The trouble with tubas? The fault in our flutes?

The trouble with tubas? The fault in our flutes?

Winsome winds and bold brass face off ahead of Orchestra of Indian Hill season finale, Showcase Showstoppers!

This month, we’re having a little fun on the blog celebrating the “highs and lows” of orchestral soloists, with works for flute and tuba showcased in Orchestra of Indian Hill’s April 28 season finale. While our principal soloists generally play in harmony in an ensemble setting, it’s a whole different story when they’re sharing the spotlight with solos in this month’s program. Could flute and tuba be the natural rivals of the orchestra world?

We asked our soloists, Melissa Mielens, flute, and Michael Stephan, tuba, to tell us why you should be a flute fan, or root for team tuba!

Why did you choose to play your instrument?

Melissa: I have been playing various instruments since I started violin at age four. When I was in 6th grade I realized I needed to settle down and focus more on one particular instrument. Flute was the most fun for me, and besides, one cannot fully express deep emotions on the tuba (just kidding…).

Michael: I didn’t choose the tuba — I chose the trombone (only because we had one in the attic) and I was told if I joined band in middle school I would get to go to Disney with the high school band for free with my friends! (Good ole Mom and her trickery…) The high school band director transferred me to tuba because I was big and they needed a tuba player. I didn’t mind — I would have played the cymbals if it would get me to Disney!

Why do you think your instrument is clearly superior to the other?

Michael: Well the flute is so tiny, and easily misplaced. I would lose my head if it wasn’t attached…the tuba is tough to misplace. (Actually…I’ve misplaced my tuba a few times.) Also, everyone wants to play the flute. What they don’t realize is the flute really doesn’t matter because those parts can be played by the trumpet.

Melissa: My flute can go on an airplane in my carry-on bag! No need to pay for an extra ticket or check the instrument, where it will be (appropriately?) thrown around and abused!

Orchestras always pay for my tuba’s extra seat. Plus then, I never get stuck next to someone really smelly; and I get two dinners and double the luggage for free! Not to mention the amount of times I was upgraded to first class with my tuba because the ticket agent knew a tuba player. (True story: I’ve actually had two tubas totaled in the bottom of airplanes.)

Well, in orchestral music the flute often gets to play many lovely melodies. The tuba player usually does not even get to play the entire concert.

Michael: But, the tuba gets paid more per note than anyone else in the orchestra.

Melissa: And when tubas do have an actual part to play, they are hiding in the back of the orchestra, reading a newspaper, waiting for 30 minutes to play their one sustained note.

Michael: We’re browsing Facebook. But (sighs) she’s so right.

Tell us something about the piece you’re featured in.

Michael: The Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto has been the foundation of every professional orchestral tuba audition since its creation. I have been working on this concerto since 1996. I have learned and performed this concerto on Bflat Tuba, C Tuba, and F Tuba. I have played it with piano and brass quintet. When the opportunity to perform it with our world class regional orchestra was presented to me; it was a no-brainer! 22 years of hard work, dedication, polish, and development — it is what this audience deserves!

Melissa: I picked my piece after much back and forth email with Bruce. I knew I wanted to showcase a dramatic piece that told a story, and one that had not been performed much in this area. The glories of YouTube revealed Michael Daugherty’s Trail of Tears, I mentioned it to Bruce, and we agreed this was the piece to add to the program. It is a very powerful, deep piece. I hope to convey a sense of keening for the land the Native Americans were forced to abandon, a sense of wind whistling across the plains. Many extended techniques help to achieve these effects.

Next year, I am looking forward to playing Mahler 1 with the Orchestra. Mahler is one of my favorite composers. I love the passion, the connection with nature, the rich melodic texture of the piece…and even Michael gets to play in it!

Enjoy an evening of tuba, flute, and pieces by Tan Dun, Falla, and Enescu at Orchestra of Indian Hill’s season finale, Showcase Showstoppers! Saturday, April 28 at 7:30.

View next year’s season lineup and become a subscriber!

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