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'It's not just a baby tuba': All about the euphonium with Demondrae Thurman

Demondrae Thurman
Demondrae Thurman

The world-renowned euphonium player and Indiana University professor visited Studio A to perform music of Yasuhide Ito and Philip Sparke.

Demondrae Thurman knows a lot about the euphonium.

That's a total understatement: he's one of the most respected euphonium performers in the entire world.

We were grateful to him for answering some of our rather rudimentary questions about the instrument and the people who play it.

First of all, yes, the euphonium looks like a baby tuba.

"It's not just a baby tuba," Thurman said. "You don't call the piccolo a baby flute."

And how similar is a euphonium to a baritone horn?

"They're literally in the same clef, same pitch class, and same key," he explained. "But they are two distinct instruments. The euphonium is more conical than the baritone horn, so it has a rounder, richer, darker sound. The baritone is smaller and more compact, and so it has a more cylindrical sound."

Rohan Mishra
A side-by-side comparison of the baritone horn (left) and the euphonium (right)

Thurman has served as a euphonium specialist for major orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

And what do musicians in those ensembles want to know about the euphonium?

"Our conversations are a lot about sound," Thurman said. "They ask how I play so strong and keep the integrity of my sound without having vibrato all over the place."

"The vibrato is a color that I use, and if it's not the appropriate color, then I'm not going to use it," he explained.

For example, he doesn't use any vibrato in a piece like "Ein Heldenleben" by Richard Strauss, but he'll definitely use it when playing the big solo in "The Planets" by Gustav Holst.

Thurman even has his own line of signature mouthpieces from Warburton Music Products.

"The mouthpiece came out of a need," Thurman said. "Being a Black musician and having kind of thicker lips, the standard euphonium mouthpieces didn't fit my face the right way."

With Terry Warburton, he designed a custom mouthpiece with more cushioning and a larger inner rim.

"It allows more of my lips to be inside the mouthpiece to do the work," he explained.

Watch him give an overview of his Demondrae line of mouthpieces below.

This line of mouthpieces has helped Thurman and a lot of other musicians.

"A lot of people are discovering what comfort actually does for your playing," he said. "It's one thing to play the Demondrae mouthpiece because you think Demondrae is cool. It's another thing to play it because it actually fits."

Thurman is here at Interlochen Arts Academy this week working with students in Tom Riccobono's low brass studio.

When he was their age, though, he didn't want to play the euphonium professionally.

"I wanted to be an engineer," he said. "But midway through my senior year, I fell in love with music." He changed paths and majored in euphonium.

"I still feel like that kid that fell in love with music," Thurman said. "However I get to make it, whether it's on the euphonium or trombone or conducting or teaching, it doesn't matter. Music is who I am as a person."

Pianist Susan Snyder and euphoniumist Demondrae Thurman perform in IPR's Studio A
Interlochen Public Radio
Pianist Susan Snyder and euphoniumist Demondrae Thurman perform in IPR's Studio A

Demondrae Thurman visited Studio A with collaborative pianist Susan Snyder.

Together, they performed Yasuhide Ito's Fantasy Variations and Philip Sparke's Party Piece.

Hear his performance and conversation with IPR on demand, or subscribe to the Studio A podcast.

Michael Culler engineered this edition of Studio A.

Dr. Amanda Sewell is IPR's music director.