We asked Ross Knight, the fine Tuba soloist for our November concert, a few questions about his Musical life (and a few other things too…)
ESO: Why the Tuba?
RK: I started playing aged nine, one year before anyone else in my class, but I started one month after the people in the year above me. I turned up for my first brass lesson and my teacher handed me the tuba and said, “sorry it’s the last instrument left in the cupboard”.
ESO: What made you become involved with music, and more particularly the Tuba?
RK: I was desperate to play an instrument from around the age of 6/7 years old. I started with guitar, then piano and then tuba. I just loved making lots of noise, performing and being creative. I remember my mum made me flash cards of the written note and corresponding letter for the note and I had to match them then find the note on the piano. I learned how to read music very fast this way.
ESO: How many hours do you practice each week?
RK: It really depends what I have to do. If I have a lot to do in the coming week/weeks then I can be practising between 3-6 hours a day, but if I’m not so busy it can be as little as 3-6 hours in the week, more for conditioning. Working in the orchestra though is what I like to call paid practise, so I suppose that counts too.
ESO: Who is the most famous person in your phone contacts?
RK: If musicians are considered famous then I have plenty, otherwise just lots of friends and colleagues, some more famous than others in our own little musical world.
ESO: What do you do outside of Tuba playing?
RK: I love playing and watching football, I really enjoy hiking, spending time with my friends, and I love traveling even though most of the time it is with my tubas.
ESO: If you could choose another instrument you’d like to play, what would it be? and why?
RK: Honestly, I’d love to be a jazz singer! I love the harmonies and I would find it really cool to be the front man of a great jazz band or part of a group singing cool jazzy harmonies. Unfortunately jazz doesn’t come so naturally to me! If I could choose another instrument though I’d love to be a world class cellist or guitarist. Cellist because it is just a beautiful instrument and I love how it sounds and the repertoire written for it, and guitar because I always dabbled but was never outstanding at it, but it always made me really happy!
ESO: What is your most treasured memory of a concert?
RK: The night my grandmother died I performed Mahler’s 1st Symphony with the OSR on tour in Spain and I’ve never been so emotional in so many different ways. It was completely unforgettable!. Similarly the final concert of Mahler’s 2nd Symphony with the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester in my first tour with the orchestra. It was simply magical.
ESO: What are the advantages, and any disadvantages, to being based in Europe?
RK: There are so many advantages!! I get to work with so many different people from different cultures, I get to work in a beautiful country (Switzerland), I get to learn new languages (although French is taking a lot longer than I would have hoped it would), the weather is generally better, I get lots of time off to do other things too which is always nice, and importantly there are so many orchestras in mainland Europe and I get to meet so many different people from all of these different places. However, I still travel back to Britain often to work as a freelancer and having to fly with tubas (booking a whole row for me and the instruments) is certainly not desirable.
ESO: Are you a football or rugby supporter? If so, which is best and why? If not, do you do any sport and why?
RK: I’m a big football fan. Dundee United and Manchester United are my two teams. Both not having the best start to the season but there’s a long way to go. I’ve been a goalkeeper since I was 9 and I just love playing football. I play in Geneva for the Geneva Scottish Football Club and I’ve built up a good base of non-musician friends in Geneva which really helps me feel a little more at home seeing as I’m the only Brit in the orchestra. I love rugby too but never played it so never really got into it as much.
ESO: When you have a moment to spare what are your ways of having fun?
RK: I enjoy playing and watching football, I watch quite a lot of Netflix (maybe too much), I also enjoy cooking!
ESO: In the inevitable breaks for an instrument like the Tuba in any score, what do you think about?
RK: Anything and everything. I either get lost in the music or I think about food, football, what to do after work, which bar are we on, wow my tuba really needs a clean, how can I make that last passage better, etc. I love watching my colleagues and the conductors work too. I get such a great overview of the whole orchestra so I can do a lot of people watching while I’m counting bars rest. It’s amazing how much you can learn just from sitting and watching. It really helps us grow as musicians if we get the chance to watch and listen. I know several tuba players who have become conductors and they all say they learned a lot just from watching in rehearsals.
ESO: Leaving aside the technique for carrying such a large instrument, what main technical challenges do you face with this instrument?
RK: Breathing and blowing! It takes a lot of air to make a big noise on a tuba, especially the big contrabass tubas. It’s something we incorporate into everyday practise and conditioning, but sometimes if I have a cold or am just a little out of shape it can make it a bit more tricky. Also as the tuba is not so naturally virtuosic as other instruments, and composers are writing harder and harder parts for us now, it’s important to stay on top of general flexibility, tonguing, articulation, range, etc. Similar to any other instrument really, but we like to think it’s 10x harder because of the size of the tuba!