handful at ITEC this summer). The most striking thing I took away from the masterclass came a day or so later.
I had worked with a tuba student, Andy Gonzales, during the masterclass. I had remarked at one point that I really enjoyed his very clear and deliberate articulation in a passage, but that I felt he should lengthen the notes a bit and get more tone out of each note. He dutifully complied and performed excellently. Later that day this same student friended me on facebook, and after another day a video of this student popped up on my newsfeed and I heard (and saw) him performing again. But this time he wasn’t playing tuba, he was playing guitar! And then I heard it…that same staccatissimo articulation I corrected him for in the masterclass. Except here it worked perfectly. And suddenly it made perfect sense – he was articulating on tuba the way he articulates his strumming pattern on guitar. This is why, despite being perhaps too clipped for tuba, it sounded so powerful and purposeful. He was articulating with a committed sonic idea in his mind (and ear).
Most of us have at least some experience playing other instruments than the one deemed our “primary instrument.” But often we neglect these musical “mistresses” thinking that time spent away from our main squeeze will only hurt us. But perhaps we should learn to value our secondary instruments and what they can teach us. We get so caught up in trying to recreate the “ideal” sound for our instrument that we forget there is a huge expressive range we can tap into when allow ourselves to experience the style, phrasing, articulation, and more of other instruments. The larger our expressive palette, the more powerful a storyteller we become.