Editor’s Note: Mr. Werden had so much intriguing and useful information during our recent interview that we divided the article into two parts. This first part covers many practical playing tips for directors and players and was printed in the February/March 2023 issue.
A graduate of The University of Iowa, David Werden was the euphonium soloist with The United States Coast Guard Band for 26 years. He has performed throughout the United States, as well as in Canada, England, Japan, and the former Soviet Union. In 2012 he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Tuba-Euphonium Association.
In part two of our interview with euphonium legend David Werden, he discusses early influences, his career with The U.S. Coast Guard Band, memorable recording sessions, and views on euphonium scoring in modern band works.
What was your first introduction to music?
I grew up in Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa, which was a blessing. I had a normal childhood. I played outside with friends, liked models and my train set. My family didn’t have money for private music lessons, but the public schools provided a short private lesson each week. Before I began lessons, I enjoyed listening to music on my big sister’s record player, the only one we had, although I hated singing in music class.
What were your early musical influences and why did you choose the baritone/euphonium?
At first, my favorite instrument was the trumpet, which I heard on radio and TV. At the time, I suppose I was listening to Harry James and Bert Kaempfert. When I was eligible for band in 5th grade, I asked to play the trumpet. That lasted about three months before the teacher suggested I switch to a “baritone” that was actually a small euphonium. My dad had bought the trumpet for $10 from a friend, so that might be a reason why it didn’t work out. In any case, I liked playing the baritone that was supplied by the school. When I brought it home for the first time, my mom said, “Why do you want to play that big thing?” I stuck with it and bought sheet music for some Bert Kaempfert songs I was listening to and tried to play in the same style as the recording. That helped me develop a sense of style and some ability to analyze what I played.
What led you to auditioning for and earning a spot in The U.S. Coast Guard Band?
I went to the University of Iowa to become a band director. As I was finishing my senior year, the Vietnam War was going strong, and I knew military service was in my future. Because I was not athletic, I did not believe I would be a very good soldier, but felt confident I would be a good player in a military band. A euphonium player who had been in the university band with me had joined The U.S. Coast Guard Band, so I wrote to him asking what it was like and who I could contact. He gave me a balanced view of military band life, and I believed I would like the attractive parts and tolerate the unpleasant parts. (I was already happy with my short haircut so that was no problem.)
The USCG Band appealed to me because it was not in Washington, DC. My audition was a little strange because the band had not yet developed a system for such things. I didn’t hear back for a while and sent my tape to the U.S. Army Band also. Just as the Army Band invited me to an audition, the USCG Band accepted me, and I joined the group. I planned to fulfill my four-year obligation and then become a high school band director, but quickly discovered that I loved playing in the band.
You have done quite a bit of recording. Describe your experience playing on soundtracks. How did you get to do this?
The United Coast Guard Band was asked to do a couple of soundtracks for specialty movies, and those recording sessions gave me a taste of what it was like. In one case, we were tied to the movie’s flow, so the conductor had to make sure we always finished at exactly the right time. My first soundtrack experience outside The USCG Band was in 1980. NBC was making a movie called FDR: The Last Year. I got a call from Sam Pilafian, who I had played with on some gigs in New York City. He described the movie and said it would include original music by Lawrence Rosenthal and some martial music, the latter being the main reason they wanted euphoniums.
I was paired with a studio musician who doubled on euphonium. I knew that we would probably run through a piece once and then record it. In preparation for this event, I sightread everything I could find. I was already a good sightreader, but this was new territory for me. When I got there, I discovered that I was playing along with many first-call studio musicians and some top players from the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony. The tuba section was Sam Pilafian and Warren Deck. The pacing was about what I expected, and the playing went smoothly.
One surprise was how rudely the pros treated the conductor. Rosenthal was hoarse by halfway through the session because he had to shout over the chatter going on within the ensemble. My other surprise was that the conductor needed to consult with me about military protocol. For FDR’s funeral, the movie portrayed a band playing as the coffin passed. The director asked me how many ruffles and flourishes the President should get. He assumed five, because he knew somehow that top-ranking military officers get four. I had to let him know that the highest number anyone gets is four. Had I not corrected him, the soundtrack would have contained an inside joke for military folks.
I later had the opportunity to play with Garrison Keillor for Prairie Home Companion. He had a concept for a winter show and wanted a group of mellow euphoniums and tubas to play In the Bleak Midwinter. The organizer called me for the job. I brought many arrangements with me, and Garrison asked us to play “some things” at the rehearsal so he could get a sense of what we had. He chose a few to use, and then we worked through them as he did his magic. During the live broadcast, the show was changing all the time, so we had to be ready for just about anything. I played with the Midwinter Tuba Quintet a couple more times on the show with varying personnel.
After the Coast Guard, you began a career in computers Why did you make the change and how did it affect your music-making?
