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Beyond 'oompah': Tuba musicians to converge at ASU conference

Gathering to focus on inclusivity, new music; include nightly jazz jams

May 25, 2023

More than 800 musicians will visit Arizona State University next week for the International Tuba Euphonium Conference to write music, hone their craft and celebrate their instrument.

The conference, sponsored by the International Tuba Euphonium Association, will be at ASU for the first time and is being hosted by Deanna Swoboda, past president of the group and an associate professor of music at ASU. She teaches tuba and euphonium, entrepreneurship and music courses, coaches chamber music, designs creative music performances and leads the ASU Tuba and Euphonium Studio.

The conference is important because of the camaraderie and music-making, said Swoboda, who typically teaches about 14 to 18 tuba and euphonium students a year.

“And we’re bringing the tuba from what is typically the back row of the orchestra, and we get to come to the front and shine and be the featured soloists,” she said.

Tuba is often thought of as “oompah” music, but this conference also will feature jazz, heavy metal and electro tuba.

“We’re proud of our role as oompah players because it’s our roots, and it’s where we come from and we do love that part of it,” she said.

“This is an opportunity to do other things besides playing solo chamber music.”

The conference will include recitals, master classes and presentations.

“We’re emphasizing new music for the tuba and euphonium,” she said. “Our goal is to have 50 new works for the 50th anniversary of the association.”

This year’s conference also will focus on diversity and inclusion.

“We’re very excited about that because it features a lot of new composers and a lot of new people playing the instrument,” Swoboda said.

Historically, most tuba players have been male, and the roots of the instrument are in Europe and, specifically, within the orchestra.

“We’re expanding on that, and this conference will help us find a more inclusive voice,” she said.

Presentations for association members will include interviews with professional female players, how to create an inclusive studio and a panel discussion on “queer brass.”

What’s the difference between a tuba and a euphonium?

“The tuba is the contrabass instrument of the brass family. It plays the lowest notes,” she said.

“The euphonium is part of the tuba family because it’s shaped similarly but it’s much smaller. It’s the tenor voice of the tuba family.”

Swoboda said that ensembles made of all tubas and euphoniums have a unique sound.

“It can have the resonance of an organ playing because the tuba has the very low end of the spectrum contrasted with the high voice that the euphonium can produce.

“It’s really quite beautiful.”

Public performances 

Some events of the conference, which runs Monday through Saturday, are open to the public.

• A concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 31, at ASU Gammage is free and will include performances by the Mountain Ridge High School wind ensemble and a group made of current and former International Tuba Euphonium Association presidents, including Swoboda.

 • A concert at 7 p.m. Thursday, June 1, at ASU Gammage will feature several performers including soloists from Salt River Brass. Tickets are $18.

• Nightly jam sessions at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel will run from 10 p.m. to midnight May 31–June 2 and 8 to 10 p.m. June 3, and will feature jazz, alternative, heavy metal tuba and electro tuba.

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