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Performance and Pedagogy Blog

A blog about the performance and pedagogy of music.

The Brass Junkies 109: Richard White

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ109: Richard A. White, RAW Tuba on his life, his gig and his upcoming documentary

For episode 109 of The Brass Junkies we had a truly inspiring conversation with tuba player Richard White. Richard is the subject of a brand new documentary and his story will leave you on the verge of tears. His journey from homeless four-year-old in Baltimore to the first African-American with a doctorate in tuba is almost too much to believe.

He is an incredible musician, teacher and human and we were honored to have him join us.

This one will leave a mark!

You can check out the complete show notes including all links mentioned during TBJ109 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.

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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 108: Jim Nova

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ108: Jim "Don't call me BB" Nova on writing, driving and April Fooling

Good friend of the podcast Jim Nova joined us for a second go around on TBJ108. Oh man did we laugh!

Jim is one of the most creative people with a full-time playing gig that you’ll ever meet. That’s for good reason! It takes an awful lot of work to be able to maintain the ability to play at the level of the Pittsburgh Symphony. So to have that much creative energy left over to do all the things Jim has is pretty remarkable.

And his Star Wars stuff is AMAZING!

How streaming service Idagio has changed my listening habits

Andrew Hitz

I recently signed up for a classical-only streaming service called Idagio. In the three weeks since I signed up I have listened to more classical music than any stretch since high school and it has been amazing.

Perhaps my favorite thing about it is the discovery. They have a listing of “Featured New Releases” that is prominently displayed in both the app and desktop versions. I have listened to no less than 10 recordings that have been released within the last month.

Discovery on Spotify is a disaster. I would find myself clicking on thumbnails of album covers to blow them up in order to squint and see what soloists were on a recording or who the conductor was. Not only does Idagio make it easy to discover brand new recordings, the entire thing is searchable by soloist, ensemble, conductor, composer, etc. This fact shouldn’t be impressive but compared to the current offerings of Spotify and Apple Music this is quite a revelation in how easy it is to use.


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I’m going to start a new series of blog posts here sharing what I’m listening to. I always appreciate it when other musicians share what they are digging as it gives me lots of ideas of what to listen to myself.

#NowPlaying: Shostakovich: String Quartet Nos. 5, 7 & Piano Quintet - Elisabeth Leonskaja, Artemis Quartet

There is just something about Shostakovich string quartets that get me all worked up. We did a phenomenal arrangement of his String Quartet No. 8 arranged by JD Shaw when I was in Boston Brass. It was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever performed.

This recording is really something. It just came out earlier this month. For a group that has had 100% turnover within the last few years they sure sound like they have been playing together for a very long time.

I love string players who can play with the weight and aggression of brass players (when called for!) and I love brass players who can play with the lightness and phrasing of string players. Artemis Quartet certainly attacks this String Quartet No. 5.

Good stuff!

The Brass Junkies 107: Christoper Bill

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ107: Christopher Bill, trombonist, singer, and multi-instrumentalist and internet sensation!

We did this one right in my office! He is one of the creative forces of the next generation. He can play. He can tell a story. He is one hell of an entrepreneur. He is the real deal.

One lesson I’ve learned from him is to just keep producing no matter what. You have to always be creating and sharing what you’ve created if you want to cut through the noise in today’s music business. And he most certainly has!

You can check out the complete show notes including all links mentioned during TBJ107 over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 106: Jim Pandolfi

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ106: Jim Pandolfi legendary trumpeter Jim Pandolfi has one of the most amazing stories in music. Or most places.

Jim Pandolfi is a legend! Just an unbelievable story of triumph and kicking all available ass. Jim is legally blind and asked the Metropolitan Opera to not hold that against him. They gave him a fair shot and the rest is history.

Jim and I used to hang out way too much in New York City back in the day and never did anything productive. We take a trip down memory lane and also take a deep dive on brass pedagogy. Really good stuff!

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 104: Joe Lovinsky

Andrew Hitz

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I think my good friend Joe Lovinsky has had the most fascinating life of any guest we’ve interviewed for The Brass Junkies. And that’s really saying something!

He has been homeless, a sniper in the Marines, a member of the Pershing’s Own Army Band, a cage fighter… It sounds like I’m making this up but it’s all true! Seriously, you need to listen to this one.

You can check out the complete show notes including all links mentioned during TBJ104 over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 103: Mary Bowden of Shenandoah Conservatory

Andrew Hitz

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TBJ103: Mary Bowden on her new upcoming album, Seraph Brass and the importance of networking

My soon-t0-be colleague at Shenandoah Conservatory joined us for her second appearance on The Brass Junkies. Mary is awesome. We could talk to her for hours.

You can check out the complete show notes including all links mentioned during TBJ103 over at Pedal Note Media.

The Brass Junkies 102: Joe Jackson

Andrew Hitz

For episode 102 of The Brass Junkies we were joined by the former leader of the Airmen of Note, Joe Jackson. In addition to being one of the best trombone players in the world, Joe is also a prolific arranger.

He talked with us about leaving the University of North Texas in order to tour the world with the Maynard Ferguson Band, playing in the Airmen of Note for 20 years and producing the award-winning Jazz Heritage Series that was heard on 112 radio stations around the world. The dude has done everything!

I’ve gotten to play a number of gigs with Joe here in the DC area and he is just a treat to play with. Ears for days!

Get the full show notes and links to everywhere you can find this episode of The Brass Junkies here.