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The Wisdom of Werden, Talking Euphonium with David Werden

Trey Reely | February March 2023

Editor’s Note: Mr. Werden had so much intriguing and useful information during our recent interview that we have divided the article into two parts. This first part covers many practical playing tips for directors and players. In the next issue, we will go into more depth on his remarkable career in music.

    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.

What can directors do to encourage kids to start on the euphonium and stay motivated?
    One good tool is YouTube. It is simple to create a playlist with examples of euphonium solos and ensemble music in various styles, including pop and jazz. Having a petting zoo where different instruments are available to test can help the euphonium sell itself. A beginner may get a fairly pleasant sound when testing a euphonium, which is more of a challenge on the other brass instruments.
    To maintain student interest, I would recommend leveraging ensembles. Euphonium-tuba quartets are a great choice to keep players on those low brass instruments engaged. Many brass quartets are available, and the euphonium can play the bottom one or two parts, depending on the piece. I would also try to program band music that uses the euphoniums to good advantage.

What are some of the most practical alternate fingerings for junior and senior high players?
    I wrote a small book and have made videos addressing this topic. Alternate fingerings have two basic uses: technique and intonation.  Compensating euphoniums can often benefit from alternate fingerings on the 6th partial, which is traditionally sharp. For concert Eb, I used to use 1-3, 2-4 for E, and 4 for F. Most euphoniums are flat on high A concert, which may be fixed with 1-2 or 3, depending on the particular horn, and 3 can be useful as a replacement for 1-2, either for intonation or technique.

At what point in a student’s development should vibrato be introduced? What approach should a teacher take?
    I like to hear vibrato only after a player has developed a decent tone. Then, I would introduce lip or jaw vibrato. In my playing, I use mostly lip, some jaw, and some wind vibrato, depending on context, but lip vibrato is the easiest to learn. Having a lip vibrato is a natural first step to developing lip trills later.
    I was already using vibrato when I arrived at college, but in my first year, the instructor had me work up a couple of slow etudes using no vibrato at all while still playing with full expression. It was a wonderful exercise and one that teachers should keep in mind. Vibrato is a tool to enhance expression, not an ever-present waver of tone.

What are your thoughts on breathing as it relates to phrasing?
    It is important to teach students to take full breaths much of the time, but not always. Taking a huge breath for a closing soft four-note phrase may create too much tension, but a player should use large breaths where the volume is fuller and phrases are longer. I try to extend my phrases more over time. No matter how much air volume is available inside your lungs, control is just as important. In a couple of solos where a very long sustained note had a crescendo to a climactic end, I find it useful to just hint a crescendo at first, which does not take a lot more air. I also withhold vibrato until the end, where it can help build energy even if I don’t have much extra air to accomplish that. The common exercise of playing a long tone, with crescendo and then decrescendo, is helpful in building this kind of control.

Do you recommend mouthpiece buzzing?
    I don’t teach it universally. For one thing, it does not work well for some people, including me. I find it useful in two situations. If a player has a thin tone, it can help dramatically to have them play tones on the mouthpiece and try to get the purest, fullest tone possible. The other way it can help is with pitch accuracy. If a player is often over/under-shooting a pitch and gets a clam or fluff of some kind, mouthpiece work can help. In that case, singing can prove useful for many people because the problem may be starting with the sense of what the next pitch is.

What do you teach about tongue position?
    Mostly, I have players focus on the output of the bell. In some cases, it is necessary to talk about the specifics of tongue position. I use the concept of the tip of the tongue at the meeting of top teeth and gum/palate, and that once the attack is produced, the tongue should be moved out of the way of the airflow. During fast tonguing, and especially multiple tonguing, moving the tongue too far back can slow the action. It may be necessary to think of a more forward position during speedy passages.

What are your thoughts on euphonium mouthpieces?
    Euphoniums have a wide range of needs. They need to sound tuba-like sometimes, and the low range has to extend to pedal F concert. They need to have a lovely, singing tone and a brilliant high range that extends to a high F concert these days. Ideally, one chooses a mouthpiece that meets these needs, but often some compromise is involved.
    Over the years, I grew into a #4 mouthpiece (in Bach/Wick numbering). I liked the sound I got on my Wick 4AL but for some solos that did not work. For example, when I played Claude T. Smith’s Rondo for Trumpet (written for Doc Severinsen), I needed a more brilliant high register and found that the Wick 4BL worked well. The B in this case indicates a shallower cup, but the rim stayed the same. I didn’t have good luck changing mouthpieces between songs, so I would use the 4BL for the whole concert if I had a solo like that. Some concerts were demanding enough that I used the 4BL even when not scheduled for a solo.
    With the effect of two decades of insufficient practice or my age, the 4AL was not working as well for all situations. I switched to an Alliance DC4, which is a great mouthpiece overall, even though I lose a little of the openness the Wick had.
    For those who are not comfortable in the 4 realm, I suggest a Bach 5G, which I used for a while as I grew into the 4. The 5G has a decent tone and low range, and a good high range. If that is still too large, the old standby of the Bach 6-1/2AL is a good choice, although it is a bit too bright for a good euphonium tone.