In 1976, the Atlantic Tuba Quartet was formed and it served as the U.S. Coast Guard Euphonium-Tuba Quartet. Because high-quality music for such ensembles was scarce at the time, Denis Winter, Gary Buttery, and I did arrangements for the group. We started to get requests for the arrangements, so we formed Whaling Music Publishers. The company became known as a source for euphonium and tuba music, and I was the person running it. The paperwork was tedious, so I decided to learn computer programming to do the books and handle the mailing list. I started with the BASIC language on an Atari computer. Along the way, I began to use some of the earliest music typesetting programs. In fact, I was a beta tester for Steinberg, Sonus, and Dr. T’s Music Software. Later, I moved to Macintosh and used Finale.
The next turning point occurred when I became the computer manager for the USCG Band. I was nearing retirement from the band, and I knew there was no hope of finding a full-time euphonium job. I needed to find a different career. My second-best skill by then was computer operation, training, and programming, so that became my new career goal.
My first job in this new world was for a startup dot-com company. They wanted someone who could do project management, design web pages, and program a website to interact with a database. The latter was rather new in 1996 and was new to me. The owner of the company liked my software skills and project management background, so he gave me a chance to audition. He provided me with demo software for website building and also for website/database interaction. I was told to build a site with a good appearance and navigation and to make it work with a database. The only database I had handy was for the Euphonium Music Guide I published, so I used that. I got the job, and the audition site turned into the dwerden.com site soon afterward.
One of your books is Scoring for Euphonium. What weaknesses have you found in band scoring over the years?
I wrote Scoring for Euphonium because much of the newer band music we played in The USCG Band showed that the composers and arrangers had little familiarity with the euphonium section’s capabilities. Much of the traditional band repertoire provides music that uses the instrument well, but in newer pieces, I often felt either underused or downright awkward.
The euphonium section has a large, deep sound that works nicely on melodies, countermelodies, and bass lines. Frequently, we are written as a voice in a chord, mixed in with trombones. That implementation makes a rather ugly sound balance. It would be much better to split the section to bolster the trombone harmony. For example, one euphonium part doubles the first trombone, and the other doubles the second trombone. We surely can serve as tenor tuba voice, but that role is often overused. Composers should first remember our two best roles, melody and countermelody. The book also points out some weaknesses to avoid. For example, with young bands where the players probably use three-valve euphoniums, writing a low concert B is troublesome because the 123 fingering is almost impossible to tune.
Working at the Adams factory to get my leadpipe angle customized.
How do you approach finding a professional euphonium that is the best fit?
I can’t think of a bad euphonium among professional brands, but each model has its own strengths. It is important to try a variety of musical styles to make sure the instrument produces balanced results.
A horn should be tested for tone in all registers. Ideally, this particular test should be performed in a larger room with decent acoustics. Small, dead rooms can skew one’s impressions. In a small room, a euphonium with a smaller sound will usually win in a comparison, but that is not a typical performance environment. This phase of testing would benefit from having another person listen from a distance because part of the player’s impression is from the sound that radiates from the bell and may not be representative of the sound reaching an audience. During testing, the player should pay attention to the effort required to get the desired result.
Different brands have different intonation tendencies. No euphonium is perfectly in tune, although today’s instruments are generally improved over those that existed when I was growing up. Many euphoniums now have triggers for the main tuning slide. Remember that a trigger only helps notes that are sharp. Also keep in mind that a trigger adds some stress to the left hand, which can be a problem for players with small hands or older players who have injuries or ailments. Triggers also add weight, which is more of an issue for some players than others.
If testing is done in a noisy environment, an electronic tuner will make it easy to see the actual pitch produced. Be sure to use a tuner that allows for a microphone to be clipped to the bell.
The response of a euphonium is a key factor in getting consistent results for the player. One should play slurred and tongued scales and listen for tone and volume consistency from note to note. After gathering impressions, try the scales at pianissimo. Any stuffy notes will probably not speak. In real-world playing, we often need to play softly, and good response from the instrument will yield a better musical effect.
Above all, the instrument should be tested with a variety of music. That must include music that is tongued with accents, which can reveal dynamic responsiveness. One can make the same effort for accented notes on two different instruments, only to find that a listener hears less effective accents on one compared to the other.
Among experienced players, I think there is general agreement that the best instruments make it easy for players to get the sound and style they have in their heads. If Brian Bowman and I traded horns, Brian would still sound like Brian, and I would still sound like me, but we would each have to work harder to do so. In some cases, you may need to consider the maturity of the player. For a player who is careless with expensive items like a euphonium, I would have to suggest an instrument that is more sturdily built.
I like your YouTube video on extending the use of the Arban book. What ways have you found to get even more value from this trusted method?
