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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

Filtering by Category: Tuba

The Brass Junkies: Michael Nickens aka Doc Nix

Andrew Hitz

TBJ117-Promo.jpg

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TBJ117: Mike Nickens, Director of "The Green Machine" pep band at George Mason University on being unapologetic about who he is and leading by example (while carrying a scepter). He has built a gig for himself which allows him to be fully him while enabling his students to do the same.

Don’t miss this one! Doc is one of my dearest friends and he has blazed a creative path across the music business that is a great model for us all.

Summed up, the dude is a badass!

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during TBJ117 over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 111: Tim Buzbee

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ111: Tim Buzbee on learning The Furies overnight, winning gigs in 8 countries and being put in a piece of metal

I had met Tim before but never really hung out with him. He is a riot!

The title of the episode is not an exaggeration. The dude has literally won auditions in eight countries! His wife won’t even let him take any more because she knows he’ll win and she’s sick of moving!

We talk about how a boy from a small town in Texas ends up a tuba superstar on the international stage. And we laugh a lot.

You can check out the complete show notes including all links mentioned during TBJ110 over at Pedal Note Media.

Thank you, Sam

Andrew Hitz

What are the odds that in a time long before everyone always had a camera with them that my mother would snap this shot mere moments before my life was literally changed forever.

First Time Meeting Sam.jpg

This is a photo of me waiting to speak to Sam Pilafian for the first time ever. It was taken after an Empire Brass concert at Tanglewood in July of 1988. I was still a few weeks shy of becoming a teenager and had just had my mind blown by this guy. He then spoke to me in a way I'll never forget. Like we already knew each other. Like I, some random gobsmacked kid, was destined for greatness just like him. Like he was an ordinary guy just like me. He didn't have to do that. But he did.

Little did I know that our paths would not just cross again but that he would become like a second father to me. In 1990, he helped to get me into Tanglewood even though I was still 14 and the minimum age was 15. He didn't know me by anything other than my audition tape but he helped get me off the waiting list and into the Empire Brass Seminar.

I was terrified when I got there. Everyone was older than me. I cried in my room the first day. The second day, Warren Deck visited us. I was already petrified and now Warren Deck was there too?! I think Sam saw how nervous I was. He was introducing Warren to everyone and got to me and said to Warren "This is Andrew Hitz. I put this kid on the wait list initially. You know why? Because I thought it was his %$*&ing teacher on the recording." That was the last time I ever even began to question whether I belonged with any group of musicians. What a gift to receive at age 14. He didn't have to do that. But he did.

The next summer at Tanglewood my parents asked Sam about whether I needed a new tuba. He told them that my horn at the time was holding me back and then said that if I had the right equipment that he could promise them that I would never have trouble putting food on the table as a professional tuba player. He didn't have to do that. But he did.

My senior year of high school I auditioned at Boston University. Sam told me very candidly that he almost certainly only had one year left there. He told me that if I came to school at BU that he would only accept his next position, wherever that was, on the condition that I could come with him. He instead suggested that I audition at other schools and in particular that I would really hit it off with Rex Martin. He then said that I was already accepted for graduate school at wherever he ended up. He didn't have to do that. But he did.

The next summer I had to get a job. It was on a farm for minimum wage. I got poison ivy all over my body the first day. After the second day, the phone rings and it was Sam. He wanted me to come work for him for the summer. It involved babysitting his son, Alex, and helping his incredible wife, Diann, with their move to Arizona. He paid me way too much. I felt like I was a member of their family. I got to run the recording gear for a Travelin' Light recording session. Got to hang out at Tanglewood all summer. Got to be surrounded by music and musicians all while getting paid way too much. He didn't have to do that. But he did.

Three years later during my senior year at Northwestern my phone rang and Sam asked how I was paying for grad school. I said I didn't have a plan. He asked if I wanted to come for free and get paid to be his Graduate Teaching Assistant. I laughed and said that sounded like a pretty good deal. He then thrust me into teaching and playing situations that got me out of my comfort zone regularly. What an incredible education I got there.

He told me I was in a band called the Dixie Devils. I asked him how to play Dixie music. He said "You'll figure it out." During my first ever Dixieland gig I was again pretty damn nervous and Sam could tell. Sam was playing trombone on that gig. As he snapped off the first tune, he turned around and said to me (loudly!) "If you tell anyone I was playing this thing in public I will $#*&ing kill you!" and then counted off Sunny Side of the Street. I laughed and wasn't nervous any more. He didn't have to do that. But he did.

When Mike Levine of Dallas Brass called Sam while I was in grad school looking for some recommendations for their next tuba player, Sam told him that not only was I the guy for the job but that Mike didn't even need to have me fly out to audition because he would vouch for me. I was hired on the spot. Mike later told me that Sam was literally the only human on any instrument who he would have let talk him into hiring a player he had never even heard a note of on just a recommendation. Sam really didn't have to do that. But he did.

