In 2006, Carol Jantsch was named Principal Tubist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. She further explains on her website that “she won the position during her senior year at the University of Michigan, becoming the first female tuba player in a major symphony orchestra.” We reached out to Jantsch, who joined the Yale School of Music faculty in 2012, to talk about teaching, arranging music for her instrument, and musical pursuits beyond her work with the Philadelphia Orchestra.
Q: When, where, and how did you choose the tuba—or did the instrument choose you? I know your family is quite musical. Were you encouraged to pursue music as a field of study and a profession?
A: My mom forced me to start piano lessons when I was 6, and she sent me and my brother to Interlochen Arts Camp a few years later. That first summer at Interlochen I took a class called “Instrument Exploration,” where we were introduced to all the instruments and chose one to learn. I wanted something weird and different, so the euphonium fit the bill perfectly. I made the switch to tuba a few years later, when I was around 12 years old.
Q: To what extent have you learned through teaching? In other words, to what degree has working with students informed your approach to the instrument? In what ways have you grown as a musician since 2006?
A: Teaching forces you to put your values and techniques into words, and this process has been hugely educational for me. I always had strong opinions about how I wanted to sound, but now my ideas have more clarity and refinement. I’m also much more conscious of how I’m doing what I’m doing from having to explain it to others.
I feel very fortunate to have come of age as a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra. I’m constantly drawing inspiration from my amazing colleagues, and I absolutely believe that I’m a much better musician for getting to hear them for the past 13 years.
Q: I’m always curious to learn about an artist’s routines. How do you juggle individual practice, arranging, rehearsing with the orchestra and other groups, teaching, recording, and other aspects of your life?
A: I get a lot of emails and arranging done on the train to Yale!
The orchestra is and always will be my primary focus; I’m very grateful to have such a wonderful job, and it’s also the thing that enables me to do everything else. I’ll definitely get more practice time when the orchestra is playing “New World” Symphony than I will in a Mahler week, and the time for other projects ebbs and flows with my Philadelphia Orchestra responsibilities. While it can be hectic to have so many side projects, I think it’s important to make the time for them because they keep me growing as a musician and person.
Q: With limited repertoire composed specifically for tuba, you necessarily perform a good number of arrangements. How do you go about choosing which pieces to arrange for your instrument—what are the important considerations beyond a desire to play a particular piece? How much do you and your students discuss and work on arranging?
A: Just like teaching, arranging has had a profound influence on my musicianship. Arranging a piece of music is like solving a puzzle: How do you fundamentally change the nature of something while still capturing the essence of the original? What specifically makes Beethoven sound like Beethoven, or Led Zeppelin sound like Led Zeppelin—and then how do I preserve that when I write for tubas?! They’re fun questions to tackle, and I think having that sense of the big picture is really helpful as a performer. I find it so helpful in fact that I’ve started requiring my students to create at least one transcription or arrangement for their graduation recital.
Q: Is Tubular currently active? If so, what’s your set list like?
A: Yes we are! For the uninitiated, Tubular is my cover band comprised of two euphoniums, two tubas, drums, and all of us do vocals. In September, we performed the entire Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—that was a pretty epic night. But normally our shows span a lot of eras and styles—Queen, Beyoncé, the Jackson 5, Bruno Mars, the Eagles, Kesha, Flight of the Conchords, really anything we think will be awesome and/or hilarious. I’m currently working on a ’70s rock medley that will include Styx, Heart, AC/DC, and more …
What have you been listening to and reading lately?
I’ve been on a classic rock kick because of my current arranging project! Spotify makes some pretty great playlists, and the one called “Classic Rock Workout” is pretty much solid gold; exercise or not, I highly recommend it.
Faculty tubist Carol Jantsch will perform a free Faculty Artist Series recital on Sunday, Oct. 13, at 3 p.m., in Morse Recital Hall.