There have been enough tuba players who have inspired and influenced me that to recount them all would fill this blog for a full year. But I have whittled the list down to the five players who have had the biggest impact on me as both a teacher and a performer. There is absolutely no possible way that I could ever rank them in order of importance. Each of these men has had an incredible impact on me as both a musician and as a person. I will simply put the posts in the order in which I was introduced to them. One common thread among all five is that I was introduced to each one of them before the age of 18. I was very fortunate to have my path cross with so many great musical role models at such a very early age. I also owe my parents an incredible amount of gratitude for being so supportive of me and facilitating, both financially and logistically, my contact with these men.
I have simply never heard a better orchestral tuba player than Chester Schmitz. For 35 years he was, for my money, the most consistent orchestral player in the world. Chester was the first person I ever heard play a tuba, either live or recorded. I must admit I don't remember it though. My parents took me to my first Boston Symphony concert when I was two weeks old in the summer of 1975 at Tanglewood. As I mentioned above, my folks made sure that I was exposed to great music from a very early age. But this was not because of any plans they had for me as a musician. My father is simply a huge fan of classical music and my parents have enjoyed attending concerts at Tanglewood for decades.
By the time I had graduated from high school, I had the privilege of attending about 200 BSO concerts both in Boston and at Tanglewood. There was not a single instance of me going to hear that orchestra and being disappointed by Chester's playing. Not once. And for almost all of them I was hanging on his every note.
The thing that amazed me about his playing is that it always seemed just right. The loud and bombastic parts were just that but never even a little bit too much. He could also make more music with a two note phrase in Brahms 2 than most musicians I've encountered could with a full melody. I got to hear him perform so many different programs with the symphony that I ended up getting a rather full education on the huge orchestral repertoire of the tuba.
I will also never forget the kindness that he showed me each and every time I snuck backstage to say hello. There were countless times that I would elude security and make my way to his locker. He made time for me in every instance without exception and never seemed in a hurry to be somewhere else. That left quite an impression on me as a young man.
For hearing tuba for the first time ever, you can do a lot worse than having it played by Chester Schmitz.