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Exploring the World of Tuba and Euphonium: MWRTEC24, Diversity, Brands, and Artist Support


I've performed at a few ITECs (International Tuba Euphonium Conferences) but never a US regional conference.


As a soloist, musician and educator, I feel I have so much more to learn but also so much more to give. Getting out there and finding opportunities for myself is essential. Opportunities are out there for any musician but unless you are at the very top of the tree, those opportunities might not come your way directly, especially in the tuba and euphonium world.


Soloist with Five Lakes Band
Soloist with Five Lakes Band

I wanted to find something I could do this year (2024) to give me new experiences, so I submitted a proposal to perform at MWRTEC in Ohio, USA. There were a number of regional conferences but the Midwest Regional Conference was at the right time and also had a few good friends attending.


Such a good opportunity to meet new people as well and I always like to let people be who they want and never judge a book by its cover. Still sometimes there might be someone I want to speak with but then I get shy and don't want to look silly in front of someone 'important' so end up retreating the the practice room.


I appreciate that 'fame' in the tuba and euphonium world really isn't fame at all but still hopefully you understand my point. If someone speaks to me, I give them my time and get to know them, I expect the same from others, kindness has to go hand in hand with personal brilliance. More on this later.


I don't know exactly how regional or international conferences work and I get the feeling that those at the top of the tree, deservedly, get special invites which might cover their costs. Maybe there can even be payment for attending. There really should be payment for all performers who do this for a living. Why not, after all, the most respected musicians should lure people into attending, without them, the event may not be as successful.


Any event for solo instruments should really also be a celebration of piano accompanists, who are probably more important than the artists themselves. At MWRTEC, the piano accompanists were fantastic.


For some musicians submitting proposals to take part in MWRTEC24, perhaps they have some sponsorship which helps cover costs of attending, this might help guarantee them a spot on the event. I see various players thanking Besson (the instrument brand) for making it possible for them to attend, but I do wonder what that really means especially in a day where it seems anyone can become an ambassador for an instrument or mouthpiece brand, just as long as you buy it. Are companies supporting you because they have an interest in you, or just to use you for free advertisement?


For most, like me, support comes from our own jobs, our own salaries and we want the opportunity to try and climb that tree of success.


In recent months however, some of those well respected musicians, those at the top of the tree, have been called out for a whole host of horrible things. Demondrae Thurman being an example of this. He is not someone I have met personally. Abuse of power, abuse of position, sexual abuse and other dreadful things and he has been removed from his post in a university.


I've witnessed to a certain extent at music events before, where some people may well be amazing musicians but somehow they have also become amazingly rude and not as supportive of anyone but themselves. I feel grateful that I have never suffered directly at the hands of such people and I respect those who have been sharing their own experiences. Just because someone might worship the ground you walk on doesn't mean you can treat them poorly. Sadly, this happens.


I have also spoken to individuals who have named certain professionals in the tuba/euphonium world, those at the top of the tree and commented on how uncomfortable they feel with them socially or even worse, when in a lesson with them. There needs to be a global voice dealing with this sort of thing!


Just because someone has lots of YouTube views or are a well known instrumentalist on any instrument, it doesn't guarantee they are a nice person. Being a nice person is way easier than being a brilliant player, everyone should aim to master that skill first.


I spoke to some conference delegates about how the child protection, safeguarding and DBS check systems worked in the UK and it seems the same is not true in the US. Institutions need to try harder to protect the safety of students and co-workers. Telling a new teacher 'remember, you must not touch your students' just isn't enough. Glad to say though that safety of all involved in this conference was 100% top priority.


For me, I planned to apply for some funding in the UK that is available to musicians. This was a lengthy processes which ultimately and sadly ended with no support being provided. I endorse a mouthpiece brand and instrument brand, to whom I am incredibly grateful but on this occasion neither were able to support my trip. I don't expect this though. If you don't ask, you don't get, but if you don't get what you need, it shouldn't stop you chasing what you want.


For me though, I've never let money stand in my way. I've worked hard throughout my career and feel lucky to be in a position where I do have a certain amount of financial freedom. This has taken careful planning, good organisation and intelligent financial management, something I don't think musicians always have. It was not something I was taught at music school. I earn my living as a teacher, performing and playing the euphonium goes hand in hand with this but sometimes getting paid to play my instrument isn't always a priority over the experienced gained.


