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1. TAKING THE OOMPAH OUT OF TUBA AND PUTTING IN SOME RESPECT..........................................

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TAKING THE OOMPAH OUT OF TUBA AND PUTTING IN SOME RESPECT
Author: John Aehl Wisconsin State Journal
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Abstract (Abstract): Practicing Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," a lyrical and flowing work he will play Friday night, he
demonstrated that tuba-ing takes some effort, good lungs to push air into and through the many feet of tubing
so that a mellow sound comes out that wide conical-bore end. There are many compositions for tuba, Stevens
said. He could have noted that more than 25 of them are his.
In an attempt to demonstrate how enjoyably seriousthe tuba can be, Stevens has planned a concert. He has
assembled a group that will include members of the Pro Arte Quartet, some of Stevens' best tuba students and
himself to play what he calls "a potpourri" of pieces with tubas in prominence.
(No, the Pro Arte people won't be playing tubas; they'll stay with their strings.) "There is a substantial amount of
solo and chamber-music repertoire for the tuba now," Stevens said. "The popularity of music ensembles like the
Wisconsin Brass Quintet (an in-residence group at the UW) has helped place the tuba on firmer ground, much
less of a novelty than it used to be.
Links: Get full text or request ILL
Full text: Consider the tuba.
And wipe that smile off your face.
Subjected to levity at many levels, the tuba, "the oomph in an orchestra" and "the boom in a band," is very much
a serious musical instrument, quietly asserts John Stevens, former director of the UW-Madison School of Music,
composer, teacher and ardent tubist. Or should it be tubaist?
In an attempt to demonstrate how enjoyably seriousthe tuba can be, Stevens has planned a concert. He has
assembled a group that will include members of the Pro Arte Quartet, some of Stevens' best tuba students and
himself to play what he calls "a potpourri" of pieces with tubas in prominence.
(No, the Pro Arte people won't be playing tubas; they'll stay with their strings.) "There is a substantial amount of
solo and chamber-music repertoire for the tuba now," Stevens said. "The popularity of music ensembles like the
Wisconsin Brass Quintet (an in-residence group at the UW) has helped place the tuba on firmer ground, much
less of a novelty than it used to be.
"Still, the general public still considers it. . . ." He trailed off, paused, and continued, "Well, you can hardly say
the name without people grinning.
"I wouldn't say tuba players have a chip on their shoulder, but we all kind of feel like we want to educate the
public to the beauty of the instrument and to the things it can do."
With that in mind, consider 8 p.m. Friday in Mills Hall on the UW campus, when Stevens and friends will play
works that will range from modern-era jazz to Romantic to Classic to Renaissance eras.
Not quite onomatopoeic, "tuba" does convey a sense of size and weight -- "Tooo-baaah" -- consistent with the
instrument.
The tuba sound lends weight and a base, in addition to a bass, to orchestral music. "It's a basso profundo,
laying down a line on which other more noticed instruments soar and swoop, dart and preen," wrote Jeff
Iseminger last year in a faculty newspaper. The "oomph" and "boom" quotes are his, too.
One tends to think a tuba player should be larger than Stevens, a thinnish average-height fellow with a quiet
demeanor.
Practicing Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," a lyrical and flowing work he will play Friday night, he demonstrated that
tuba-ing takes some effort, good lungs to push air into and through the many feet of tubing so that a mellow