Do you have any recommendations on how to keep the throat open for high notes?
    For me, a proper high note is on a plateau within the instrument. It has a ring to the sound. Both are achieved when the high note is supported with lip and air to the point that the instrument is resonating and producing a plateau within the partial series. In other words, you should not be able to slide up to the next half-step higher. When you push higher, the note should pop to the next partial, just as it does in the lower range. Some players can go quite high, but the top notes tend to be their buzz in the mouthpiece being amplified by the tubing – they are not resonating the partials.
    The best, most dependable exercise to develop a stirring high range is one I learned from Rich Matteson. The idea is to learn to use the air/lip to produce a true tone as you go above the comfortable range. You use two-octave scales. For example, start on a low Bb concert and play up to high Bb. Play the low Bb at mf with a good, solid tone. While going up the scale, gradually crescendo to a good full forte at the top, trying to keep good tone quality all the way. Then, do the same on a B scale, and so on.
    It seemed too simple to work when he said this in 1978. At that time, I had a solid, dependable high Eb that had a nice ring. I could use vibrato on it, which indicates I had pretty good reserve strength. I was confident of this because from 1975-1976 during our Bicentennial celebration, I played Carnival of Venice on every concert, and I always ended on the high Eb. I decided to try Rich’s way. Imagine my surprise when I started to struggle around high Db! Clearly, I needed more of my chops than usual. I kept using the exercise and soon had my high Eb back, but now in a much stronger way. I still had a nice ring, but now I felt like I could bounce it off the back wall of the auditorium. From there I worked higher. So far, when I am focused on range and using this exercise beyond normal range, I have gotten as high as Ab   concert while I was still using the partials (not just sliding around up there). I’m sure that is not the upper limit of the instrument.

Do you think of airflow in terms of warm air and cold air?
    This is one of the times that English is inadequate to explain wispy musical concepts. I like the phrase warm air, but it may not work for everyone. Sometimes I think or talk about fast air vs. slow air, or I will talk about a garden hose when it is open and then when you partially block the opening with your thumb. For some situations where warm and cold air could be discussed, I might choose to talk about opening the jaw more, lowering the tongue, and focusing inward with the lips. Regardless, a player needs to know that the type of airstream that produces a brilliant high C is not going to produce a full-sound low C.

What are the best tips for improving the low range?
    In a way, I use something like the Rich Matteson technique, but backward. I will start someone on a low Bb and have them play down diatonically or chromatically as low as they can. Whenever that limit is reached, the tone will usually be very constricted with lots of lip sound. The next goal is to start with a nice tone on the first Bb, and to keep that nice tone as far as possible. If the tone sounds pinched on the low F, then a good first goal is to get a nice F. Physically, we may need to talk about keeping an open airway into the horn and keeping the lips relaxed. Even some professional players seem to allow a pinched sound on the low notes (e.g. below the low F mentioned above), which, in fairness, makes them more dependable. With practice and patience, we can get good tone. The next big goal is to get the player to extend a good sound all the way to the bottom of the theoretical range to pedal B (the bottom B on the piano). If a student gets that far, I will start to discuss the false tones that can be produced below the B.

What are some of your favorite solos that are less well known but deserve a wider audience?
    I am fond of a Salvation Army solo called Ransomed. It was written by a Salvation Army bandmaster, George Marshall, who was himself a euphonium player. It is a 3/4 time theme and variations solo with a nice lilting feel.
    There is an interesting solo in the collection Childs’ Choice called The Riders of Rohan by Rodney Newton. It is not very difficult but offers room for some creative individual expression.
    For advanced players, I would look at Frank Proto’s Capriccio di Nicollo, a solo originally written for trumpet virtuoso Doc Severinsen. I performed it and convinced the composer to create a euphonium version.