I was offered the chance to perform a recital at the MWRTEC conference but was also given the opportunity to perform with a brass band in an evening concert plus deliver a masterclass. This was certainly a step up for me in conference involvement so I was very proud to be able to do it.



Masterclass
Masterclass

The conference had a theme of diversity and equality and all performers were encouraged to feature music by under represented groups. This was a brilliant idea but also needed careful planning. On the one hand, I am sure performers would want to play music they love, music that shows their strengths and music they are passionate about sharing with others.


This theme could lead to performers finding music they might not usually play, just to tick a box. The problem with these conferences, in my experience, is they are not brilliantly attended, more on this later. Meaning, even if you perform a new cutting edge piece, it might not get out there to the extent you might like.


I love playing new music, trying something different and always steer away from the typical type of euphonium solos or at least solos that have been played over and over for years. I value all that music 100% and respect all composers, but for me, it's not something I feel suits my playing style or musical sense.


Having a theme plays right up my street because it means I can try and feature music by lesser known composers and also try something new. These are my goals, I am not interesting in doing what others have done, I am a different type of player and want to show people that.


For my performance with brass band, I played Variations on Chan Mali Chan. This is a fun solo originally written by Jinjun Lee for trumpet or euphonium. It hasn't really been played outside of Singapore and Singaporean composers, many of who are excellent, would definitely fit into that under represented group. This piece was made even more special because the brass band arrangement was made by an ex student of mine, Erica Goh and first performed by Lion City Brass and another ex student, Kang Chun Meng as soloist.


For my recital, I played a piece by Dani Howard, originally for Oboe. Listen to the performance here:



Dani Howard was one of five female composers that Grimethorpe Colliery Band commissioned to compose their 2023 Brass in Concert Championships programme. Her piece, called Warp & Weft, was my favourite.


Composers
Dani Howard (centre)

I also played music by Samuel Shelley and Zaidi Sabtu-Ramli. Two composers who I respect and who deserve to have their music played to a wider audience.


I think I more than ticked the box with my repertoire selections and was excited to perform it and see what other performers had in store.


At the conference, I didn't feel that compositions by female composers or by less represented groups were celebrated enough. Some soloists played old favourites composed by the usual white, British, brass band composers and again, I mean no disrespect when I say this, but it seemed that the rules (or theme) were followed by some and not by all.


The trouble is, some of those old classic solos are fun to play and brilliantly entertaining. Is this need to promote music by less represented groups necessary? I know if my wife or daughter decided to compose music, they would work hard to get their ideas shared on the merit of its quality, not just on a need to have a female composers music in the programme. However, woman are fighting a battle in a world that has sadly been dominated by men so they absolutely deserve every bit of support to make the musical world more equal.


It is actually quite scary how aggressive some people are against men, especially on social media and especially it seems, in the tuba/euphonium world at the moment, perhaps understandably given some of the recent news, but there are good guys out there I promise! There are also some amazingly brilliant female tuba and euphonium players who must be celebrated and play a huge role in promoting our instruments to new audiences.


But, just like with women's football in the UK, surely it is a great time to be in a position to make a difference, because the world is listening now and changing for the better. Yes, it should have been like this years ago and yes, we all want to see more diversity in the musical world but all we can do is try and keep trying.


The conference, even though it was a regional one, felt like a full ITEC, it definitely had an internationally diverse feel. The credit for this goes to Dave Saltzman and Brendan Ige, the conference hosts who did an amazing job and are both the nicest people you could hope to meet.


The facilities at the Bowling Green State University are awesome and the student helpers deserved more recognition than anyone else. Without them, it wouldn't have been as successful. I'd trust any of them to run any event, any day.


An area which needs addressing at any tuba and euphonium conference is attendance. Far too many recitals or classes were poorly attended. Some soloists travelled long distances and worked incredibly hard on their performance.


Why were there no younger brass players, primary or secondary school age there, along with their parents perhaps? I took part in the ITEC in Birmingham, England when I was at school. I do not want to even think about which year it was!! A youth tuba/euph ensemble gave a performance in a concert. This is the sort of thing that needs to happen more.


