Cello Soloist – Mary Riles

Mary Riles will play the Haydn Concerto No. 2 for Cello at our next performance. I spoke to Mary about this concerto and her musical life. She was kind enough to take the time to engage in a wonderful discussion.

When did you start playing music and how did you start playing the cello specifically?
When did you know you wanted to be serious about it?
When you were in Oberlin, when do you know that cello playing was “for real” for you?
The Haydn Concerto No. 2, how did you choose that piece and why did you choose that piece?
What are the things we should watch for?
Soliloquy is solo cello, no accompaniment. It’s so different than the Haydn. What are the solo challenges?


KCO: When did you start playing music and how did you start playing the cello specifically?

Mary Riles: I think I started with recorder when I was 4 or something like that, I don’t really remember. My older sister played harp and her teacher gave a recital with a friend of hers who played cello. My mom brought me as well as my sister. I was 4 years old, and it was the first time I’d heard the cello. I was just struck. It’s my earliest clear memory. I remember the church, and I remember the purple cushions in the pews.  I remember seeing her, and I remember being overwhelmed by the sound of the instrument. And so I knew I wanted to play the cello.

A couple years later, I started lessons with her, the woman that I had heard play. She was my first teacher and I think I studied with her until I was about 12 and she moved away to New York City.

KCO: Wow, and where was this?

Mary: St. Louis.

KCO: You were in St. Louis, you hear cello for the first time and you’re just overwhelmed. And where does it go from there? You take lessons from a really early age?

Mary: We lived in England for 9 months when I was 6. My dad had sabbatical. I think it was the next time I heard the cello. We got off the plane and went to our friends’ house and their daughter, who was a few years older than me, was practicing cello. I walked in the house and heard cello again. I remember looking down the hallway and seeing it. I must have started lessons right after we got back. I was the tail end of being 6 years old.

KCO: That’s really early!

Mary: Yeah. I think that music education was important to my parents and also I had strongly expressed the desire to play the cello. I think they were waiting until I was a little bit bigger.

KCO: Did you go Suzuki method?

Mary: No, I studied with this woman that I had heard the first time and we used Dotzauer and golly, that was so long ago, Dotzauer and then various other pieces.

KCO: How did you manage the size of the cello though?

Mary: They do make very small cellos. I had a half size to begin with I suspect that the half size might have been a little bit too big for me but I’m not sure.

KCO: I see. So, you took lessons and when did you know you wanted to be serious about it?

Mary: Well, in the sense of sort of personal commitment and heart connection, I was serious about it from the very beginning. I went to Oberlin, and I was double degree there. I was in the college and the conservatory.

I had two passions through my life: one of them was music and one of them was language, English. I intended to double major in cello performance and English, so I had an advisor who was in the conservatory who was my teacher and an advisor in the college. Somehow between those two advisors, and myself, somehow I did not realize that I had to take the first course in the English major sequence my very first semester in order to be able to complete the degree in the five years, given distribution requirements. I didn’t do that and by the time I realized what that meant, it was too late, I would’ve had to stay a sixth year, which was not in the cards.

I wound up doing ancient history, classics as my college degree. I had taken Latin for like six years or something like that when I was growing up, and it’s just one of those moments in time where this seemingly super inconsequential choice has these really profound long run repercussions for the rest of your life. Had I done the English degree, I think it’s reasonably likely I would have gone the academic route rather than the musical route because the academic route was so much easier than music, which is, you know, fabulous and brutally challenging.

KCO: Yes.

Mary: And I, for a while in my life, but by the time I was a junior, probably, I’d decided that I wanted to strive to be the best cellist that I could be and that I’d rather be a professional musician and a nonprofessional reader or thinker or whatever you want to call it, than the other way around. The idea of playing substantially below the level, sort of below the capacity I had, sounded very unappealing to me.

You have to make choices. Playing in ensembles is the right place for me. I get to teach people over a long course of time, it’s just really wonderful, personal, collaborative endeavor.

KCO: You make it sound good. I haven’t had a teacher that I’d connected with, in a long time.

Mary: My first teacher was really wonderful. I had a couple of teachers who were really not wonderful. My college teacher died young of esophageal cancer and in fact my first teacher also died young, she had a heart attack, and so I don’t have a current mentor. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a mentor relationship like that.

KCO: I’m sorry to hear that. That’s rough.

Mary: I grew up in a family of teachers, my grandfather was a band and orchestra teacher, my father a professor, my brother and my sister are both teachers, it’s really in my family DNA maybe, and I really just think it’s such an important profession. I definitely have missed having the presence of a relationship with a former teacher for sure. But it’s also true that you can learn from so many people and so many different ways. I have so many incredible colleagues who I learn from and whom I respect, and I really feel grateful for that.

