Connect with us


Florida Orchestra concerts to spotlight the tuba

Bill DeYoung



TJ Graf is Principal Tuba Player with The Florida Orchestra. Publicity photo.

Consider the tuba, the Rodney Dangerfield of brass instruments. When it comes to powerhouses of the orchestra, there’s just no respect there.

There are, in fact, very few tuba concerti in the classical repertoire. Putting the spotlight on the lowest register of the musical scale doesn’t seem to be a popular exercise, not when there are trumpets, and trombones, and other horns with greater flexibility, clarity and sweetness.

Au contraire, claims TJ Graf, principle tubist for The Florida Orchestra. “It’s not that the tuba has tons of misconceptions about it, I’ve found,” he says. “It’s just that they don’t know anything about it at all.”

The instrument, Graf elaborates, has a singular role in the orchestra – it plays the bassline. “But within that, there’s actually quite a lot of different shades, different colors, different instrument pairings that we have to work with that actually makes it sort of a shape-shifter in the orchestra.

“Sometimes I’m a member of the double bass section, in the low strings. Most of the time, I’m playing with the trombone section. So the trombones and I act as a unit.”

The tuba’s five-octave range makes shape-shifting between instrument groupings a breeze.

This weekend’s Florida Orchestra concert will include the local debut of Wynton Marsalis’s Tuba Concerto. The great trumpeter and composer was commissioned to create the work for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s principal tuba player Carol Jantsch in 2021.

The TFO program – Friday in Tampa, Saturday in St. Petersburg and Sunday in Clearwater – also includes George Gershwin’s An American in Paris, Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige and Joshua Cerdenia’s Feuertrunken (Fire-Drunk).

All colossally rhythmic company for Marsalis’s orchestral boundary-breaker, designed to show off the versatility of the instrument. “It shows of the versatility of the orchestra, too,” explains Graf, a St. Pete resident who teaches tuba and euphonium every Monday at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “The four movements are somewhat eclectic. All four of them are entirely different styles. Which has been a good challenge for me.

“The first movement’s written very much in a modern classical style. The second movement is a boogaloo. The third movement starts somewhat free and then goes into a soft-shoe march – with some gospel wails at the end. And the last movement’s bebop.”

Graf, in his fourth season with TFO, is a native of New Jersey. He played French horn in his middle school band, and was “volunteered” to take on the tuba when nobody else was available. “Not a lot of musicians choose to play the instrument – they usually get chosen to play the instrument,” he laughs.

“I was the biggest kid, so they said ‘Hey, about you try this?’”

And he hasn’t looked back since.

Performance details and tickets are here.








Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

By posting a comment, I have read, understand and agree to the Posting Guidelines.

The St. Pete Catalyst

The Catalyst honors its name by aggregating & curating the sparks that propel the St Pete engine.  It is a modern news platform, powered by community sourced content and augmented with directed coverage.  Bring your news, your perspective and your spark to the St Pete Catalyst and take your seat at the table.

Email us:

Subscribe for Free

Share with friend

Enter the details of the person you want to share this article with.