Honestly, you just never know when opportunity is going to knock at the door. All you can do is be ready whenever it happens.
I spent a great couple of days in Boulder, Colorado, with the mighty Mike Dunn and his low brass studio at the University of Colorado. It’s always a great hang with Mike, and he didn’t disappoint. I got to spend quite a bit of time with the CU studio, and we talked about military band life and lots of freelancing. Versatility is the name of the game in today’s market, and I had plenty of war stories to share about some of the goofier gigs that I have in the archives. I gave a very similar class a few months ago down at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke. Dr. Joanna Hersey got me started on this particular track, and being ready to freelance in any situation is a topic about which I’ve become increasingly passionate. I’ve learned that students are even more receptive than I to the idea that there’s more to life on tuba than just classical music. Mike even set me up with crashing Brad Goode’s jazz jam at La Vida Strings with Eric Trujillo. We raised a few eyebrows. I really need to learn “Manteca” before trying that again.
After working with the students at UNC-P and CU, I’ve come to the conclusion that the ideal masterclass format is in the professor’s dining room, with the professor making food for everyone. Dunn knows how to work a grill, and nobody goes hungry. Joanna makes these amazing red velvet cupcakes, and those by themselves virtually guarantee perfect attendance. Honestly, it’s no surprise that when there’s food involved, the tuba players come running. The extra bonus is how easy the dialogue comes when everyone is relaxed and eating. I really enjoy that vibe.
The big stunner at CU was Dunn taking a phone call in his studio while I was working with one of his students. He hung up, and announced, “Aaron Tindall will be at the airport in half an hour.” Dr. Aaron Tindall teaches the studio at Ithaca College in New York. I might see him once a year if he can come down to DC for the Army Band workshop. Seriously, what are the chances that he’d have a gig with the Colorado Symphony the same week I was in Boulder??? Sure enough, a few hours later, there’s Dr. T. strolling into Dunn’s studio. You can’t make this stuff up.
I played a recital that afternoon, jazz standards and some New Orleans favorites. The focus of the performance was that there was no rehearsal. I met and shook hands with Jeff Jenkins, jazz piano faculty at CU, a few minutes before we started playing. Afterward, I found myself getting an invitation to present and perform at the 2015 Northeast Regional Tuba-Euphonium Conference being hosted at Ithaca College. It happened that fast. I got back on the plane the next day thinking, “What just happened???”
Always be ready. Always have your A-game with you. Always be on. You never know who’s going to hear you play, and you may not know they’re even coming until they’re knocking at the door.