KCO: When you were in Oberlin, when do you know that cello playing was “for real” for you ? When did you think, “I know I can do it?”

Mary: Those are two different questions!

Well I think, I decided by my junior year that playing the cello was what I wanted to do. The self-doubt demons like to mess with any conviction that one acquires. I think that, to be honest, I think that I’ve known on some level that I was a musician since I was very young, some part of me.

KCO: The Haydn Concerto No. 2, how did you choose that piece and why did you choose that piece?

Mary: Well, I had a conversation with James and we talked about what to do. We had been talking about the Elgar and I can’t even remember how it worked its way around to being Haydn. He had been talking about a particular program, I think an English program, and the Haydn. I played the C Major Haydn maybe 15 years ago. D Major is a Concerto that I’ve always really loved. It is so lyrical and so elegant and yet possesses such a depth of feeling and it really resonates for me.

It’s a big technical challenge. You jump up and down a lot, there’s a lot of notes up high on the finger board. There are places where it goes really fast, but it is also doesn’t feel extraneous or like as an ego expression of the composer or something like that.

It’s an expression of energy. There’s so much joy that runs through it, so it’s a piece that really appeals to me. It definitely felt like a challenge, but a challenge that I wanted to take on.

KCO: That was a great description, because I was going to ask the follow up question about explaining to a non-string player.

Mary: I think energy and joy are the things, but also depth of feeling, like its form is elegant, but it’s in no way a superficial piece. It sings.

KCO: What are the things we should watch for?

Mary: Hmm, the things to watch for?

KCO: Well listen to, but I’m thinking from the technical point of view. Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s hard about someone else’s instrument.

Mary: Well it goes up really high. it also goes up high and crosses all four strings, often you’ll be up high on the A string, maybe a bit on the D string, but this goes all the way across all four strings and it’s hard to balance on a cello because the range is so wide. Having both clarity and power across all four strings is challenging in terms of just making a cello and playing a cello, so one of the challenges is to play up high on the C and G strings and have a clear tone, have it not be muddy.

KCO: That’s easy for a brass player to understand because it’s hard to make all notes sing because of the physics of the instrument.

Mary: It has lots of leaps. Big, big intervals up and down the string are hard. It’s also full of chords, which can be challenging to get in and out of with grace.

The third movement that has all these wild octaves that go up and down the instrument, way up high in the register and way down low. If you look at a guitar, the frets get closer and closer together as you go up the finger board, and of course the same thing is true on all stringed instruments. You can’t just put your thumb and third finger on an octave and them move that shape up and down the cello. You have to adjust how far your fingers are from each other in order to retain the octave as you move up and down the finger board. Doing that at a high rate of speed presents some challenges.

KCO: I saw your performance of Soliloquy online. Soliloquy is solo cello, no accompaniment. It’s so different than the Haydn. What are the solo challenges?

KCO: Are they the same in both pieces? Does it really come down to interpretation and really finding what you want to say as a player?

Mary: Well it’s a really different thing to prepare a solo piece as compared to a concerto which is not a solo piece in the sense that multiple people are creating this piece of music. Yet, I’ve been spending several months working on the Haydn by myself, in my studio. I’ve listened to it, and what I wound up doing actually was writing orchestral cues in my part. Not all the way through, but in various places, so that I could feel them as I was playing my part. I even recorded some of the orchestral lines so that I could play with myself as a duet so that I could feel the rhythmic interplay between the two parts.

I’ve also played it, a pianist friend of mine offered to play through it with me, so I’ve played with him. I’ll probably do that again, and then obviously I will rehearse with the orchestra. And part of rehearsing with the orchestra and writing in cues is logistics, how does everything fit together, and that’s not even, that can be not as simple question because rhythm really drives phrasing so much and so you have to know how things fit together in order to make music.

But also, music for me is fundamentally about communication and relationships and when you’re working on a piece which is solo, literally you are the only music and yours is the only part, it’s still about communication and relationships. I mean obviously it’s less complicated from the fact that you don’t have to refer to what anybody else is doing.

KCO: It also means all the pressure squarely on you. It’s not like your entrance is going to be late, but still, to me, and they are worlds different.

Mary: When you’re playing by yourself you have to create everything. The fewer players you have, the more responsibility each player has for creating the harmonic and rhythmic world and structure. As a single player, you are both more free and also have to be even clearer about what it is you’re presenting, because you have to present the whole thing.

The concerto is a funny, odd duck because the person who’s playing the solo part has such profound influence on the process and musical choices, but at the same time, all of us in the room are finding and expressing the spirit of the piece and its relationships. It goes well beyond, well “x” section has to be quieter so that you can hear “y” section. All that stuff is super important but it’s like, when I’m explaining rhythm to students who haven’t been playing for very long. I tell them that as they develop their sense of the beat. Every time they play it’s a dance between the beat and the notes on the page; it’s a relationship.

