The last week of May, 2010, I played a recital with my tuba-playing friend and UWP colleague, Mike Forbes at ITEC.  (International Tuba Euphonium Conference) It was held in Tucson at the University of Arizona, a truly beautiful campus.  I’ve been to many International Trumpet Guild (ITG) conferences and this was my first Tuba Conference.

There were of course many similarities; recitals, clinics, master classes, and evening concerts.  But, there were a few differences, some subtle some not so much.  One not-so-subtle difference was the vendor sites.  Both conferences attract instrument makers from all over the world coming to one place to let eager brass players, also from all over the world, have a chance to play on some of the greatest horns on the planet.  Most of the trumpet players at the instrument booths are there as if they are trying out a sports car where the main question on their mind is, “let’s redline this baby and see what she’s got!”  This requires that most of the vendors wear ear plugs and have at the very least a pint glass full of aspirin on hand to get through the five full days of the sounds of ripping sheet metal.  The tuba and euphonium players on the other hand were seemingly there to get behind the wheel of a big spacious luxury sedan.  There were no pyrotechnics, ultra stratospheric high notes and you could actually have a conversation with someone in the same room!  There were the occasional Wagner rumblings but for the most part these low brass folks were playing lovely lines and simple sonorous arpeggios and scales.  (How can you tell if you like a horn if nobody winces when you are trying it out?)

Something about the trumpet conferences that I like is there seems to be a stronger support for the promotion of new music for the trumpet.  In addition to the many premiers that take place on the different recitals, there is a recital dedicated solely to new works for trumpet.  (I’ve participated on these recitals a few times in the past and hope to continue to do so in the future.)

Something about the tuba conference I really liked was the mid-week cookout.  Your registration fee got you into a barbeque put on by the festival host with music supplied by one of the invited ensembles.  This time it was the Sotto Voce tuba quartet.  They were absolutely fantastic and played an hour or so program primarily of Latin influenced music.  Their encore was an arrangement of a Scottish folk tune where the middle section is to be sung by the quartet.  After a few bars the entire party joined in and sang along on a couple verses whether they knew the words or not.  Then the quartet finished by playing one last verse pianissimo and the entire place (600+) went from a rollicking drunken pub scene to complete hushed silence in a matter of seconds.  It was one of those rare goose-bump moments in music for me.  Very powerful stuff.  Thanks Sotto Voce!

I’d have to say the biggest difference I perceived at this conference was something I felt rather than experienced.  The overall “vibe” among low brass folks seems to be more collegial and perhaps a little less competitive than hanging out with a bunch of trumpet players.  My first thought is that having an informal dinner where everyone gets to mingle and hang out goes a long way to break down barriers and strike up relationships.  All dinners are on your own at the trumpet conferences and you generally hang out with your same cliques night after night.  ITG does hold an end-of-the-week banquet but that is more formal with presentations and speeches.  This is valid and important but doesn’t serve the same purpose as a giant, outdoor hang.  The key to getting people there of course is the free food and great music!  Perhaps these organizations will learn a little from each other and implement more new music at the ITEC and more camaraderie at the ITG.