Practice time, properly used, is a key path to learning and improvement. It is far too precious to waste, particularly when that time is limited. Once I left the Coast Guard and started working full time in the business world, I spent over two decades with limited time and energy available for practice. I learned to get the most out of the time I had available.
Multitasking can enhance one’s practice greatly. My simplest example is applied while playing scales, which we should all do every day. Part of the value of scales is building muscle memory and familiarity with different keys. While doing all that, one should keep in mind that scales are part of music. When playing scales, I always try to play them musically. I watch my attacks, use dynamics to create a sense of line, and keep a sense of pulse – no matter if the particular scale pattern comes out evenly at the end. I typically modify scale patterns daily to stay flexible. For example, I don’t always ascend to the octave; I may go to the 9th.
Or, during the warmup phase, I like to start with a one-octave scale in the middle range. Next, I move down a half step for the starting key but go up to the 9th. Then another half step down at the start but going up to the 10th. I may continue this until I have reached the limit of my air supply. I may use broken scales to keep me thinking (up a 3rd, down a 2nd, up a 3rd, down a 2nd, etc.). I may change rhythms. I will surely change articulations. All of this helps me warm up, but also keeps my brain engaged and makes me a more flexible and musical player.
Lately, I have focused on articulation, using the Arban single-tongue exercises. I can take one of those and make it into eight exercises. Here is what I do. Imagine an exercise in C major. I play it first as written. Then I pretend it is written in bass clef, so the first C on 3rd space would become an Eb. That has me playing down a 5th. Then I transpose down an octave from the original, starting on C below the treble clef. Finally, I transpose up one step from the original, starting on D. That gives me four exercises from a single written example.
Some days, I use these same four modifications but practice my double tonguing. I usually stay at the same tempo as I used for single tongue, which builds the valuable skill of switching from single to double within a tempo. That is especially helpful with accelerandos and ritardandos within tongued passages, so I can choose a good point to switch from one to the other seamlessly. One can also change the rhythm in these same exercises. If the first beat is an eighth and 2 sixteenths, I could make it an eighth followed by a dotted 16th and a 32nd to have a simple dotted rhythm exercise.
What do you do to improve the tone on double-tongued passages?
This is one of the times I like to let students set an example for themselves. We will start with a pattern of four 16ths followed by a quarter note on the same pitch in 24 time, using single tongue. I will have them repeat the measure at the same tempo using double tongue. Then, we turn that into an exercise, playing in tempo, and raising or lowering a half step after each pair of measures. A similar exercise can be done using triple tonguing. In this way, the student provides an example of good tonguing in the first measure, and then must try to make the second measure sound identical. Oftentimes, a little work on this will fix the tone and attack of the multiple tongue.
If a student still has trouble, I suggest slowing the double tongue tempo and then accenting each of the ka notes. It is awkward to do, but after a little work the ka should start to sound clearer. Then without the accent, the double tongue sound should be better.
Is developing an individual sound a conscious thing or a natural result of proper playing technique and physical characteristics?
Both. In reverse order, one’s physical characteristics play a part. Our vocal cavity affects our voice, but it also seems to affect the tone of a brass instrument. Thicker lips will make a fuller tone easier to obtain. I think most of a player’s sound comes from the head and heart. During the first half of my high school days, I had not yet heard a professional euphonium player in person, but I had heard recordings of Tommy Dorsey on trombone. His style and tone influenced me. I had also heard many singers, and their style influenced my playing. Then when we had Harold Brasch as a guest artist, my tonal concept changed a bit to the darker side.
Since then I have heard countless fine euphonium artists, but I think the essence of my tone still comes from early concepts that evolved from my listening. When playing, I don’t think of playing a euphonium, I think of playing music. I try to make my sound fit the music.
My favorite euphonium players are David Childs and Thomas Rüedi among many others, but the euphonium world doesn’t have all the answers. Listen to other instruments as well. I love Sergei Nakariakov when he plays string music on his flugelhorn. He performs amazingly hard figures for brass but always keeps music in the foreground.
Peter Damm is a European horn player. I own his Strauss and Mozart concerto recordings and find him very relaxing to listen to because of his musicality. (He also uses vibrato, so he’s easy for a euphonium player to relate to.)
In strings, there are some great inspirations for musical performances. I like Lynn Harrell on cello. When he plays, you can hear him breathing at phrase connections, which is what we also have to do. I love his playing on the Schubert Arpeggione Sonata. I arranged it for euphonium, and it has been very popular.
I am inspired every time I listen to Jascha Heifetz play the Brahms concerto. There is a spot in a cadenza that always gives me chills. As euphoniumists, we need to strive for that kind of musicality. Pretty good players can inspire with their technique, but it takes an outstanding player to inspire with utter musicianship.
David Werden has a variety of recommendations for educational materials, music, and all things euphonium. For even more information visit: werden.com/instrumentalist2023