Feeling that relationship deepens your understanding of the music and your feeling for the music. It’s not just a sequence of events, it’s how the music is with or is not with the beat, for example, and similarly, certain things are only visible in relief. The concerto is not whole without all of its parts and all the parts inform all the other parts.

KCO: Perfect. We’ll look forward to it. I look forward to hearing it.

Mary: Thank you!

Interview on May 22, 2018
by Francis X. Langlois – tuba player in the KCO

Horn Soloist – Darcy Hamlin

Darcy Hamlin is the French horn soloist for our next performance, playing Strauss: Horn Concerto no. 2.

We asked Darcy some questions about her musical background and the concerto she is playing.

Editor – Darcy was erroneously called “Darcy Susan” in the first release.

  1. How did you get involved in music? When did all start for you?
  2. When did you think that music could be your profession?
  3. How did get connected with our orchestra?
  4. Why the Strauss, Horn Concerto No. 2?
  5. You apparently love soloing. But you also play in a section, what would you tell a musician is the difference? Which one do you like more?

Kirkland Civic Orchestra: How did you get involved in music? When did all start for you?

Darcy Hamlin: Well, my mom was a general music teacher. She was a music educator. She had all these wonderful, classical music LP’s. Remember vinyl LP’s? This was a specific collection geared toward kids, so it was perfect. I had my little briefcase record player. They had oval handles. I would open it up and it would be a phonograph player. You would plug it in and it was portable.

I would raid this collection and I fell in love with, they had this narrated version of Till Eulenspiegel, which was outstanding. I just remember identifying with Till because he was such a troublemaker. I loved the horn and I loved Aaron Copland’s Hoedown from Rodeo. That was really great and just all these really great pieces inside. I just fell in love with the whole orchestral genre.

When it came time for me, we had a piano and I always just sit down and play the piano. I would just make up things and play by ear. I didn’t start official piano lessons until I was nine, but that was when I started playing an instrument.

I really loved playing the piano. Then it was time for me to pick a band instrument when I was ten. My mom was so brilliant, because she’s obviously a music teacher, and she was so smart. So I wanted to play the horn, the tuba, or the flute, and those were my choices. The reason I wanted to play the tuba is because of, I don’t if you know this with your kids, but there’s a series about Harry the dog and he goes on a quest to find low sounds because he lives next to the lady next door who sings really loudly and he finds a tuba and I thought that was really awesome.

KCO: I don’t know that story but I can identify with it.

D: It’s a fantastic book, I remember loving that book. But my mom said, “Well honey, the tuba and the horn are in the same family, and you know you’re going to have to carry this instrument to and from school,” so I thought that was really valid point and so I said, well okay, lets narrow it down to the horn and the flute.

All my friends were playing the flute and it seemed really easy to carry back and forth to school, and I thought it might give me some girl cred because I was a little bit of a tom boy, had short hair, and you know, not interested in girly things. This’ll be good, you know, flute.

My mom kind of knew that I was going to pick the horn because, in my spare play time I would go out in the backyard and play songs on the garden hose in the backyard, like I would just play songs on the hose. I’d be swinging on the swing and the neighbors would be calling, like what is that in your backyard? And my mom would look out the window and she’d say, “Okay, I think I have a brass player on my hands.”

My mom, being brilliant music educator, knew that I would be into trying the instruments. So with her connections, she was able to borrow a single horn from one of the local schools. And all of my babysitters played flute so we borrowed one from them.

We had a fun tryout session right in my living room and I got out the horn and oh it was so great! It was so much less painful than the garden hose, it didn’t dig into my face and I could play songs on it.

As a fellow brass player, you know the fingerings don’t really matter. You could pretty much play any notes by lipping it around, I thought that great!

I thought everybody says the flute is really easy so this is going to be even better cause everybody says the horn is hard. I’m going to nail the flute. I could not get out a sound out of it. The only way I could get a sound out of the flute was buzzing into the hole.

My mom, with reverse psychology, said, “well honey, if you really want to play the flute, we can find you a teacher who can show you how to play the flute,” and I said, well why? I can already play the horn so I made the right choice.

I think like a year later I started private lessons in sixth grade, and it was fantastic. AC Meyers was retired from the symphony, and he was just really low key and crazy. He would let me play whatever I wanted, so it was really the perfect first private teacher, so it was nice. I was the only horn player for a while, until I got into high school.

KCO: When did you think that music could be your profession?