A few months later Boston Brass called looking for an emergency sub. Luckily for me, Sam was busy. But he again recommended me so passionately that they bought a plane ticket for some 24-year-old kid they'd never heard of to play a big gig at CMEA for 1200 music educators. That gig led to 14 years of traveling the world with friends getting paid to play the tuba on four continents. He didn't have to do that. But he did.

This post is already way too long and I could include literally 20 more major things like this that he has done for me when he didn't have to. He has supported me as a player, a teacher and a father. He has been there for some pretty low lows. And he's been there for all of the highs. He's been like a second father, a crazy uncle, a friend and eventually a colleague all wrapped into one.

The craziest thing about him though is that you could spend just one master class with him and still feel like you had this lifelong connection to him. You know why? Because you did and still do. That's a special human.

I will always cherish this photo of the first time we ever met. I really can't believe it exists.

I love you, Sam. I could never pay you back for everything you've done for me. Thank you. 🙏

The Brass Junkies 105: Seth Horner

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ105: Seth Horner, tubist of the North Carolina Symphony talking to himself, studying with David Fedderly and his box of mouthpieces

Seth is really great friend and as nice a person as you’ll find in the music business. He has had one hell of a career so far! I really liked this conversation and especially about making fun of his box of mouthpieces!

You can check out the complete show notes including all links mentioned during TBJ105 over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 100: Sam Pilafian

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ100: The legendary Sam Pilafian on Empire Brass, Leonard Bernstein and life-threatening pedagogy

We made it to 100 episodes which is completely insane! An ENORMOUS thank you to everyone who has listened, become a Patreon patron, shared an episode with a friend, posted about it on social media or any of 100 other ways people have supported us in this crazy journey. THANK YOU!

I don’t even know where to begin when talking about this interview with my mentor, Sam Pilafian. As you will hear, I met Sam when I was only 12 and he has been an huge influence on me in more ways than I could ever articulate.

This episode starts out with some lighthearted banter about a couple of times that I poked the bear as one of his let’s just call it “precocious” young students back in the day! But this conversation gets really serious really quickly right after that.

Sam has just come out the other side of a battle for his life with an aggressive form of cancer. His story is hard to even believe. There are tears (and lots of them) in this episode. Some sad ones and some happy ones. There’s also lots of camaraderie between three humans who have been through a whole hell of a lot together, both personally and professionally.

I will always cherish this conversation, even though I’ve had thousands with Sam. This one made me awfully thankful to be alive and to be making music for a living.

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 87: Craig Knox

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ87: Craig Knox of the Pittsburgh Symphony on premiering the Jennifer Higdon Tuba Concerto, European road stories and the joys of palinka

Craig is one hell of a tuba player and teacher and a great guy. It was a lot of fun chatting with him about the many things he does in his career.

From the show notes:

Craig Knox is Principal Tuba of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and a founding member of the Center City Brass Quintet. With these ensembles and others, he has performed for audiences across the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and been heard on recordings, and radio, television, and internet broadcasts around the world.

Mr. Knox works regularly with music students through his teaching positions at the Carnegie Mellon University School of Music in Pittsburgh, and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, as well as at music festivals, seminars, and conservatories around the world, where he appears as a guest clinician.

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 85: Tom McCaslin, Tubist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra on audition prep, recording yourself and all things Canada

Andrew Hitz

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My good friend Tom McCaslin joined us for Episode 85 of The Brass Junkies. Tom is the Principal Tuba for the Calgary Philharmonic. He is a great dude and a monster musician. 

From the show notes:

TBJ85: Tom McCaslin, Tubist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra on audition prep, recording yourself and all things Canada

Tom McCaslin, Tubist with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, Soloist, Teacher, and Clinician has been described by Fanfare Magazine as “one of the contemporary tuba virtuosos”. Originally from Regina, Saskatchewan Tom’s playing and teaching have taken him around the globe. He has performed and taught in Canada, the United States, Switzerland, Portugal, Finland, New Zealand and Australia.

