I grew up in Geneseo, IL, where music was a big deal. It was a small town, but almost one-fifth of the high school population was involved in music in one way or another, and I could play in a band all year long. I upgraded from trombone in seventh grade, and became an insufferable band geek in high school. Community band was a must-do every summer, and I learned just how much I loved playing the horn.

I took the advice of every private teacher I’d ever had, and reached out to Dan Perantoni during my senior year of high school as I was trying to figure out college. This might have had something to do with the fact that almost every tuba player I came into contact with had studied with Mr. P. at one time or another. He is an engaging, dynamic person who just becomes larger than life when you talk with him. He was also on a hot streak at the time, repeatedly putting students into jobs. It’s hard to ignore that when you’re looking for an instructor, but it worked doubly well for me. When one of Mr. P.’s students landed a gig that spring, it created an open slot in his studio at Arizona State, and I was the lucky beneficiary.

When I arrived at ASU, I knew almost nothing of orchestral excerpts, and I had zero experience playing with a wire choir. On the plus side, I had already played my first dixie gig with no music (fake it ’til you make it) and my first really sketchy pay gig (playing marches in a clown suit on the back of a flatbed truck in a small-town Memorial Day parade–hey, I made five bucks!!) Turns out that Dan Perantoni knows how to make use of that experience, and he wasn’t the only one kicking my backside while I was there. I didn’t know at the time that I was in the same studio as a half-dozen other players who would go on to be performing professionals. I couldn’t get within 20 feet of the practice rooms without hearing someone better than me. There were no delusions of grandeur in Mr. P.’s studio at Arizona State.

Hard work, perseverance, and preparation paid off in 1991 when I won the audition for the U. S. Marine Band. It took me two tries to get in. I spent 21 years playing in the finest band anywhere, with the greatest group of people with whom I could ever hope to associate. It’s hard work being in a military band, and an unusual lifestyle in some respects, but it was immensely gratifying. I got to play my horn, write charts, teach, perform for four Presidents, and I even announced a few concerts on the road. It’s great to be retired, and there are many things I don’t miss, but I miss the people and the great music. I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.

Now begins the next chapter, with recording, freelance playing, arranging, maybe even composing. I’m playing a lot more jazz now than classical, and there’s polkas and gypsy band and the occasional orchestra call. Branching out this far has meant more exposure, more recording, and a lot of fun. It’s also meant a serious juggling act with my wife and three boys, but I’m slowly figuring it out. My playing has been constantly changing for the last thirty years, and probably won’t stop changing anytime soon. That’s always been the biggest lesson to learn: Roll with it, do the best you can, learn from it, and it will pay off down the road as you succeed when everyone assumes you’ll fail–including yourself.

It's a helicon. It's like a tuba. Okay, it's a tuba.