D: Well this is another hilarious story because I got braces when I was a sophomore in high school. My horn teacher said, I was only going to have them on for a year, why don’t you just take the year off? It’s going to take you so long to get used to the braces and then when you get them off, you’ll have to get used to having them off. It’s just going to be a lot of grief.

He knew that I played piano, and I had gotten pretty serious about the piano, and I thought, okay. I’ll just spend the year working on piano. And this was great. I took a year break from the horn, and my band director, said, “oh, she reads music, she can read bass clef and she’s got strong fingers from the piano. Let’s have her play the bassoon.”

He found this bassoon in the band storage room that had just been rotting there for however many years, who knows. And this bassoon was just a nightmare. The pancake key would stick all the time and the whisper key was jerry-rigged with a rubber band.

KCO: I don’t know what that means, but it sounds bad.

D: Oh my gosh, it was just a really unfortunate bassoon. It was in need of serious work. No one told me that I had to soak the reeds so I couldn’t get sound out of them of course. I had to play on the plastic reed and we all know how wonderful those sound. It was the most horrible sounding thing you can imagine. We have home videos and you can hear me practicing in the background. I practiced that bassoon more than I had ever practiced the horn up until that point and I never got any better.

It made me angry that there were different fingerings for every single note and your ear just didn’t help you at all except to tell you boy, you sound bad on this thing you know.

I got my braces off and I ran back to the horn. I had never really appreciated it or that I had some talent on it. I didn’t really know what talent was but I discovered emphatically that I did not have it on the bassoon. I guess I needed that sort of Ebenezer Scrooge experience to have me really appreciate what I had on the horn. I finally got my braces off and I started practicing again the end of my sophomore year. I was really motivated and that’s when I joined the youth orchestra and started to get really passionate about practicing. I got serious about my lessons and about auditioning for various regional orchestras and all-state orchestras. Things like that.

And then my parents, when I got into Oberlin, were very insistent that I would get a marketable degree. A performance degree obviously doesn’t guarantee work anywhere so they pushed me to do music education. The nice thing about Oberlin was that they don’t care what your major is. If you can play really well, you can get into the orchestras. It’s a small enough college that there’s no politics about being a performance major so you’re going to get in, or this other person isn’t. I know a lot of bigger universities are like that.

Oberlin was great. I performed a ton and I don’t have an undergraduate in performance. I just got the music ed degree. But it became really clear, the longer I was at Oberlin, that I wasn’t going to pursue music education. I was going to go into performance and that was what I was going to pursue. Then I went to the Cleveland Institute of Music and I got a master’s in performance.

KCO: How did get connected with our orchestra? I take it you know Matt Stoecker.

D: That’s how I got this gig actually. I knew Matt very well at Oberlin. We attended Oberlin together. Matt and I keep in touch with each other regularly on Facebook. He really beats me a lot in scrabble online so that’s always nice.

He asked me if I would be interested in soloing and I said absolutely. I’d love that. And he said I could play whatever I wanted to. And I thought that was a really fun idea. It was far enough in advance that I can secure the time off and I can think about what I want to play.

KCO: Why the Strauss, Horn Concerto No. 2?

I chose the Strauss second concerto because it’s one of the lesser known Strauss concertos.

The first one is the one that opens with the big fanfare, that’s the one that most people know. The second is not performed as often. It’s a more complex piece. it’s a very elegant piece. I believe that it was written later in his life.

It’s very elegant. It’s very playful. It’s also significantly more difficult than the first. It’s very technical. It’s very noodly, and it’s got a lot of very almost “woodwind-y kinds of motives and lots of fast scales and lots of jumpy arpeggios and things like that.

But it’s really fun to play. I’ve never actually performed it with an orchestra. I’ve played it on recitals before but, and it’s been a while since I’ve worked on it. I thought, you know, why don’t I make this a good challenge for myself. I always feel like when I am working toward something difficult it makes me better as a musician.

It’s also the juxtaposition of the very typical hunting horn call, very traditional types of playing bugle calls. And then there’s this beautiful lyrical sweeping melody just soaring. It’s just gorgeous. The whole first exposition is really good at demonstrating that.

It’s a really fun piece for the orchestra too, I think. It’s got some really neat stuff. And in fact, there’s some really great sections for me and the whole horns section so it’s super fun for that. It’ll be a really neat piece to experience.

KCO: What else are you looking forward to experiencing?

D: Well I really am excited about the master class. I love teaching, even though my calling wasn’t to teach in a public school setting, I do adore educating and instructing privately. And also, in a more specialized setting, more just horn and more just brass. And I love doing master classes and I love teaching, I’m on the faculty of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music here and I also have a home studio of students who come study with me at my home.

