by legendary euphonium soloist, Arthur Lehman U.S. Marine Band,
edited by David Werden
Why shouldn't this be a patriotic piece since it is the fourth of July - Independence Day - and since I spent many years playing euphonium in one military band or another? Is that why this article is being written on this national holiday? Not at all. It is merely a coincidence.
But as to the subject at hand - who was the most influential in getting me started on the euphonium - it is a very easy question to answer. It was my father. No one else had his vision along that line. He approached me when I was ten years old and said, "Boy, it's time that we got you started on a musical instrument." He never mentioned which instrument because he had no idea what one would be mine. He did obviously have a band instrument in mind, for at the first opportunity he went to the high school, only a block away from his dental office - yes, he was a dentist - and hunted up the band director.
When he finally located that elusive person, he explained why he wanted to speak with him. He said that he had a ten-year-old son and he wanted him to start on a musical instrument. He asked the director's advice on which band instrument to start me off on. The maestro, a former euphonium player in the famous Creatore band, thought for a minute and said, in his very broken English, "We need a baritone horn player. Why not start him on baritone, that is my instrument, too."
That did it. I would be a baritone horn player. Through the help of the band director, a tiny silver baritone horn was purchased for me but it was a couple of weeks before I started taking lessons, also from the maestro himself. Nice man. Very helpful and well educated in music. Before lessons were started, my dad, my mother, and I all looked at that beautiful little horn lying in its blue velvet lined case and thought that it was so pretty. We wondered how it sounded.My dad had engaged the band director to teach me and the work of getting me started on the baritone horn was begun. In a surprisingly short time - probably much too soon - I was sitting in the high school band where I was completely lost. In about two rehearsals the director had me bring my chair and music stand to the front of the band where he had me sit in a location where my horn bell was pointing right at his ear. What a spot to be in! When we ran through a march, for instance, and I got lost in a few measures, the director stopped and pointed out where we were and sternly admonished me to count! We would start in again, and the next time I got lost, he would nudge me with his left elbow. Out of self-defense I learned surprisingly quickly not to get lost, to stay at the right spot, and I sure did try not to play any wrong notes. In no time the maestro sent me back to sit with the trombones where I could play with much more ease.
Through all of this my dad supported, encouraged, and smoothed things over when I complained that I was being singled out unfairly - as an example - in my opinion. Dad explained that I was learning rapidly, so why wasn't everything well? I guess that I had to agree with him in the end. Naturally, the band director was only getting the most out of me that he could in the least amount of time.
When I started playing well enough to play solos, my dad encouraged me to play at assembly occasionally and these small performances, while nothing much, were a big help later on soon I was playing technical solos with the high school band, and-my mom and dad were very supportive. They always boosted and encouraged me.
When I finally started in at college, I was instructed that I was to find a way to "get in the band." Well, I agreed with that. However, what I didn't know was that there were three bands - two 100-piece bands, and a seventy-piece band. The two bigger bands were the freshman R.O.T.C. band and the sophomore R.O.T.C. band. I played in both of those R.O.T.C. Bands, and during my sophomore years I played in the varsity band as well - the blue band. That's where I played several technical solos. Naturally, all of this was at my father's suggestion and he encouraged me in every way. What a big help he was in everything connected with music!
My mother, a former school teacher, was the one who got the dubious pleasure of seeing to it that, when I was just starting to play the baritone horn, I stuck to my practicing and didn't sneak out to play games at the playground across the street. She knew enough music to teach grade school music classes so she helped me with my rhythm, counting, reading notes in the right octave, figuring what notes are flatted or sharped according to the various key signatures, etc. She was a piano player and a singer but not very skilled. What she was especially good at doing in music was in the area of note placement. You mentioned a note to her and she could hum or sing the note in the perfect pitch of that note. Every time she would hum a note and I would play it on my horn, we were both exactly together. Amazing. Of course, many musicians do possess this ability but it is, to me, still amazing. I wish that I had that ability.
When I got old enough to, be in high school, my dad felt that I ought to get a new and a better horn so he bought me a silver Buescher baritone upright instrument. It was a much better horn than the old small French baritone horn I'd used up until then. But when I went to college, I was given a dandy Conn double-bell five-valve euphonium in satin silver finish. I thought that I was in heaven. Both my mom and my dad were very happy to bring it up to college one weekend and present it to me. I loved it, of course. I played all of my solos on that horn from then on until I got into The Marine Band.