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sound comes out that wide conical-bore end. There are many compositions for tuba, Stevens said. He could
have noted that more than 25 of them are his.
Stevens has a strong belief, based on his experiences as a teacher and player, that in recent years "the level of
tuba playing all over the world has just grown and grown and grown."
As a composer, Stevens has, logically, focused on writing for brass instruments, especially the tuba. As a
performer, he has played many of his own transcriptions of works not written for brass.
"I have tried to add to the literature," he said. "I don't like to just play contemporary compositions. I like to play
music by Bach and Mozart, and by other composers who did not write for the tuba, either because it did not
exist or because it certainly wasn't in anybody's mind as a solo instrument at the time.
"So, the Rachmaninoff `Vocalise' lends itself beautifully to the tuba."
The tuba became a mainstay in Stevens' existence early. Born in Buffalo, N.Y., his musical life began with the
accordion.
"Now, that wasn't at all unusual, growing up in Buffalo in the '50s, where the accordion was very popular with a
large Polish population," he said.
But in fifth grade, the boy who was playing tuba in the school band moved away. Stevens was tapped.
"Quite literally, two or three band students came to my door," he said, not mentioning if they had a tuba in hand.
"They needed somebody quickly."
After some hesitancy -- "I probably was worried I wouldn't have time to play baseball." -- he took on the job.
And, after undergraduate work at the Eastman School of Music, Rochester, N.Y., and several years on the East
Coast, he came to Madison in 1985.
He took on the job of chairman of the UW School of Music for five years until he decided last year that he was
too involved in administration to do what he wanted to do most, compose, teach and play the tuba.
While his wife, Meg, whom he met in eighth grade, is not a musician, she has long ago embraced the tuba,
figuratively, of course, as a way of life in the family. Their older daughter, Katie, 13, plays the euphonium,
basically a smaller tuba, and Abby, 11, plays trombone.
Even as an enthusiastic tuba advocate, Stevens by nature never could be too aggressive or at all obnoxious. It
is just not his style. As he said in that article last year, "We tend to be nice folks as well as organized, energetic,
down-to-earth and anxious to seek lots of musical outlets for our instrument."
***** tu-ba (too'ba) n. A brass instrument of bass range, a standard member of the orchestra.
Basically, the tuba is a very large bugle. It is made to sound by vibrations of the player's lips as he blows
against the mouthpiece.
Tubas are made in a large variety of sizes and shapes. The classic shape has the bell pointing upward.
The tuba that encircles the player's body, like those in marching bands, is generally known as a Sousaphone,
from the famous march composer of that name, but is also known as a helicon. The bell usually points forward.
A euphonium is a higher-pitched tuba, in the baritone range, so it is sometimes called a baritone.
IF YOU GO: "John Stevens and Friends" will play a mostly tuba recital at 8 p.m. Friday in Mills Hall of the
Humanities Building on the UW-Madison campus.
A ticket is $7 for the general public and $5 for senior citizens and non-UW students, available at the door. UW
students are admitted free with a valid ID.
Stevens said he now has some of the finest students he has had in 20 years of teaching, so he wanted to
perform with them in this recital.
In putting together the program, Stevens said he immediately decided on the Mozart horn quintet (K. 407),
"music I find expressive, interesting and enjoyable to play." The players will be three members of the Pro Arte
Quartet plus David Becker and Stevens. A quartet for brass by Anton Simon (1850-1916), originally for two
trumpets, horn and trombone, will be played by euphoniums and tubas.
"Diversions" is a quartet Stevens wrote in 1978 when he lived in New York City andplayed for the New York
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Tuba Quartet.
"It's a jazz piece, so it fit a slot on the program," he said. "When I do a recital, I try to present a kind of potpourri I
think will be interesting to the audience."
From the Renaissance period, a Canzon by Samuel Scheidt (1587-1654), transcribed by Stevens for
euphoniums.
"Variations in Olden Style," written in 1989 in the Baroque style by Thomas Stevens (b. 1938), after the style of
Bach. "If you didn't know who composed it, you would think it was written in the 1700s," John Stevens said.
Rachmaninoff's "Vocalise," which Stevens will play, accompanied by piano.
"Blackbird," for solo tuba, arranged by Lars Holmgaard.
Illustration
State Journal photo/Craig Schreiner John Stevens practices in his office-rehearsal studio in the UW-Madison
Humanities Building.
People: Stevens, John
Publication title: Wisconsin State Journal
Pages: 1C
Number of pages: 0
Publication year: 1997
Publication date: Jan 22, 1997
Year: 1997
Section: Daybreak
Publisher: Madison Newspapers, Inc.
Place of publication: Madison, Wis.
Country of publication: United States
Publication subject: General Interest Periodicals--United States
ISSN: 0749405X
Source type: Newspapers
Language of publication: English
Document type: NEWSPAPER
ProQuest document ID: 390689599
Document URL: http://search.proquest.com/docview/390689599?accountid=28755
Copyright: Copyright Wisconsin State Journal Jan 22, 1997
Last updated: 2010-06-25
Database: ProQuest Central

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