I really am excited about getting to know some of the musicians and to just work with them and to just share some things with the musicians, that’s going to be super fun for me because I really think that that’s part of what makes music enjoyable for me, is connecting with people, connecting not only with the audience, but also with the musicians that I get to perform with. It’s a very intimate experience, to get to share, you’re on stage and you’re recreating this amazing work that you’re bringing it back to life. You know, it was written hundreds of years ago but it’s still alive because we get to bring it back to life and that’s just so exciting to me and I love engaging in that kind of connection with other musicians.

KCO: You apparently love soloing. But you also play in a section, what would you tell a musician is the difference? Which one do you like more?

D: That’s a great question. If you think about a group project at work, where you have to collaborate and really work with other people and you’ve got to really just work together on a really difficult project where you have to work really intimately with other people, that’s kind of like playing in a section or as part of the orchestra.

Playing a concerto solo is more like you get to be the featured guest speaker. You get a podium. You just speak and everyone listens to you. You’re definitely more in the hot seat. You’re at the front of the orchestra instead of the back, which is sometimes a little bit more nerve wracking. You’re certainly more exposed, and so it’s definitely more challenging.

I would say that they’re such different processes, it’s difficult to say which one I like better. One is certainly easier to make a living with. There are very few people making a living as concerto soloists. There are full time jobs available in orchestral performance which is what I do.

There are things that are really exciting about both. I really love collaborating with other musicians. I love the end product that can be achieved by connecting with other musicians in that very intimate way to recreate another piece of music.

But I think what I’m really looking forward to with the concerto soloing is that it is unfamiliar to me. I don’t often do it. The last time I played a concerto solo was with the Milwaukee Symphony on tour. That was before I had kids, that was 2006 so about twelve years ago. I’m really looking forward to this challenge. I think it’s been really good for me, I’ve been getting so much out of my practicing, and just learning a lot about endurance, I mean it’s an extremely difficult piece endurance-wise, I hope I make it through.

We just did two performances of Prokoviev 5 this weekend, and this afternoon we’re doing an all John Williams concert. If it doesn’t kill me, I should have a decent face to be running it this week before I see you on Saturday. I think it’ll be fun. I’m going to experiment with some different things. I still don’t know if I’m going to sit or stand. I still don’t know if I’m going to play by memory or use the music. I don’t know, I might sit and use the music. I have no idea, but we’ll figure that out.

Interview on March 11, 2018

by Francis X. Langlois – tuba player in the KCO

Piano Soloist – Susan Harris

Susan Harris will be the piano soloist for the at our next performance, playing Turina – Rapsodia sinfónica, for piano & orchestra, Op. 66. We asked Susan some questions in a fun and spirited exchange.

  1. When did you start playing music and was it always the piano?
  2. When did you know that you wanted to be a professional or a teacher?
  3. Which role you like best: Soloist, accompanist, and playing with an orchestra or rhythm section?
  4. What’s your connection to the Kirkland Civic Orchestra?
  5. What are your impressions of the Turina, your solo piece? Any insights for other musicians?

KCO: When did you start playing music and was it always the piano?

Susan: Yes, it was always the piano, well, no. Let me stop. I started playing when I was seven.

Both my parents worked and so I was collected from school every day by a friend’s mother. She sent both her daughters to piano lessons. And of course, I went with them. I just sat there and waited and every time we came home, I went and practiced everything they had just been taught. Because I would look and watch. To the point where the friend’s mother said to my mother, it’s a waste of money sending my girls to piano lessons, when your Susan is the one who’s actually taking notes and practicing!

That’s when my parents started sending me to lessons. And I loved it! Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t have started piano lessons.

KCO: I ask was ‘it always the piano’ because most of my accompanists were people who played piano and other instruments. That’s why I was curious about that.

Susan: I did try other instruments.  I think we all had recorder lessons at school, didn’t we? I tried the clarinet for a while because I was trying to get to an orchestral instrument. Being a pianist is a very lonely job. So I tried the clarinet. I wasn’t very good, and I wasn’t very enamored. My lip went numb, and I just didn’t want to stick with it. Piano is easier.

Then I started violin lessons. The teacher asked me at the end of the term, “are you going to continue?” And I said, “yes, please.” And she said, “I wouldn’t bother if I were you. ” Okay! I really enjoyed playing the violin, but I was obviously dreadful. I did one term. I didn’t even do a year. I was that bad.

KCO: That’s crazy about the teacher. You think of them as encouraging.

Susan: Exactly! You know what? That is why I always remember that, and that’s why I’m passionate about teaching. You’ve got to encourage. You’ve got to encourage a love of music.

Everybody has their favorite and least favorite composers. But, you don’t push that onto your students. I don’t tell them which composers I don’t enjoy playing because I don’t want to color their view. I want them to have the experience of playing all different types of music. I’m just so passionate about sharing that excitement in music.