Why were members of the community, musical or otherwise, not attending local concerts? I appreciate the US is huge but in the UK, if a brass band is playing in a town then generally the audience is made up of a lot of the older community who come along to watch. This didn't seem the case at MWRTEC.


There was not enough mutual support from artists to other artists. Perhaps some of the events which got good attendance could have been used to promote up and coming talent more. It is often the case, people chat to you, ask when your recital is and say they will try and attend, but don't. The competitions were great but there is more can be done in the tuba and euphonium world to encourage youth development in my opinion, as there can in the UK brass band scene.


I don't have the answers but I know our relatively unknown instruments will only become more endangered unless we support younger players, rather than the old ones! The conference was amazing, a huge success and the hosts should be proud of what they achieved. Looking at what went well and how to make it better is hopefully seen as healthy discussion.


At this conference, my name is unknown (I was the only British person in attendance) as perhaps were others, but there was a feeling that the majority of delegates attending were only interested in watching the 'famous' professors, doctors and well known names. It is a shame this seemed to be the attitude. Yes, I love hearing them perform as well and still feel inspired by them but I also love hearing up coming talent, because that is the future of our tuba and euphonium community.


Some positive comments for me were that, the British euphonium sound, vibrato and clarity of articulation is something many American euphonium players wish to emulate. Well, if that is you, get listening to Gary Curtin, Adam Bokaris, Chris Robertson, Emily Braverman, Katrina Marzella and Daniel Thomas because you will not hear better.


Here is a recording from my recital. This is the final piece in the 25 minute recital.



Nothing is perfect after all and my comments here are just the ramblings of a bored airline passenger flying home. My original flight home was cancelled so I had more time than I'd like to reflect on the past week and write this article.


During the conference, I took the opportunity to try out all the euphoniums in the vendor hall. This is always an eye opening experience. I try and have an open mind, approach every instrument with the care it deserves and not look for problems, just have a little go and see how it feels.


You can, with time, play well on any instrument but nowadays more than ever I feel the divide between good and bad is so wide apart when the price tags might be similar. Of course, this is my opinion and someone else can have different preferences but some instruments I tried, I just know, I would not get along with. I left the hall happy that the instrument I own is probably the best for me at the moment.


This being said, three instruments stood out as being absolute quality. The Besson Prestige, the Yamaha Neo and the Shires Custom. From a budget perspective, as I have said many times before, the JP374T (John Packer) is by far the best and in most cases is far better an instrument to play than some of the big brands which have three times the price tag.


The Sterling brand is somewhat of an anomaly in that it is relatively rare now, especially in the US and potentially in decline with regards to new instruments being made. Lots of students asked me what type of euphonium I play on and some had never heard of it.


The Wessex euphoniums in the vendor hall were the worst for me and not at all worth the good claims that some seemed to be claiming, very sorry to say this but when I hear people suggesting that certain brands are on a par with the top brands, when they clearly are not, it is frustrating.


An observation as well, which is interesting is that the vendor hall was always busy. You could hear people playing all day long from down the corridor. Many recitals and masterclasses were less well attended and the practice rooms in the building, well, I never had an issue finding a free practice room straight away whenever I wanted to practice. This says a lot for the mentality of amateur musicians nowadays. It doesn't really matter what mouthpiece or instrument you use, it is the practice that counts.


As always, do not take my word for it. We all have different faces, lips, arms etc. Test any instrument before you buy and never buy just because your favourite player tells you that is the best.


I managed to sell a few CDs at the conference and also gave some private lessons. The students I taught were very conscientious and keen to learn. I enjoyed spending time with them and I hope that I have inspired them and demonstrated to them a few ways to make fast progress in their own practice.


As always, it is straight back to more practice for me. Lots learnt, but lots still to do. Looking forward to upcoming concerts with Grimethorpe and I wish everyone I met at the conference all the best for the future!


Thanks for reading! ❤


Mark Glover

28/5/24



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1 Comment


robin
May 28

Well written, Mark. I'd like to make several remarks. 1 Alison and I have been delighted by the welcome provided by the Brass Band Community. Having attended a couple of summer schools, I have been amazed by the skill of professional players and by their willingness to help me on my musical journey. 2 Professional players must be paid. Playing and teaching is not your hobby. Sadly, I have no helpful suggestions about funding to attend conferences. 3 Learning is about focused practice including daily routines.

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