NOTE: this article assumes your playing is already at a high enough level to be a soloist. I want to discuss other considerations. But even if your playing is not there yet, the tips below are good to keep in mind!

Many euphonium players hope to become a featured soloist with a wind/brass/military band, and there is a good reason for that. Euphoniumists have been soloing with bands since the 1800's, and our history is rich with accomplished soloists. A few very old recordings, and many more not-so-old recordings, of these soloists are available, but they don't tell the whole story of the requirements of a soloist. Their playing skills are clear enough on the recording, and certainly that is an important part of the "package." But many fine players have not succeeded as soloists.

In rare cases, a player's personality is not suited to the task. I knew a wonderful trumpet player who was teaching at a major university. He had apparently not sought to be a soloist. A member of the faculty brass quintet told me that this trumpeter would be so nervous he would throw up before they played for high school audiences. If you are that nervous, perhaps standing in front of the band and playing is not for you!

For most players, nerves are an issue that can be managed. One of our famous mid-century euphonium soloists had the solution. He said you need to practice the solo to such an extent that you know you can't miss notes. (I like to test myself on memorized solos by playing the solo in front of a loud TV and seeing if that makes me slip on on any passages. If it does, I'm not ready!) And of course we get less nervous the more we play. I often recommend that players play in church (even if they are not a member). Church's usually welcome good players who will play for free (some may even offer to pay you); the congregation will love the sound of a euphonium; and you will gain valuable experience and poise.

One thing that contributed to my being an often-used soloist with The USCG Band is flexibility. Some of our occasional soloists were rather selective about the conditions under which they would play (I'm not referring to the other euphonium players!!). They might have needed a long lead time to work up a solo, for example, and then would want several rehearsals. But the boss knew of several solos I could do, and would be willing to do, on very short notice...sometimes with no rehearsal. Other soloist might not want to perform in some situations, such as noon in a cement plaza in downtown Tulsa in August. I didn't enjoy it much, but I was willing to do it.

And in less extreme situations, there may still be concerts with very little available rehearsal time. It is good for a wannabe soloist to always have a solo that can be programmed quickly. Arthur Lehman recommended a personal rotation of 3 solos at any one time. One that is ready to go, one that needs a bit more practice, and one that you are just learning. After performing #1, move up #2 and #3 and bring a new solo into the #3 spot to start learning. To that I would add having two types of solos in the ready or near-ready stack: complex or longer solos that would be appropriate for formal concerts before special audiences, such as a performance at the Midwest festival where band directors are the primary audience.

Beyond any of the above are characteristics that should be obvious, but which evade some players understanding. You MUST be professional in all aspects of your behavior:
  • Remember that conductors are only human and may get a tempo wrong from time to time. You should practice any tricky parts of your solo at tempi above and below the one you want. If you need to play it faster (which could be your fault if adrenalin gets the best of you!), your fingers and tongue have to be ready. And if a tempo is slower, that could tax your endurance and breath control. Be ready.
  • Be polite to the conductor, ensemble, and audience.
  • Maintain on-the-spot grooming to the group's standards.
  • Maintain the appearance of your instrument as well.
  • Acknowledge the ensemble in your bows if possible.
  • Take note of your facial expressions while playing.
  • Always "address" the audience as you play. If possible (considering any microphones or acoustic issues), change your angle so that your bell does not always hide your face from parts of the audience.
  • While counting rests, and walking to/from the front of the group; maintain good posture.
  • Consider the "ick" (or "yuck") factor for the audience and don't make a big deal out of emptying water, or just don't do it for short solos if practical. Above all, don't "snap" your wrist to get the water out of a slide you remove. A simple tipping motion is enough.
  • Maintain your instrument's mechanics so you know your valves won't stick and that slides will move when needed. Along with that, make sure you keep good pads in the pistons so they don't make noise.
  • If you are pleased with the way the solo went, don't be afraid to smile at the end. The audience likes to know you are a human being. You can also let your face show that you are enjoying the band's playing during your rests, as long as you don't draw attention to yourself.
  • After the performance, when audience members approach you and compliment you, accept graciously and without disclaimers. Even though you may feel like saying something like this, don't! "Well, I got dry and missed some notes, but thanks." While you are interacting, if you can honestly make a positive statement, do. "Your community is so blessed to have such a nice hall." (This is much easier to accomplish if you actually *look* for the good things about the hall, audience engagement, sponsors, etc.)


In other words, being a desirable soloist goes well beyond playing well. But desirable soloists get asked to solo, so it is worth the effort!