KCO: When did you know that you wanted to be a professional or a teacher?

Susan: Well, it never really crossed my mind that way. Music has always been a part of my life. My mother, when I was first born, she just played Beethoven’s symphonies over and over. I could “la-la” all the themes, but I couldn’t tell you which symphony was which, because I just knew them inside out on the old record player.

Then my dad would come in, in the evenings, and put on Bing Crosby.

KCO: What a contrast.

Susan: Yes! Beethoven and Bing. That’s what I was brought up with. Then Frank Sinatra and all that stuff that my Dad played to me, which I just loved.

I just loved Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald. There was my mother with Beethoven and Sibelius. She used to conduct the orchestra in the lounge. She used to close her eyes and pretend she was the conductor. So, that’s what I grew up with. Music was always there.

As you go through school, you’re accompanying and you’re doing the competitions at school and the music festivals, and going around the country. You get to an age, well I did, I got to an age of about 14-16 – I got all my grades, all my exams – and I didn’t get any better. My mother thought I was going to be this amazing concert pianist. And she was very disappointed. So thought I’ll go do a music degree then!

KCO: Well, that’s still good. I bet you did get better, but it’s hard to see that sort of thing.

Susan: Yes. I was very good at a young age, and then I just petered out. And life came up. It wasn’t just all about practicing. One, I just wasn’t that good to be a professional concert pianist and also, life comes along. You know, your friends, going out, boys, oh, dear.

KCO: Right. There’s more to being a musician than just a concert pianist.

Susan: Absolutely. I did my music degree. I did my performance diploma. I had to wait until I was 18 to do a teaching diploma, because that’s the youngest you’re allowed to do it in Britain. You can’t be a teacher until you’re 18.

I was doing my degree and then after my degree, I did my post-grad in music education because I just found this is the way to go. I really want to share this. My friends in college were going on to play in orchestras. I played with them, performed and everything, but, piano playing is a lonely job.

KCO: Well, I’ve seen you in the back of the orchestra. You seem to like to be the piano player with the orchestra.

Susan: I do. I do like that because I can be part of something. Once in a while, an orchestra would need a pianist, and just the one, otherwise, you’re performing alone.

KCO: Which role do you like best: Soloist, accompanist, and playing with an orchestra or rhythm section?

Susan: All! I think I like being an accompanist the best. When you’re an accompanist, well, the word says accompanist, as in accompanying. But really, it’s a duet. That’s what I love.

I was just at Central Washington University performing with one of the soloist state finalists. And that was fun, because I could really discuss the music, helping them with the rhythm, helping them with their ideas, spotting what they were doing, interpreting the music.

I remember saying, did you know you did a crescendo here? It’s not in the music, but it fits really well. Let’s do that. Let’s make something of that. And it’s that sort of collaboration that I love. You can do that as an accompanist, or even a member of a chamber music trio. There’s three of us that can discuss it. I love that you can say, well hang on, I’m equal parts here. This is what I think should happen.

KCO: What’s your connection to the Kirkland orchestra?

Susan: I got married to Steve about 5 years ago. He’s American Canadian. We needed to go back to the Seattle area. I’ve got to leave England, have I? And he introduced me to a couple of friends. He knows the Truhers: Jim and Kathy.

I started to attend the Kirkland Orchestra concerts. I was so impressed. Even when my parents came over to visit, I made sure to bring them over. I said, “come and listen to this orchestra. They’re amazing.” Jim found out I played the piano and listened to me. Thankfully, he thought I was good enough to offer: would you like to help us out? I leapt at the chance.

KCO: What are your impressions of the Turina, your solo piece? Any insights for other musicians?

Susan: Well the first time I heard it, I just loved the harmonies. That is my sort of music. I gasped. It reminds me of the Albéniz and the Granados that I used to play when I was younger. Oh, those harmonies, they’re luscious. It is those jazzy chords, and it’s those Spanish rhythms.

Turina is just one of those classic Spanish works where you might go  “oh we’re going on holiday to Spain aren’t we?”  You can hear it. That’s the beauty of it. I love those types of rhythms and those changes in tempo all over the place. It is so typical of Spanish music. I love that. I just fell in love with the sound of the music first, before I’d even seen the score. And I thought, yes, I want to learn to play that. Yes, Maestro, please.

KCO: Did you choose it or did Jim?

Susan: It was a collaboration actually. He started playing a few pieces to me and as soon as I heard the Turina…I just loved it.

It’s very dramatic, isn’t it? It’s a rhapsody. It’s got loads of dramatic bits, highs and lows. We’re going to change bits here, there everywhere. All encapsulated in about ten minutes.