What are some of your most recent projects?
    Currently, I am working on producing arrangements of music by female composers, including  Amy Beach, Cecile Chaminade, Augusta Holmes, Fanny Hensel (Mendelssohn), and Teresa Del Riego. I recently premiered my duet arrangement of John Stainer’s Love Divine with Gail Richardson. It is one of my favorite projects because it is music that is good for a recital or a worship service. The latter can give many students opportunities to perform in public, which is an invaluable experience. Along that line, I also did arrangements of Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem, Handel’s Si, tra i ceppi, and Bach’s Bist du bei Mir for euphonium solo/piano, all of which are fine for recitals or church services.
    As part of my efforts to write music for younger ensembles, I completed a suite for brass quintet of Reicha’s music. These are drawn from his delightful horn trios and expanded to five voices. That allows players some rest here and there along with passages expanded to four or five voices, which adds richness. I am also nearly done finalizing a collection of easy Christmas songs for brass quartet and brass quintet.

How would you summarize your efforts in promoting the euphonium throughout your career? What do you think the future holds?
    While I have always appreciated those who commission original works for euphonium, that was not my calling. Instead, I focused on arranging music, publishing music, recovering classic solos, and educating people about the euphonium. Early in my Coast Guard career, I discovered a great deal of confusion about my instrument as I talked with audience members after concerts. “What is a euphonium?” or “It looks a little like a baritone.” were typical comments. So I wrote a monograph explaining the difference between a true baritone horn and a euphonium, as well as including perspective about the American instrument that was usually called baritone. I had these printed up and included them in my kit at concerts.
    Through my publishing company, Whaling Music, I published music that was mostly available only if you knew whom to write with your request. I published John Boda’s Sonatina for euphonium and synthesizer tape. This had been included on Brian Bowman’s first album but had not been publicly available. I published a solo written for Rich Matteson by Jerry Owen called Variations for euphonium and band. After those first efforts, I continued to find works of good quality that had not been published. Many of those were expensive to produce and actually lost money, but I balanced those with my own arrangements that were cheaper to produce and sold well.
    Along with encouraging music written for euphonium, I wanted to expand the scope of euphonium style and technique. Having been a fan of Doc Severinsen for many years, I believed a euphonium could extend its dramatic reach somewhat. I had a recording of Severinsen playing Rondo for Trumpet by Claude Smith. I spoke with Mr. Smith about doing the piece on euphonium, and he was very much in favor of the idea. I performed it on tour and it became part of the USCG Band’s LP Live from Leamy (the concert hall at the Coast Guard Academy).
    I also regularly use solos from Rafael Mendez, which work very well for euphonium. I like to demonstrate some of the Mendez-type style. He used rubato in technical passages in the way a violin player might. That is not typical of brass players, but it probably should be. Mendez believed one’s technique must be so complete that any musical ideas can be expressed effortlessly. In the brass world we are more likely to stay glued to our metronomes in such passages.
    I am only one person, and I can’t imagine that my efforts to broaden our style realm had very much effect. For whatever reason, today’s composers are calling for a very full and aggressive range of technique and expression on euphonium. I am very grateful that composers of today’s solos fully use the abilities of the euphonium.
    I got a hint of this evolution several years ago. In the 1980s I undertook a year-long project to arrange Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata to suit the euphonium. It was part of my effort to get euphonium players’ brains out of a brass-only concept, so we can learn from the marvelous abilities and expression of string players. I assumed that the piece would be performed only by professional-level players, but gradually it was being used in colleges, on military band auditions, and high school contest solo lists.

Werden with Danny Vinson at a Concert in Nebraska

    In a world of CDs, streaming music, and streaming videos, students can hear the best players in the world. When I was in high school, there were perhaps five professional-level LPs of euphoniumists. When I was in the Coast Guard Band, I bought every euphonium recording that was available, and the number was large. Toward the end of my band career, I finally throttled that back because there were so many euphonium CDs available. Adding streaming services today, I am not sure how one would even count the number of high-quality euphonium performances available.
    I am happy to see the success of low brass players who are active in performances and recitals all over the world. Steven Mead and Oystein Baadsvik are perhaps the most well known, but there are many other fine artists who are impressing the public. I am grateful for the energy and success because it helps people to know the impressive abilities of tuba and euphonium players.
    I am also grateful to players like Micah Dominic Parsons, who is working directly with filmmakers on some special projects. There have been a few instances of euphoniums used in movie soundtracks, but I think there is much room for growth. Its voice is unique, and most soundtrack composers like to use diverse sounds. Projects like Micah’s may help us.
    We are still not where I want to see us. In 1980, I went to London to accept the Euphonium Player of the Year award. My wife came along. To get to our rented flat, we took one of the lovely London taxis. The driver asked if we were on vacation, and my wife said, “My husband is here to accept an award for euphonium playing.” The cab driver responded, “Oh, I just heard a euphonium on the telly last night.” That is where I want us to get.    

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David Werden has a variety of recommendations for educational materials, music, and all things euphonium. For even more information visit: