The Band Post speaks to Matthew Maslanka on his first trip to Asia, his relationship with his dad (David Maslanka) and career advices for budding Euphonium places.
This interview is part of the coverage for the 9th Taiwan Band Clinic (2016).
TBP: How did it feel to be in an Asian country for the first time?
MM: It has been great so far! It is really green and tropical. I did not expect it to be so tropical, but it is really warm and humid out here. It seems like people are going for potted plants everywhere. I was walking down the alleys and all around the gas meters are plants and trees. There are so much colours and vibrancies in this city; it is another level of beauty and it is really beautiful, and I think I am going to have a good time.
TBP: How did you come to know about the Taiwan Band Clinic?
MM: They invited my dad, but he has a concert in Arizona tonight or yesterday night, ‘Haha’ I don’t know what the day is anymore. He is only able to be here on the last day of the conference so I offered to come earlier to work with the groups or to be his representative for the first few days. I know there are a lot of band programs in Singapore, Taiwan, Southeast Asia and China where there is an understanding that David’s music is there but there is so much more music that people can have and a lot more for wide varieties of ensembles.
TBP: Yes, in Singapore, there are only a couple of David Maslanka’s pieces that are being played all the time, namely Give Us This Day and Symphony No.4.
MM: There are more pieces out there, and I would like to give them to you… for a reasonably price ‘hahaha’. There is an image of David’s music being very difficult, which is true, but there are less technically challenging pieces that requires high level of musicality and can still deliver. It is excellent for developing young wind ensembles.
TBP: Do you have a part to play in his pieces?
MM: Yea, I have been his copywriter and editor for about 20 years. Along with performing, music engraving has been my primary area of specialty. I have a very high efficiency in music engraving and can produce anything that is comparable in quality to the best engraving in the world.
TBP: From the last interview we did with David back in 2010, he has been writing a lot of symphonies and we would say that there is this impression that his music are too abstract and too technical for the scene.
MM: The way we tend to think about it, is that if the students love the music that they are playing, they will work very hard and come up to the level that the music requires. If they feel like it doesn’t matter, and it is a kinda dumb music and the way they look at the music is only about quarter notes/crochets, it doesn’t inspire them to work hard.
The things that David’s music bring, really inspire people to bring their best self to the public. Yes, it is kinda hard, and yes it is a little abstract at times but I think it is really assessable in terms of melody and its harmonic language. It sounds like it is simple music, but there is a depth to the simplicity which very few composers really get to. So I think he really does well in it.
TBP: So would you say you have a favourite piece of the music your dad writes?
MM: There are some things that I keep going back to. I love his Sonata for Alto Saxophone and piano. This is from 1988 and it is one of the standards in the Saxophone literature right now. The melodies in there, and how he develop them with all the passion, screaming anguish and all the emotions that comes after – I think it is really a special piece. There is a percussion piece called ‘This is the World’, and that has one of the most relaxed, beautiful opening to any piece that I know, and it takes you very quickly into inner space, inner peace that very little music brings you to.
TBP: Has he written any piece for Euphonium?
MM: Yea! There is the Concerto for Euphonium and Wind Ensemble.
TBP: Have you played that?
MM: Many times. He wrote it for me in high school. I was 16 when I played it for the first time. Right now, Adam Frey is performing with the Utah Wind Symphony to record recording the piece right now. I am really looking forward to hearing him; he’s really good! I had a long relationship with dad be it in music or professional terms.
TBP: Was he your primary source of inspiration for you to start your journey into the music world?
MM: Well, his music has been present in my life forever, you know, and that is how I understand music the way he thinks about it. I have matured and gone through my life with my own musical journey through understanding. However, my fundamental concept tends to come from where my father was. There is a beauty in purity of sound, understanding the heart of the piece, and being really committed and focused. I like the sounds that he likes, generally.
TBP: As an instrumentalist myself, what do you suggest as a daily warm up/routine?
MM: You know, I don’t really warm up. I start playing and my sound tends to go from quite mediocre to very good over 20 to 30 mins. For some people, it is really useful to do long tones, or lip slurs or breathing exercises to get yourself into your head for playing well. For me, I like a cup of coffee and pick up the horn and start playing.
One of the things I like to do, is to go to a pitch dark room and play Bach’s Cello Suites. I have a few of them memorised and I can just go in and really pay attention to the sounds that I am making and the transitions between the notes so that there is absolute smoothness and evenness. The whole game is about attention and being in the ‘space’. Warm up means to play your instrument and be present with it.
TBP: Do you have any advices for budding young euphonium players?
MM: Get a job that isn’t music ‘Hahahahaha’! No, I am very serious. Practice real hard, get yourself as good as you can, and play it so you can love it. There are very few opportunities for euphonium players as there are already no orchestra positions for them.
Actually, the professional jobs that I know about for the Euphonium, are in the various military ensembles. In United States, there are 5 of the best military bands. In the rest of the world, there might be 1-2 top military bands. So I guess we are talking about, 45 positions around the world, and yea, you probably not gonna get one, unless you are in the country and really good, and took the time and at the right age.
Occasionally there are pick up jobs for orchestras for all levels and very few professional wind ensembles and brass bands. Beyond that, you are not getting paid to play the euphonium. You need to play the trombone, ideally double on the tuba or bass trombone. If you can swing a trumpet, you will be versatile. The Euphonium is usually a second instrument.
Usually, a trombone player will say that they can play the Euphonium, but in fact, they can’t. I was running into the preparation for this clinic; I had been playing a lot of trombone and doing a lot of technical work on the Euphonium, but I realised my fingers are getting out of shape for the Euphonium. The fingers did feel stupid as compared to normal.
With regards to your question about the career path forward for Euphonium players, there is a lot of people getting into the education but education is mostly teaching, not playing (who knew?) So the best path I know about, again, is to get a job that is not in music. Get a job that you can put food on the table, allow you to be able to pay your rents, and give you enough free time so that you can go play in amateur bands, start your own quartet, go out and be part of the musical world, and not be dependant on it to pay your salary.