T.J. Ricer, Principal Tuba
Question & Answer
I really can’t explain why, but I always wanted to play the tuba. When my school band program started in sixth grade, I was told that I was too small. After about a year of pestering the director, he relented and at 5-foot-nothing and 98 pounds I started in on my tuba playing life!
When was the career of music chosen?
I first said that I wanted to play the tuba for a living when I was 13. I didn’t really have any idea how to go about doing that at the time, but I have had success by just plowing through and looking for a new thing to do or a new aspect of my playing to improve.
What is your earliest musical memory?
My earliest musical memories are of my dad playing the banjo and my family singing old country and folk songs. I’ve never really left that repertoire and picked up some bass, guitar, and ukulele to keep those songs part of my life. In fact, when my wife and I first started dating, we would get together and sing folk songs like “The Red River Valley.”
Where are you originally from?
Originally Virginia, but I lived in West Virginia, Ohio, Tennessee, and New York before finally landing in Hawaii.
Who were your major teachers?
I grew up in Cincinnati and studied with the last two tubists in the Cincinnati Symphony: Sam Green and Mike Thornton. I also studied with Sande MacMorran of the Knoxville Symphony and Don Harry of the Buffalo Philharmonic on the way to getting my doctorate.
As an orchestral tubist I have held principal chairs in the Lebanon and Springfield Symphony Orchestras and have subbed in the Cincinnati, Honolulu, Syracuse, and Knoxville Symphony Orchestras, among others. I fronted a Johnny Cash tribute band called CASH Back for ten years in Tennessee and New York and also spent a few years playing funk sousaphone in the Po’Boys Brass Band. I currently play in the Royal Hawaiian Band and teach Tuba, Euphonium, and Music Ed at the University of Hawaii and Punahou School. I won my very first tuba job during my senior of high school: playing in the “Way Too Much TV Band” at the Cincinnati theme park King’s Island. Of course, I worked a lot of odd jobs around gigging when I was starting out, including secretarial work, loading hay, and even teaching group aerobics!
What is your favorite Hawaii Symphony Moment?
One of my first orchestral experiences was playing second tuba on Symphonie Fantastique alongside my mentor Mike Thornton. Sadly, he passed away the week I moved to Honolulu. I really felt like things came full circle getting to play that piece again with the HSO and it was extra special to get to play the two tuba parts with former Honolulu Symphony Principal Tubist (and my great friend) John Elliott.
Best part about being an orchestral musician in the HSO?
It is an amazing experience to be part of a group of 60 or 70 people all working together and knowing that no one person could produce this work of art alone. I love getting to play my small part and try to help lift up the whole product.
What would you consider to be the perfect classical concert program?
Our performance of the full score to the Nightmare Before Christmas went over really well with the audience. I would be curious to see if we could take that in a more classical direction and sync up the Prokofiev score to the film “Alexander Nevsky.”
What’s best about living in Hawaii?
I know I should say the people or the weather or the Aloha spirit, but, if I’m being honest, I just love the food that comes out of having so many cultures living together!
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
I don’t watch a lot of reality TV, but I got hooked on Survivor in college; I even sent in a few audition tapes over the years…
What famous figure, living or dead, would you most like to invite to dinner, and why?
George Foreman. I’ve always respected the way he went out and did exactly what everyone told him he couldn’t do in regaining the heavyweight championship 20 years after he had lost it to Muhammad Ali. He has since shown serious business chops and the ability to create and sustain a brand well beyond any athletic achievements.
More About T.J. Ricer
Dr. Thomas J. Ricer is the Acting Principal Tubist in the Hawaii Symphony Orchestra, teaches Tuba, Euphonium, and Music Education at the and Punahou School, and serves as a full-time tubist with the Royal Hawaiian Band. He holds a Bachelor of Music from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, a Master of Music from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tennessee and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY. Ricer has also performed with the Cincinnati, Syracuse, Knoxville, Lima, and Middletown Symphony Orchestras and the orchestras of the Appalachian Ballet Company, Ballet Hawaii, the Hawaii Opera Theatre, and Diamond Head Theatre, as well as Keith Brion’s New Sousa Band and the Knoxville Wind Symphony. He is a former principal tubist of the Springfield and Lebanon Symphony Orchestras. Ricer has played modern jazz as the tubist for the Dave Rivello Ensemble and funk as a founding member of the Po’ Boys Brass Band. In addition to his work as a tubist, Ricer has played bass trombone in the Blue Wisp, Streamliners, and Jack Carr Big Bands and as a soloist with the Eastman Wind Ensemble. He is a regularly contributing writer for the International Tuba and Euphonium Association’s Journal. Dr. Ricer has been on faculty at Nazareth College, the Eastman Community Music School, and the Hochstein School of Music and Dance. When not playing low brass, Ricer is the lead singer and bass player for “CASH Back,” a tribute to the Man in Black, has completed a marathon, and has worked as a certified group aerobics instructor.
T.J. Ricer is a Yamaha Performing Artist, performing on the YFB-821F tuba, YCB-661CC tuba, and a modified YEB-321 Eb tuba. Ricer’s primary instructors include Mike Thornton, Sande MacMorran, Don Harry, and Sam Green.