It sounds as if Turina thought, “oh, I’ve just thought of this old melody I heard when I was young. I think I’ll just throw that in now.” It does connect though. It’s been quite challenging to learn it, but so rewarding. When it comes together, I’m counting and counting because it’s that 6/8 versus the 3/4. Between the bars, and between the parts at the same time. I am furiously counting one and ah two and ah, against the orchestras one and two and three and, at times, and vice versa.

And I’m trying to think this is the part where I’ve got to go, and you get dragged along with the melody that the orchestra has got. Then there’s my part underneath, these luscious chords. I really hope that the audience and other musicians can feel that and hear it.

Interview on May 10, 2017  

by Francis X. Langlois – tuba player in the KCO

Tuba Soloist – J.c. Sherman

J.c. Sherman will be the solo tubist for the Ralph Vaughan Williams tuba concerto at our next performance. We asked J.c. five questions during an interview. He was nice enough to give us his thoughts on these questions.

  1. When did you start playing music and when did you start playing the tuba specifically?
  2. When did you know that you wanted to head in toward being a musician as a profession and what drove that for you?
  3. You have a connection with the orchestra. What is your connection besides guest soloist?
  4. The Vaughan Williams is probably the most well-known tuba concerto. What’s your take on it?
  5. You also repair instruments and build them from scratch. They are beautiful. Which gives you more satisfaction playing or building instruments?

When did you start playing music and when did you start playing the tuba specifically?

I started when I was ten with piano lessons; my first band instrument was the flute. I took flute lessons for six years. The tuba came into the picture from the lack of social acceptance of being a male flautist, and at a certain point – around 8th grade – I went to the band director and begged for anything else. She handed me a “baritone,” a nice little Olds euphonium.

When we moved to Washington, I already knew how to play a flute, some clarinet from my sister, a little saxophone, a little horn, a little euphonium… so when the band director asked, “what do you play?” I answered “what do you want?” And my mom backhanded me for being cocky.

But he gave me a small tuba YBB-103 (Yamaha) tuba. I locked myself in a room to practice for a few days. I started to realize that the kid who was helping me wasn’t really going to be of that much help. I didn’t have any preconceived notions about the tuba; I kinda liked it. The first kid I knew who played tuba when I lived in California, before moving to Washington, was a great player for his age. I was one of the better flute players in the band to start, and I had every reason to expect that I should come out playing the tuba at the same level I played the flute. And – apparently – that was novel idea.

I didn’t come out of the practice room until I could do everything on the tuba that I could do on the flute. Nobody gave me any preconceived notion that the tuba is anything but an absolute equal to the flute.

Apparently, that is a unique opportunity that I was given.

When did you know that you wanted to head in toward being a musician as a profession and what drove that for you?

In the end of my junior year, in Woodinville, Washington. A group of schools put together a trip to Europe every few years. My little sister and I went on the trip. At the time, I was entertaining the idea that I would be an architect or something of that nature.

I was already playing in the Everett Symphony [now Philharmonic] with Paul-Elliott Cobbs. And I had the occasional gig in a big band here and there. But for whatever reason my brain didn’t consider it.

When we were traveling in Hamburg, I forgot my comb on a little boat that we took on a tour of the canals. I ran back to get my comb, the most inexpensive and useless thing to go back for, and the bus left without me.

One of the conductors realized that I hadn’t made the bus and got off to come get me. His name was Tam Osborne. I don’t know if he is still working in the area, but I got to ask him questions like “Why did you decide to be a professional musician?” And he gave me the best answer, “You don’t go into music because you want to. You go in because you have to!”

I hadn’t really thought of that in those terms. I had also just come from having one of the most moving musical moments ever, seeing an actual mass at Notre Dame (cathedral) in Paris with a full choir and the congregation singing, and that amazing pipe organ of Notre Dame ripping my hair out by the follicles! Getting to hear this music and thinking about how hard wired for music I am… my father sang around me all the time, there was music around me all the time… I realized I’m not going to be happy unless I do this!

It just had never entered my mind, but getting to ask Tam Osborne, “Why did you do this? Are you glad you did it,” was a turning point. From then on, I got a good horn. I focused more. And with a lot of help, I got into Oberlin.

You have a connection with the orchestra. What is your connection besides guest soloist?

Matt Stoecker (1st trombone KCO). We met at Oberlin where he was year ahead of me. He was a microbiology and trombone major. I went to and played on his senior recital; he came to my junior recital.

Kirkland (the city) I remember because it’s right down the street from Woodinville, where I went to junior high and high school. It was Northshore Junior High School, but the last time I was in the area it seemed to be razed. There may be a new junior high now. Kirkland was one of our focal points. My father loves Izumi Sushi so I know the area well.