After graduating from Penn State, I got a job at an aircraft factory and worked there for six months before being drafted. That was in April 1941. We hadn't got into WWII yet. I took U.S. Army infantry basic training in South Carolina where I wasn't playing any euphonium naturally. I was sent back to continue working in the aircraft factory doing the same work I was doing when I was conscripted. I remained there for three years before returning to active duty on June 6, 1944 (D-Day)! During the three years when I was in the reserves, I was playing all over the S.E. Pennsylvania and New Jersey area in various bands. And I'd finally located a good brass teacher in Trenton so I was taking lessons weekly for those three years. I made a lot of good progress. All along the way my dad was encouraging me. While all of this was going on, he was failing in health. What a shame. However, he still was giving me lots of suggestions and support.
When I was recalled to active duty in 1944, I got right into a small Army band and played in that unit for the next two years. We never got sent overseas, remaining stateside through this period. Finally, I got discharged in May of 1946 and went home again. This time I made a few lucky moves. First, I got into the Philco Corporation Band of Philadelphia Pennsylvania. And I also did some playing with a couple of bands in Trenton and Asbury Park. Played a few solos. By this time solos were S.O.P. for me. Sort of second nature. Very common. Not difficult at all. And that I owe to my dad. He always was pushing me to play a solo here, to play a solo there, and so on. It all paid off at this time in 1946.
While at camp in that small Army band, I had been hearing the Navy Band radio broadcasts and they had a fine euphonium soloist by the name of Harold Brasch. At that time I was so confused about vibrato - having tried to use one without any instruction on the subject and getting miserable results that I decided not to use any vibrato whatever until I found someone who used a good one and who could teach me how to use it. Well, when I heard Harold Brasch on those radio broadcasts - and he was playing lots of great solos at the time - and I heard that beautiful vibrato, I was determined that in some way I was going to try to take some lessons from him.
I started writing to Harold soon after returning back to the war plant after being discharged. Soon I made an appointment to take a lesson from him. Since I was working five days a week, I had to make the day for the lesson a Saturday. This suited Harold all right and all I had to do was to get there at the proper hour. My dad thought that it was a grand idea and encouraged me to make the trip. He had heard Harold play a solo on the air and he agreed with me that that was some fine tone Harold had and that the vibrato was just exactly right.
I did make the trip and I did take a lesson. Apparently, Harold felt that if I were so interested in learning to play the euphonium better that I would travel from 25 miles north of Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., and then to Arlington, Virginia to take a lesson, he ought to make it a really good lesson. Did he? You bet he did. He gave me a three-hour lesson. It seemed like a half hour to me, however, so interesting was that lesson. When I got back home and related everything to my dad - he was an invalid by then, alas - he was pleased and suggested that I make the trip again. I made the trip once a month until fall came and the navy band went on tour. I had three three-hour lessons in all. I was learning a good vibrato, too.
By the following May (in 1947) I was laid off at work. The war plant, which had employed 6,000 workers during the war, had dwindled down to 600 employees when the war contracts ran out. I figured that I'd find some other work sooner or later but in the meanwhile I got a nice break. I got into the Philco Corporation Band of Philadelphia. That was the best band I'd played in so far at that time. In the spring of 1947 I was applying for a spot in the Navy Band where Brasch played. Although I did audition for the spot, I was not accepted and went home to figure out my next move. My dad had had a feeling that I would get into the Navy Band but he died in February and that was before I took the Navy Band audition. I can still hear him predict, "You'll get into the Navy Band." That didn't happen.
Okay, I thought. Let us try some other band. I wrote to the leader of the Marine Band, Major Santelmann, and received a reply right away. He said that they had an opening for a euphonium player and he should be a soloist. I knew that I hadn't been accepted for some reason by the Navy Band and wondered if it could be because I couldn't play well enough. Must be the reason. Well, I still wanted to give it a try so in late July of 1947 I came down and took the audition for the entrance into The United States Marine Band and, surprisingly, I was accepted. I joined the band on 4 August, 1947. I remained there for the next twenty-four years. And it was all made possible by my dad's foresight and encouragement. He seemed to have a vision of me playing in some big U.S. military band. He saw that as The U.S. Navy Band. In that he was wrong, it turned out to be The U.S. Marine Band. That wasn't such a bad error, was it? Where did he get the feeling that I would make it when I had so many doubts?
Yes, it is true. My dad was the one who influenced me the most all through the years in my becoming a euphonium player. I have only one regret. I really am sorry that he didn't get to hear me play at least one solo with The Marine Band. I think that he would have felt, then, that it was all worth the effort and expense, don't you?
Written by Arthur Lehman, July 4, 2006