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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Five Things I Would Do Differently As A College Student: Regularly Attend Master Classes and Recitals of Other Studios (5 of 5)

Andrew Hitz

Over the years, the “tuba in my head” that Arnold Jacobs often spoke of has been shaped and influenced by many different sources.   Whether it was Chester Schmitz and Sam Pilafian growing up (and still to this day!) or Alessandro Fossi and Tom McCaslin today, great tuba players help to show me what is possible on my instrument.  Regularly hearing people do things on the tuba that I am not capable of playing help keep a fire lit under me to be the absolute best musician I can be.

But looking back on my development as a musician, people playing different instruments may have had an even greater influence on my playing than other tuba players.  The ‘tuba in my head’ models its phrasing after a great singer like Jesse Norman.  I model my rhythmic intensity after the incomparable pianist Glenn Gould and my technique after the great violinist Jascha Heifetz.

The things that are difficult on a tuba and on a violin are not the same.  I have been blessed with teachers throughout my life that have never let me accept the limitations of my instrument.   Sometimes, recognizing these limitations is easiest when regularly attending the performances and master classes of other instruments.  This will never be easier than during music school.

I would be very surprised if any teacher at a music school, when approached politely beforehand, would deny a request for you to sit at the back of one of their master classes.  You can learn an awful lot watching a teacher of a different instrument work with their studio.  Take notes, and later apply it directly to your own playing.  This information is truly invaluable.

It is also a good idea to bring your instrument with you to the class.  Don’t ask to play and don’t interfere but you never know when you might be asked to participate.  That very thing happened to me in the mid ’90s when I went to a horn master class conducted by Eric Ruske at Boston University.   At the end of the class, there were no more horn players prepared to play and he asked if I wanted to.  It was a truly amazing experience.  He could not have possibly cared any less about what was difficult on the tuba.  He simply wanted ‘Fountains of Rome’ to sound easy and had a unique perspective on it.   I don’t remember learning more in 10 minutes in my entire career.

In retrospect, I really wish that I had attended significantly more recitals in my time at Northwestern.  It turns out I largely took for granted the amazing musicians I was surrounded by.  I already learned a lot by sitting next to them and playing with them in ensembles but to see them take center stage in a recital format would have been very educational.

After all, if you want to hear great phrasing, go straight to the source.   Attend a vocal recital!  If you want to hear a great interpretation of the Bach Cello Suites, with all due respect to the rest of us, go hear a cello play it!

Be sure to take full advantage of all of those around you.  You will never again be in such close proximity to so many musicians with so much to offer your musical development.

Next Week: Five Things I Did In College Which Prepared Me for a Career in Music