Meet the Tuba: Adam Snider

The brass section will always be my favorite section of the orchestra (see blog post 1 for more on that subject). So, it’s my pleasure to introduce you to our Principal Tuba Adam Snider.

The tuba is a relatively recent member of the modern symphony orchestra. The instrument was invented in 1835 and is a descendant of the ophicleide and serpent instruments (see photos).

Since the instrument evolved into the modern-day tuba, it has become a core part of the orchestra ensemble. The tuba is the lowest instrument in the brass family and is famous for its starring role in the music for Jaws.

 

Laura R.: Hi Adam, it’s great to catch up with you to learn more about you and your instrument. Let’s kick off by learning a little bit about you. Was the tuba your first instrument and how did you get started?

Adam: In fourth grade, I actually signed up to play saxophone. Everyone else did too; there weren’t enough to go around and the beginning band director asked that some students consider another instrument. He told me that if I played tuba, he’d lend me one to practice at home and keep another one at school for rehearsal so I wouldn’t have to lug it back and forth; I was sold! Of course, the joke was on me: now I lug around tubas everywhere I go.

LR: What are some surprising things about the tuba that you would like people to know?

 Adam: Because the tuba hasn’t been around as long as other orchestral instruments, it hasn’t really settled into a “standard” design. Tubas come in a wide array of shapes and sizes, in 4 different keys, and have between 3 and 7 valves that can end up in a range of configurations. As if one tuba wasn’t enough to deal with, I regularly use two different instruments: my “big” horn, a contrabass tuba in the key of C that I use for most orchestral works; and my “small” horn, a bass tuba in F that I use for chamber music as well as for solo playing.

The tuba often functions as a “background” instrument in ensembles and when it’s given a feature it’s often depicted in a comic manner. But it’s capable of a host of characters and emotions, from triumphant to somber to downright conniving. A few pieces worth checking out include the tuba concertos of John Williams and Jorge Salgueiro, Anthony Plog’s Three Miniatures, Daniel Nelson’s Metallëphônic Remix, and James Meador’s Six-Pack.

LR: What does it feel like to be the only one that plays your instrument in the orchestra?

 Adam: It’s an interesting situation. Not having a larger section of my own, my main job is to fit in with and support different sections around the orchestra. Often I hang out with the trombones, but I regularly blend with other lower-voiced instruments like the string basses and the bassoons, and at times I get to join the horn section. Each setting takes a different mindset to pull off successfully, so it’s a great challenge.

LR: How has your work changed as a result of COVID-19?

 Adam: I’m very privileged that I’ve been able to do most of my work remotely from home. I’ve taught private lessons online for years; fortunately, all my students have transitioned smoothly to this setup. I’ve been doing some solo recording, remote chamber ensemble recording with former Phil musician Bill Shaltis, and a few multitrack projects. Though the setting has changed in the past few months, the Phil’s mission remains the same: to bring musical experiences to the Treasure Valley community that entertain, transport, and inspire.

LR: Outside of strength training your lungs to fill up your giant instrument with sound, what hobbies or interests do you have?

 Adam: Hiking, camping, discovering new music, and fermentation (beer, kombucha, sourdough, pickles, mead, cider, etc.). Coffee roasting is my latest obsession.

LR: Are there any last nuggets of advice that you’d like to share with our readers about the tuba or being a musician?

 Adam: It’s an incredible privilege to make music professionally, and I take it very seriously. I greatly enjoy my work, as it’s always in service of the listener. The hours I spend every day maintaining and refining my craft are so I can do my part to bring the audience the deepest, most meaningful experience possible. Often, the tuba’s job is not terribly glamorous, but it’s very fulfilling to create art with my exceptional colleagues. I hope the audience has as much fun as I do at concerts!

Click here to access our full orchestra’s webpage.

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