What was the San Francisco Conservatory like, and the Royal College of Music?
I’ve had the good fortune to study both in the US and in London. In San Francisco I studied with Jeffrey Anderson, who had recently been appointed Principal Tuba of the symphony there, as well as Mario Guarneri, a world-renowned session trumpet player from LA who teaches James Stamp’s approach to brass playing. The city is full of art and music, and I met some really characters there while I worked on my CC tuba playing, breathing, and orchestral technique.
I had always hoped to return to the UK and study in London, which is the world centre for freelance orchestral playing, and which I’d had admired since hearing The Philip Jones Brass Ensemble recordings as a boy . I successfully auditioned for a place and scholarship at The Royal College of Music where I studied with Owen Slade and Lee Tsarmaklis. It was here that I really learned to make music, to sight-read, and to play with the tone and style that I had long-admired. I also took private lessons from Oren Marshall who taught me to play bass lines and to extend my musical horizons.
Where would you suggest people buy a tuba from?
For UK based tuba players I recommend trying Phil Parkers, as well as contacting me; I’m happy to see if there a Besson Sovereign being sold used somewhere in the country.
What age do you recommend starting to play the tuba?
I find that pupils are able to start playing the tuba around the age of ten, but can play euphonium until that time. That’s what I did!
So, what are you like as a teacher?
The key to teaching from my point of view is to engage with certain core principles of music-making and brass playing. I’m a proponent of Tai Chi and I take a similar approach to my pedagogue. I like to break things down to the absolute basics for students of any level and then practice them in a calm, deliberate, and relaxed manner. Breathing is absolutely essential.
On a musical level it’s important to lose oneself in the act of what one is doing and not engage the ego, which constantly turn to analysis. As Arnold Jacobs, the great brass teacher said, a musician can suffer from ‘paralysis by analysis’, so it is of paramount importance that students learn to focus simply on what he called ‘Song and Wind’: that is the breath and the buzz of the lips.
What has been your career highlight to date?
This is a very tough question as I’ve ben fortunate to have many amazing moments in my career. As a younger player I’ll never forget my tours with the European Union Youth Orchestra selling out venues like the Berlin Philharmonie, The Concertgebouw, Carnegie Hall with Itzhak Perlman, and a live broadcast from the BBC Proms. In recent years performances with The London Philharmonic and The London Chamber Orchestra, sessions on BBC Live Lounge, as well as jazz performances at Ronnie Scott’s and the main stage of Secret Garden Party, have all been hugely memorable.
What tuba pieces would you recommend people listen to, to inspire them to play?
I love a range of different music so I would suggest listening to Miles Davies, Led Zeppelin, and Igor Stravinsky for inspiration! In terms of tuba playing I listen to John Fletcher and Roger Bobo, both of whom give extraordinary performances of some of our core repertoire. I’m a believer in transcribing baroque music for tuba but I also recommend more modern pieces written specifically for the tuba by Madsen, Penderecki, and Plog, amongst many others! I’ve recently commissioned some solo pieces for tuba from Ryan Linham as well as transcribing some of Percy Grainger’s music for solo tuba. These recordings can be heard through The Ensemble of the Golden Bough.