  • The Boston Brass “I Left My Pants in Sarnia, Canada” story
  • New gig in Calgary
  • Canada jokes!
  • Audition preparation
  • How he developed his ears with the help of Sam (Pilafian) and then on his own
  • Put a premium on recording himself (84 hours worth!)
  • Trust in your own abilities
  • Use physicality to override thought, play your way out of it
  • Audition prep with Sam at Tanglewood
  • Systematic
  • Used a randomizer app, put excerpts in and created rounds for himself
  • Daily round of most likely candidates
  • Day of audition, puts himself in a cocoon, noise-cancelling headphones
  • Listened to Bill Simmons podcast and pop music to keep his head clear
  • Studying with Sam Pilafian at Arizona State University
  • Travelin’ Light
  • Studying jazz
  • Boston Symphony audition
  • The support within Sam’s teaching studio
  • Recording solos with Sam as producer
  • Christmas his first year at ASU story, audition prep, followed by turkey prep
  • Teaching at East Carolina University
  • Looking for the quality of person more than quality of player
  • Teaching studio curation
  • The importance of the Studio Class hour, setting the expectations
  • Studying with Roger Bobo in Switzerland
  • The Dog Whisperer
  • “Sack of nicknick” story at Banff
  • Lance’s spot-on Jens impression
  • Andrew’s Banff story with Joe Alessi in Jens’ Porsche
  • Sweat out the bad

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 77: Deanna Swoboda

Andrew Hitz

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Deanna is a dear friend and one of my favorite tuba players in the world. She is also an incredible force in the music business. Both Lance and I have known her for a very long time and we were really happy she could join us on The Brass Junkies.

From the show notes:

TBJ77: Tubist Deanna Swoboda on her gig at ASU, Brass Rap and the difference between entertainment and art

Deanna Swoboda has been a longtime friend and colleague to both Andrew & Lance and has had a great career as a performer, teacher and leader from her days with Dallas Brass to her current gig at Arizona State University.

In this episode, we cover:

  • The value of studying music at the college level
  • Her gig at ASU
  • Her five years with the Dallas Brass
  • The difference in approach between playing in the Dallas Brass and the Western Michigan University brass quintet
  • Working with trumpeter Scott Thornburg
  • The difference between entertainment and art
  • Dan Perantoni “When the phone rings, are you ready?”
  • Deanna’s Wonderland
  • Brass Rap
  • Band Blastoff!
  • Tuba Tex How the West Was Fun (a project Lance participated in and forgot for 15 years. He's old.)
  • Eastman tubas
  • Eastman Company Tuba Euphonium Workshop in the summer of 2018

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 74: Bill Pritchard of Amplituba and Mercury Orkestar

Andrew Hitz

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Bill Pritchard is a bad, bad man. He is a good friend and one hell of a creative force within the brass world today. I love how he is always moving his art forward, not just trying to "master" what he can already do. We can all learn a lot from him.

Our conversation with him for TBJ74 was great and inspiring which is good timing coming at the end of the year. You'll dig it!

From the Show Notes:

Amplituba and Mercury Orkestar tubist Bill Pritchard joins Andrew & Lance to discuss Bill's amazingly diverse career and his exploration into the ins and outs of combining electronics with brass playing. In addition to his amazing music-making, Bill teaches at five (5!) colleges, plays all over Atlanta with tons of groups and gives us a step by step tour of his electronic rig/setup.

Some of the topics we cover include:

  • The challenges of giving Skype lessons
  • His use of technology in lessons
  • What to do if the chaps are at the cleaners (don't ask)
  • The simplest setup to start messing with electronics (mic, cable, digital effects/multi-effects unit, into a keyboard or bass amp)
  • Why delay and chorus effects are a good place to start
  • How to get started with looping pedals
  • How he sets up his musical improvs
  • His influences, from Reggie Watts to Matt Owen and David Wolf from Drums & Tuba
  • How David Vining and Jan Kagarice helping him overcome challenges
  • Playing w/a drummer and a theremin at an Invent Room Pop gig and creating Amplituba
  • Blow into the small end

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 71: Jonathan Dorn

Andrew Hitz

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What a life Jonathan Dorn has led! Professional tuba player for 30 including performances on Saturday Night Live and touring all over the world. Professional chef. The list goes on and on.

From the show notes:

Jonathan Dorn has played tuba for everyone from Leon Redbone to The Philadelphia Orchestra and got to hang out with John Belushi in the 70s, 'nuff said. He shares incredible (and hilarious stories) from over 50 years in the business.

Some of the crazy things he shares in this interview:

  • How he got started on the tuba as a kid and worked his way through the ranks in Philly
  • What it was like taking lessons with the legendary Abe Torchinsky
  • Playing 16 shows (16!) a week with Ringling Brothers Circus (think bleeding chops) and getting to work with legendary cornet player and bandleader Merle Evans
  • How he learned changes on the fly
  • Passing off his regular gig with Your Father's Mustache to the legendary Bob Stewart
  • What it was like performing on Saturday Night Live four times with Leon Redbone and partying with John Belushi and Chevy Chase in the '70's
  • And how he became a professional chef after 30 years of playing the tuba professionally!

You can check out the complete show notes including all of the links mentioned during this episode over at Pedal Note Media.