But Matt Stoecker and I have known each other since 1989 and shortly thereafter he managed to get me to buy a J.W. Pepper “Surprise” trombone from him. We both had this love for old instruments. If you know Stoecker as I know you do, you know that he is a persuasive man!

He’s the only person I know who had 40 people on his senior recital! He played Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium, which is a 40-part motet. Matt arranged it for 16 trumpets, 16 trombones and 8 tubas. In the tiny little town of Oberlin, whose tuba studio consisted of 3 people, getting 8 tuba players together … not only did he just assume he could, but he did! We’re talking alumni, the electronic music teacher, my teacher, an English student… he found all these people and managed to materialize an ensemble twice the size of the conservatory’s resources for his recital.

Matt has heard me play the Vaughan Williams when I was a rehearsal tubist for Dave Stull (current president of the San Francisco Conservatory). He had won a concerto competition for the symphonic band at Oberlin. Matt always remembered it. He loves all things brass and he and I have been dear friends forever.

At one point, he said “we have to get you out here.” He had told me about the Microsoft Orchestra for years. Matt mentioned that Jim Truher really likes English music, and again “we really need to get you out here.” I said that I would love it. I love the Vaughan Williams. I’d happily do that.

I credit Matt’s powers of persuasion.

The Vaughan Williams is probably the most well-known tuba concerto. What’s your take on it?

I’ll never understand the ire that people leveled upon it initially for having written the piece for tuba; they were almost mad at him for the second movement. Why he didn’t write it for a different instrument? But he was a capitalist, and also said that you can play it on cello and bassoon.

The second movement is definitely a highlight for me; it is just so lyrical! And as I am preparing it this time, I made a switch. Normally I play it on an Eb tuba; I’m a weird person and I always played it on that instrument. But I usually tour with my F tuba, and it’s written for F tuba, and this would give me a chance to take a fresh look at a piece that I have known since 1987. It was time to have a fresh look at it!

Looking at the second movement again, every recording I have is actually slower than the marked tempo. When you up it just a bit, you get something that is much more like an English Folk song, like someone who is almost singing with abandon with increasing passion, and I love that!

There’s an article written by the great Philip Catelinet, who premiered the work. It was published in T.U.B.A. magazine way back when. He talks about the jocular nature of the beginning. He said that the beginning tells its own story. In the beginning: yes, it’s a tuba concerto. You’re going to laugh, but it’s ok to do so. He very smartly takes that and slowly draws us into a more and more serious vein.

The last movement is something that is almost a difficult sell. It’s almost ferocious. It is incredibly technical, incredibly fast. More importantly, it is tiring due the range that it sits in. But, being in that range, it makes the tuba more clear, more tactile. It allows us to display our virtuosity with a little bit more facility for a listener to make out all the notes. It’s really brilliant in that.

The second movement is the highlight. Re-examining the piece all over again when I switched tubas, I’m picking slightly different tempi than I’ve done in the past. I’m really finding a new place for his usual folk song approach to it and not just in the second movement. The first and last movements have these moments where you can just burst into song. And it’s fun!

Switching tubas has made it a lot more fun to practice now.

You also repair instruments and build them from scratch. They are beautiful. Which gives you more satisfaction playing or building instruments?

Yes!?!?

I play almost all the ones I build. There is a certain joy to making an instrument speak for the first time, when you’ve made it. They are different kinds of satisfaction in some ways, but they are both art; they’re both personal expression.

Most of the instruments I make… occasionally I make them to order (somebody asks for an alto flugelhorn or a contrabass trombone – I’ve made many of those!). But when I get to say “I want to make something,” those are really, really rewarding moments because it brings both things to life.

I get the opportunity to be the first person to play this thing, and I am holding something that I, most likely, burned myself and bled into. Given my own nature in the shop, I seem to cut myself and burn myself regularly.

Many people would compare it to “this is my baby; I’ve brought a child forth,” or something. It’s a little bit different. I think it’s got to be akin to being able to sort of physically experiencing a painting you just made. You just created this thing from nothing. And then you get to go a step further. That’s really rewarding!

But admittedly, and in the next two weeks my wife will be able to verify, that I’m a bit of a diva when it comes time to perform. I love playing. I love being a solo tubist almost more than anything.

It’s funny; I play a lot of different instruments in an orchestra. In an orchestra, I almost prefer bass trombone, though most of my work is on tuba. But, my solo voice has always been the tuba. Ironically, it’s eventually why I faded away from the flute. I still love playing the flute; I still have several. Probably my most important influence as a tuba player is Jean-Pierre Rampal, the flautist, but now I express myself on the tuba instead of flute.

Every time you perform as a soloist on the tuba, it’s like you got something off your chest that you didn’t have any other way to say.

Interview on March 1, 2017  

by Francis X. Langlois – “regular” tuba player in the KCO