Teaching Tuba with Scott Tegge

Seventy. Seventy students. The number rang through my head as I made the hour-long journey to Symphony Center a few weeks ago. Riding along the lakefront bike trail, I fantasized about having so many students. Early mornings and late nights; quick bites of sporadic meals between lessons, all in pursuit of guiding young people toward their own hopes and dreams. I was excited to meet someone who leads his life in a way I envision for my own.

As I walked into the conference room, I was surprised. I had pictured Scott as some sort of demigod (I’ve spent my life idolizing great teachers). But instead, I saw a man not too different than myself. He was younger than I expected and very friendly, smiling politely as we all walked through the doors.

We began with introductions, going around the room sharing our hometowns, instruments, and aspirations. He furiously jotted notes on a legal pad as we shared. I have noticed that this sort of scrupulous documentation is typical of people who work with many personalities on a daily basis. Few are gifted with the ability to remember the details (let alone the names) of all the people they meet and interact with, so meticulous documentation becomes a necessity.

Before launching into his talk, Scott encouraged us all to ask questions along the way. He was excited about the Citizen Musician Initiative and the journey the fellows had recently begun. While he structured the seminar to be largely collaborative, his experience proved to be so interesting that I wanted to listen to him monologue without interference. As I clung to his every word, jotting down in my notebook what seemed especially salient, I realized how important his experience was in shaping his career today. He took time to share in detail his upbringing and pedigree (both the good and not so good) and later made connections to practices he upholds today.

The idea of “experience design” has become especially relevant to the classical music world in the past few years as orchestras and musicians have realized that people seek a memorable experience more than they seek wonderful music (good music does not necessarily constitute an unforgettable experience).

Scott Tegge’s studio certainly constitutes a well-designed experience. Not only does he understand the fundaments that equip students with the technical and musical ability to become tuba playing “bad-asses” (his term), he also understands how to structure an environment where success is seemingly inevitable. He expects his students to work hard and improve, and knows how to provide feedback to students who do not follow through without tarnishing their self-efficacy. He balances his role as mentor and friend to the student, finding ways to connect to each person through an individualized approach. He often advocates for the more serious students, insisting to parents that in order to be successful in music, students must spend less time in honors and AP classes and more time preparing for college auditions.

Scott’s extensive work beyond teaching the “how to-s” of the tuba has fostered an environment that enables his students to flourish. While he does not see all seventy students every week, he’s packed morning till night traveling between different teaching locations and balancing his rehearsals and performances with his brass quintet, the Gaudete Brass, which is in residence at Roosevelt University. In fact, despite having seventy students, this quintet seemed to be the focal point of his career and springboard for his musical future.

While he did not explicitly state it, Scott Tegge demonstrated to us the power of having a strong vision. He presented a clear concept of how he wants his professional life to evolve; his current decisions and practices are an integral part of pursuing that future. This lesson is immensely important to the young Citizen Musician. We must cultivate a vision of our future that we constantly strive toward. It is on this journey that we will find ourselves and make a sustainable career in music.

By Davis King 

Photo by Elliot Mandel